HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’: How Accurate Is The TV Show?

Viewers are fascinated by the real-life drama but, how true is it?

Jessie Buckley stars as Lyudmilla Ignatenko
Liam Daniel / HBO

Viewers are fascinated by the real-life drama but, how true is it?

As viewers reach the mid-way point in HBO’s Chernobyl, many are wondering just how accurate of a depiction the series really is. Did the events really unfold in that manner? Was it really such a threat to the world’s safety? Let’s have a look at how accurate HBO has been.

Series creator Craig Mazin had an epic task ahead of him with having to depict the Chernobyl disaster that happened in 1986. Episode 1 of Chernobyl lays out the initial incident. After a test situation goes wrong, one of the reactors catches on fire and a subsequent meltdown of the core begins.

According to National Geographic, routine maintenance was scheduled at V.I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station’s fourth reactor on April 25. The plan was to see if “the reactor could still be cooled if the plant lost power.” During this maintenance, workers apparently violated protocol and this caused a power surge that resulted in a series of small explosions. This is pretty much how it played out in HBO’s Chernobyl as well. Many of the conversations had during this initial phase were lifted exactly from the book Voices of Chernobyl by Svetlana Alexievich.

The arrival shortly afterward by emergency workers who tried to put out the fire also happened. Many of these workers got sick and died as a result of their involvement. However, as previously reported by The Inquisitr, the exact number of deaths resulting from the Chernobyl disaster is very hard to pinpoint.

HBO's 'Chernobyl' miniseries shows a depiction of the initial explosion and fire at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant
  HBO

Initially, authorities were concerned with putting out the fire at Chernobyl. Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) suggests sand and boron as a way to squelch the fire before it leads to further danger. This also happened in real life. However, while the sand appeared to be somewhat effective in putting out the fire, the boron used to try and stop the core from melting down further is believed to have not reached the center of the reactor where it would have been most useful.

While areas surrounding Chernobyl are still an exclusion zone, in the TV series, people are seen to be evacuated 36 hours after the initial incident. Initially, people were told that Pripyat was evacuated immediately. It wasn’t until much later on that the truth was revealed.

Another issue was discovered that could have been a massive incident was water being present where it shouldn’t have been. This incident is supposed to cause massive devastation. As to whether or not this was true or merely theoretical remains largely unknown. A catastrophic explosion could have certainly resulted. However, it is not known if it would be as large as that stated in the TV series. Regardless, three men were tasked with having to enter the Chernobyl power plant and release values that would drain this water away, which was believed to be a suicide mission. While reports in the ’80s and ’90s claim these men died, according to Screen Rant, some reports now indicate that the men survived, two of which are believed to be alive today.

Miners depicted in Episode 3 of HBO's 'Chernobyl'
  HBO

Episode 3 of Chernobyl shows miners working around the clock to dig a tunnel underneath the reactor in order to reinforce it against leakage that could contaminate the water supply. This part is true. However, there are varying reports about whether or not the miners got so hot during the endeavor that they removed all of their clothes. What is known is that one in four of those men died from illnesses caused by their time at Chernobyl.

Episode 1 of Chernobyl opens with Legasov hanging himself. Valery Legasov did die by suicide approximately two years after the incident, according to Screen Rant. His recordings made prior to his death were also used afterward to piece together exactly what happened at Chernobyl.

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The Soviet cover-up regarding the incident and Legasov’s recordings as a result of this is also true. In fact, two people that were immediately in charge of managing the situation, Viktor Bryukhanov (played by Con O’Neill in HBO’s Chernobyl) and Nikolai Fomin (Adrian Rawlins), were sentenced to 10 years in prison due to their mishandling of the situation.

Emily Watson stars as Ulana Khomyuk
  HBO

Many of the people who appear in Chernobyl are real people who were there during the disaster. However, as the Moscow Times points out, Belarusian nuclear physicist Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) is actually a fictional character. Her character is an amalgamation of “the hundreds of scientists that ultimately worked on the problem of Chernobyl.” By merging all of these scientists into the one person, HBO has been able to succinctly portray the singular notion of these people.

Chernobyl is currently airing on HBO every Monday at 9 p.m.until June 3.