By Dr. James Conca
I just knew it! I was hoping I’d be wrong, that HBO would have the courage and integrity to do their homework and consult even one actual nuclear scientist or radiobiologist. Or even just read the United Nations Chernobyl Forum Report, the best source of information on the disaster for non-nuclear people.
But nooo…they decided that talking to journalists, historians and anti-nuclear activists was much better. Certainly, it was much more dramatic.
The HBO miniseries Chernobyl has been praised for its realistic portrayal of the place and times. And in that respect, it was mightily impressive. The acting was fantastic, the script, scenes and props gave a realistic feel of the collapsing Soviet Union, and there were awesome set designs, especially of the control room and the explosion itself.
Looking at archaic cathode-ray tube technology with old dials and eerily-lighted numbers brought back memories from work in the 70s and 80s.
It was good that Chernobyl screenwriter and creator Craig Mazin nailed the politics, the bureaucratic lies and deception, and a manager over-riding safety protocols. But on the key aspect of the whole affair – radiation – the miniseries failed completely.
And radiation is the key aspect. It’s why we remember Chernobyl at all. If it had been any of a number of gas plant explosions, coal impoundment failures or oil tanker derailments with the same casualties and environmental effects, we wouldn’t give it a second thought.
The reason the miniseries failed on radiation and death is that, for the health and environmental effects, Mazin deliberately avoided talking to experts on this subject. Instead, the miniseries closely followed a recent book, Voices From Chernobyl, by Belarusian Nobel Laureate Svetlana Alexievich, that is a compilation of interviews with survivors of the nuclear reactor accident.
Alexievich is a journalist and oral historian whose book is not based on scientific knowledge of the