Late in the night of April 26, 1986, reactor 4 at the Pripyat / Chernobyl nuclear power plant near Kiev in Ukraine (then the Soviet Union) exploded. The world's biggest nuclear accident was a fact. The situation, which quickly developed into an international disaster, had probably been out of control for some time.
Due to the aftermath and the abdication of responsibility afterwards, the circumstances surrounding the accident (s) are somewhat unclear, but the realization of the worst accident in the short history of nuclear power eventually reached both the audience and the heads of the Soviet party coryphaeus, led by General Gorbachev.
The flue gases from the burning power plant were over a kilometer up in the air, and during the ten days the fires lasted, radioactive material was spread with weather and wind north. explosions
The surrounding areas were hit hardest, but the lightest particles were slowly carried by the wind towards Finland, Sweden and Norway. Later, radioactive fallout also fell over large parts of Central Europe and the United Kingdom.
33 years later, the disaster now has its epic aftermath in the form of a television series. It is a strong and tantalizing diet, but also great docu-fiction viewers are offered when the miniseries Chernobyl these days appear on HBO. The series gives us spectacular and well-directed documentation of the events in Pripjat in Ukraine during these explosive and anxious days in late April 1986.
The Norwegian health authorities went out early and neglected the effects.
Famous faces. In the lead roles we find sizes like Stellan Skarsgård and Emily Watson, who together with Jared Harris, in the role of chief atomic scientist Legásov, make a formidable effort on screen. Skarsgård plays Deputy Prime Minister Boris Sjerbina with fierce bravura, and in a strenuous two-team with Legásov he forms the film's character-driven axis. Legásov is the intellectual, but also reality-removing scientist, who, through the accident, is forced to face a reality he does not survive. He commits suicide exactly two years after.
The Chernobyl accident is considered the worst nuclear disaster the world has ever experienced. There is great disagreement about the long-term health effects. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that radiation from Chernobyl will cost a total of 9000 lives. Greenpeace, for its part, believes that as many as 100 will die as a result of the radiation.
Filmmaker Craig Mazin and director Stakka Bo have created a plot-driven film genre that stays close to the accident, combining strong, expressionist retro images and surroundings with the sound of a dying Soviet society. The series constitutes a continuous warning against what a technologized world will bring, especially when everything that can go wrong goes wrong, as it does in this real-life narrative. Mazin knows its genre references; at times it is reminiscent of Soviet science fiction from the 70s, but the slow storytelling style also provides room for condensed tension, such as in the scene where scuba diving divers enter the reactor to open the shut-off valves.
Emily Watson in the role of Ulana Khomyuk, Legásov's close colleague, radiates through her intense presence a perfect combination of human caring ability and genuine scientificity, in contrast to both the bureaucratic power system and the party leaders' cold disclaimer. Through her meticulous investigation of what was the real cause of the accident, she also ensures a welcome momentum in the action plot.
Indirectly, the film also sheds light on the crisis management and information work of other states towards the public. As a journalist, I remember well how the Norwegian health authorities, with the Directorate of Health's new employee Ole Harbitz as one of their advocates, tried to calm down an increasingly anxious population by sub-communicating the effects the emission could have for Norway. Director of Health Torbjørn Mork and the then Director of the Norwegian Institute of Radiation Hygiene, Johan Baarli, went out early and negated the effects. Hopefully, it is not significant that Harbitz is currently the head of precisely the Directorate for Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety.
Chernobyl is a plot driven movie genre that keeps itself close to the accident.
Another government agency, the Norwegian Geological Survey (NGU), chose an open and far less biased strategy, which resulted in NGU gradually gaining a somewhat unexpected leading role in meeting an exponentially growing need for information. Through listener funding, several local radio stations acquired their own professional measuring instruments, and they carried out a number of local measurements, much to the dismay of local business authorities, who were very inadequately equipped, and also loyal to the Norwegian Directorate of Health's misunderstood reassurance line.
NRK was also generally loyal, but also selective in the form of who was informed. The fact that we were in the middle of a change of government, and also arranged the world final of the Melodi Grand Prix right after the accident, hardly helped to make the situation better. All those present in the Grieg Hall in Bergen on May 3, where large parts of NRK's staff were gathered, were also told, via intercom, to keep their children indoors this day, after a new explosion in Chernobyl. This message never reached the public…
Skarsgård has called the series a tribute to the ground crews who sacrificed life and health after the accident, but it is far more than that. It is also a revelation of the massive denial and concealment that took place, under the auspices of the Soviet authorities right after the accident, and which in Norway became one of the worst confidence crises in history. In retrospect, this crisis resulted in a specially commissioned NOW from the Storting, with the speaking title Information Crises, led by the pen by Gudmund Hernes. This is still interesting reading.
The series appears on HBO.
Also read: Chernobyl Victims – Gerd Ludwig's photo book