on July 10th, 2019

HBO’s latest drama, Chernobyl, recently concluded its short 5 episode run, drawing global attention to one of the biggest engineering failures of human history. Before the finale of the TV show aired, the show was enjoying the number one spot on the IMBD television show rating list, making it one of the most highly rated television programs of all time.

The captivating series gave a window into the 1986 crisis, constantly reaffirming the severity of the disaster with every passing episode. Olesksiy Breus, one of the original engineers at Chernobyl, said the TV show did manage to portray the explosion and the effects of radiation on the body accurately.

Source: HBO

Nonetheless, the television series dramatizes the supposed complicity of the Russian government in the nuclear disaster. The showrunners charge the government with putting cronies in positions that should have been watchdogs over the nuclear reactors and charges the government with buying cheap nuclear reactor technology in order to save money.

The show points to the RBMK reactors, a class of graphite-moderated nuclear power reactors that were designed by the Soviet Union, as the key to the problem at Chernobyl. They portray the behaviour of the reactor at low energy levels and a mishandled safety test as the cause of the disaster.

However, Russian government sources dismissed the TV show as a reliable retelling of what went wrong at Chernobyl. Russian television producers are now allegedly preparing to make their own TV show with their own spin on the events.

HBO’s Chernobyl seems to have done what it was setting out to do; revive the discussion of the safety of nuclear energy. Hesamedin Ashena, a presidential adviser from the Center for Strategic Studies in Iran tweeted about the Chernobyl television series saying:

“What is the cost of lies? Those in politics and government could learn from that mind-boggling question.”

Henry Fountain, a science writer on the Climate desk of the New York Times, who toured the Chernobyl plant in 2014, writes about the Chernobyl TV show in his article ‘Plenty of Fantasy in HBO’s Chernobyl, but the Truth Is Real’:

“For the mini-series gets a basic truth right - that the Chernobyl disaster was more about lies, deceit and a rotting political system than it was about bad engineering or abysmal management and training or, for that matter, about whether nuclear power is inherently good or bad.”

On social media, people have been pointing out other engineering failures and requesting that they are made into TV dramas, to show what could happen if other dangerous technologies go unchecked and unregulated.

Indian social media users began sharing a 2014 film named ‘Bhopal: A Prayer for Rain’. The movie focuses on the Bhopal Gas Tragedy. It is one of the biggest industrial disasters in modern history that occurred on December 1984. It was a gas leak incident at the Union Carbide India Limited pesticide plant which saw over 500,000 people exposed to a highly toxic gas called methyl isocyanate (MIC). The death toll was estimated to be over 3,000 people. A government affidavit in 2006 stated that the leak caused 558,125 injuries including 38,478 partial injuries.

The cause of the disaster is still a topic of debate in the country, and so, citizens are asking for a heavily researched and dramatic television show that could ignite a real conversation about the consequences that led to disaster. Engineering television dramas could become a welcome trend as the golden age of television continues its slow march.


Works Cited

“Chernobyl - Season 1.” HBO, 4 June 2019, www.hbo.com/chernobyl/season-1.

Fountain, Henry. “Plenty of Fantasy in HBO's 'Chernobyl,' but the Truth Is Real.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 2 June 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/06/02/arts/television/chernobyl-hbo.html.

“Russia to Make Its Own Show about Chernobyl That Implicates the US.” BBC News, BBC, 7 June 2019, www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-48559289.

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