I’m really sorry that this review is so late because the next episode is out soon and so I’m late to the conversation. This is why I shouldn’t do weekly-episode reviews. But I’ve started and I am committed now. I promise I’ll do better.
So it’s been another week and another episode of Chernobyl and things are moving remarkably quickly. Not that I’m surprised. The show has only 5 episodes to tell a highly complex story with many different angles and perspectives. But the show has instantly improved by having way more involvement from Jared Harris.
He (Valery Legasov/Jared Harris) has been drafted in to be a part of the committee that (at the moment) is assessing the damage at Chernobyl and in the moments before he is brought in to the actual meeting, he briefly reads through the report and we can see as the audience that he is instantly distressed.
Inside, the board members are perfectly happy with declaring that everything is fine and those of you who saw the 3 minute long trailer will start to recognise some clips as a few of them feature in this episode. The first is of Jared Harris slamming his hands on the table in response of the extra-ordinary amounts of incompetence emerging from these people. He makes reference to the graphite on the ground and his concerns that the core may be exposed and the speech about ‘bullets’ and also the number of 3.6 roentgen which is already a massive amount of radiation. We heard this in the last episode but a brief recap is that the dosimeters wielded by the employees which measure the level of radioactive material in the air only went up to 3.6 roentgen as a maximum and so there is a possibility that it’s much more. We were told last week that it was 15,000 roentgen from one of the employees and it’s confirmed in this episode.
But, Valery is shot down by the head of the committee and another dude, Boris Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgard). What’s interesting is that when Valery is being shut down by these guys, there’s a look on his face which suggests that he’s thinking that he’s fucked up. He’s spoken out of turn and afterwards, he apologises in a way that says that if he doesn’t then there could be some serious consequences.
Valery, Boris and some soldiers are sent in a helicopter to Chernobyl to assess the damage and to either prove or disprove Valery’s theory that the core is exposed and spewing out radiation. What was funny to me was when Boris asks Valery out of nowhere how a nuclear reactor works. It was funny because he wasn’t asking for himself but for the audience.
In real-life, Boris Shcherbina was a Soviet politician and Vice-Chairman for the Council of Ministers and was drafted in to supervise ‘Crisis Management’ at the Chernobyl site which is a bit puzzling to me because as far as the government and the higher-ups at Chernobyl were concerned, there was no crisis. An explosion, a bit of a fire but otherwise, totally under control.
Anyway, Valery explains in as simple terms as possible how a nuclear reactor works. This is how I interpreted his explanation and since I’m stupid, I might get it wrong. Basically, nuclear material is contained in a reactor and used to heat water that creates steam which spins turbines and generates electricity. Basically. It’s more economical than burning coal because you can produce more with less.
When they get close to Chernobyl, Valery demands that they turn and leave because he can see the radiation escaping from the exposed core and also the graphite on the roof but since Boris is being massively irrational for some reason, he demands that they fly over the core which we all know will kill them quickly. Valery manages to convince the pilot to turn around and take them back.
In terms of fighting the fire, Valery suggests dropping sand and boron which will smother the fire and the sequence where the helicopters are dropping the sand whilst Valery and Boris watch from a distance was also in the trailer. I have a problem with this scene because it shows a helicopter getting too close to the core, losing radio contact and then crashing near the facility. In all my research, I didn’t find any evidence of this happening. There was a helicopter crash when the crew were trying to pour a ‘decontaminating acetate mixture’ on a work area at the site. The rotor blades of the helicopter got caught on a construction crane and crashed, killing everyone on board. This happened in October, 6 months after the disaster. The moment where it happens in the show is the day after. I’m not accusing anyone of anything, I’m just saying that as far as I know, that didn’t happen.
From the last episode, we’ll remember Lyudmilla Ignatenko which the show seems to be trying to convince me is a main character, but I haven’t seen enough of her to really enforce that theory. She shows up at the hospital to find her husband Vasily who was a firefighter called to Chernobyl. Along the way, she sees her neighbours who are all suffering from radiation poisoning. At one point, an irradiated man holds out his baby and begs her to take the child away but inside, I’m thinking ‘It’s already too late’ and she must be thinking the same because she walks away which is another ‘show don’t tell’ method because I do get the impression that she is a caring person and were the circumstances different, she may have taken the baby but instead, she walks away because she knows the risks. I have a sneaking suspicion that she might be pregnant also. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned that but if she is then her decision may have made more sense. It turns out that her husband has been transferred to another hospital along with some of the other firefighters.
Another image that some people may remember from the trailer is the nurses chucking the firefighters clothes into the basement.
In this episode, we get introduced to a new character. She is Ulana Khomyuk and works at the Byelorussian Institute of Nuclear Energy in Minsk. It is mentioned that Chernobyl is 400 KM (248 miles) away from their location. They are detecting radiation but it isn’t coming from their facility nor another in the area. She tries contacting Chernobyl but there is no answer and so she goes on the hunt.
In this show, she is the person responsible for detecting the possibility of the ‘second explosion’ that not a lot of people know about. Of course, it didn’t happen because it was averted by three very brave men, but we’ll get to that at the end.
Ulana makes it to Chernobyl where the authorities have already enforced an exclusion zone and meets with Valery and Boris where she explains her worries. She knows that smothering the fire is a good idea but the uranium inside the core will melt the sand and create ‘lava’ which will melt through the base of the reactor and vaporise the gallons upon gallons of water that were flooded through the reactor to try and keep it cool. Valery was not aware that the tanks were full which was why he ordered the sand and boron. The subsequent reaction of the ‘lava’ and water will create a massive thermal explosion that will be between 2-4 megatons.
Let’s do some maths.
The only nuclear devices ever detonated on a populated area were the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 by the Americans. When they talk in Kilotons and Megatons, they’re talking the equivalent explosive power of TNT. The ‘Little Boy’ bomb that was dropped on Hiroshima had a yield of 13-18 Kilotons. There are 1000 Kilotons in a Megaton. So, when Ulana says that the explosion will be 2-4 Megatons, or 2000 – 4000 Kilotons. Let’s be conservative and say that the lowest yield of this explosion will be 2 Megatons or 2000 Kilotons and the yield of the ‘Little Boy’ bomb was 13 kilotons.
I really hope I’ve done this right.
Divide 2000 by 13 and you get the figure of 153.846 recurring. Let’s say it’s 153.8 and round it up to 154. That means that at the lowest predicted yield, the explosion that they have 48 hours to prevent will be the equivalent 154 Hiroshima bombs, if my calculations are correct. She goes on to say that the explosion will ignite the remaining 3 reactors at Chernobyl and devastate a 200 KM (124 miles) radius around Chernobyl and the radiation will impact a large portion of Eastern Europe, rendering it uninhabitable. She says all this to a board room full of committee members who I’m sure none of whom have clean underwear by this point because they are all sitting in the epicentre.
I’m not kidding, this was a genuine fear. Thankfully, it was all averted. Remember those three brave men I mentioned earlier. These men were Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov and Boris Baranov. In the show, the actors portraying them are; Baltasar Breki Samper (Ananenko), Oscar Dyekjaer (Baranov) and Philip Barantini (Bezpalov).
These men volunteered to dive into the water underneath the reactor and open the valves, therefore draining the water and averting an even bigger catastrophe. Ananenko and Bezpalov were engineers who knew where the valves were, and Baranov was a shift supervisor who accompanied them.
It is common knowledge that all three men died shortly after they saved the continent but I’ve read that there is a book out there that claims that all three men survived their rescue/suicide mission. I don’t know. I find that very hard to believe. If all those firemen got sick and died from just being outside the plant and these three guys were swimming underneath the reactor to release the valves and they all survived.
You could make an argument that the thick suits they were wearing protected them but there’s a scene in the show where this guy wants to get a proper reading on the amount of roentgens with a high-scale dosimeter and he plans to drive a car that’s covered in led with the dosimeter on the front but Valery says that if the core is exposed then he can’t guarantee that the led will protect him. If a guy driving a led-armoured car can’t be given a 100% guarantee that he won’t get irradiated, then thick swimsuits being submerged in highly-irradiated water that’s underneath a burning nuclear reactor doesn’t really stand a chance.
This show ends in a way that I’m not fond of. It’s less of a problem with the overall show because I think the show is awesome so far, it’s more of a problem with shows depicting a historical event in general. The final shot of the show is a tense one but it’s kind of tense for no reason, if you know what I mean? The last scene shows Ananenko, Bezpalov and Baranov entering the facility and submerging themselves in water up to the waist as the dosimeter (possibly a Geiger counter) ticks ferociously in the background. Suddenly, all of their torches start to die at once until all three men are submerged in darkness as if to say “OOOOOO, are they going to make it to the valves? It doesn’t look very hopeful, I hope they make it to the valves, better tune in next week to find out if they make it to the valves!”. That last shot might have had some impact if this was a show depicting a fictional event. But it’s not. This really happened and we know that they did make it to the valves. In fact, the preview for the next show stated early on that they avoided the explosion and it will focus on Valery and Ulana conducting an investigation into what happened, so it won’t happen again.
Overall, great episode. I know I’ve had a few points of conjecture but that’s not to say that I didn’t find the episode enjoyable. I wish Netflix or Amazon Prime would have done this series so we could have got it all in one go. That would have been better than having to wait a week in between episodes. That’s the one thing about this show that I hate. That I have to wait for it to come out.
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