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The human drama of Chernobyl

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By Dawn Stover, May 5, 2019

On the night of April 28, 1986, Radio Moscow broadcast a terse announcement that an accident had taken place at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant: “One of the atomic reactors has been damaged. Measures are being taken to eliminate the consequences of the accident. Aid is being given to those affected. A government commission has been set up.”

It was almost three days since the accident began, but the announcement didn’t mention that. By then, Sweden had already detected high levels of radioactive contamination from the toxic vapor pouring out of the exploded reactor. Graphite and nuclear fuel were burning—the kind of fire too hot to fight with water or foam, which would only make things worse. The citizens of Pripyat, the “atomic city” a short distance from Chernobyl, had been “temporarily” evacuated. It was the world’s most terrifying nuclear accident.

Chernobyl, an HBO television miniseries (co-produced with the British television network Sky) premiering on Monday, will introduce a new generation to the horrors of 33 years ago. HBO bills it as the “untold true story” of Chernobyl, but a New York Times review notes “the show’s propensity toward Hollywood inflation—to show us things that didn’t happen.”

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