Everything HBO's 'Chernobyl' gets right and wrong about the catastrophic nuclear disaster

Everything HBO's 'Chernobyl' gets right and wrong about the catastrophic nuclear disaster

One of the most notorious disasters in human history is Chernobyl.

The incident took place back in 1986 when a simulated power outage safety test at a nuclear power reactor when drastically wrong. So much so that the totality of its devastation will not be known until further into the future.

This is the official trailer for the new HBO series Chernobyl: 

But, in short, it has gained notoriety for the fact that the entire city of Pripyat in the former USSR was forced to evacuate in its wake because of the potentially lethal levels of radiation released into the atmosphere.

A person in protective clothing. Credit: HBO

At the time, the toxic fumes contaminated the city's water supply, food source, and, unbeknownst to them, many of the residents, who went on to develop cancer at a substantially higher rate than those living elsewhere.

Greenpeace nuclear energy expert Jan Haverkamp said: "We can only estimate the real effects on people's lives."

A firefighter. Credit: HBO

Because what happened exactly still isn't clear, especially as the government downplayed the severity of the incident at the time, the writer of the new HBO show Chernobyl, Craig Mazin, was cautious while researching the incident.

"I always defaulted to the less dramatic because the things that we know for sure happened are so inherently dramatic," he told Variety's TV Take podcast.

As a result, the majority of what's shown on screen is, indeed, what happened. So, to shed light on its accuracy, Business Insider has fact-checked the major plot points of the series.

Two people walking through a tunnel. Credit: HBO

1. Chernobyl gave off twice as much radiation as Hiroshima every hour

While there's no doubt that these two incidents were disasters in their own right, they were completely different situations and therefore can't be accurately compared. Those present at Hiroshima were in immediate danger at the time, whereas those involved in the Chernobyl disaster suffered its effects much later after it occurred.

"What happened [in Chernobyl] was that a lot of radioactive material was brought into the atmosphere," he said.

A woman looking out of a window. Credit: HBO

2. Robots were initially used to clear the contamination site but were replaced by humans

Unlike the first major plot point, this actually happened. This was because the robots used broke down in the radioactive environment, forcing officials to send people to "the most dangerous place on Earth."

3. The cleanup was partially orchestrated by a Soviet physicist named Ulana Khomyuk

This was not the case. Instead, Khomyuk is simply a representation of the many female scientists involved.

"One area where the Soviets were actually more progressive than we were was in the area of science and medicine," Mazin told Variety. "The Soviet Union had quite a large percentage of female doctors."

A man speaking to a room. Credit: HBO

4. Squads were brought in to shoot contaminated animals

One fact with many people wish wasn't true is that squads were brought in to shoot any contaminated animals near the Chernobyl site. When residents were told to evacuate the city, none of them were allowed to bring their pets.

While most of the animals were killed at the time, it's believed that around 300 stray dogs still live in the area. However, they have particularly short lifespans because of radiation contamination.

A woman looking through a glass barrier. Credit: HBO

5. A steam explosion would make the majority of Europe uninhabitable

After the initial blast, it was feared that a second would have disastrous consequences for Europe as a whole. However, the damage speculated in the TV show is an exaggeration of what was possible.

6. A young firefighter with a pregnant wife died in the wake of the explosion

Sadly, this is true. In a twist of fate, Vasily Ignatenko and his wife, Lyudmilla, had actually planned to leave the city the day of the explosion but stayed when he rushed to the powerplant at 1:30 am.

He was subsequently taken to hospital with severe radiation poisoning and died shortly after. She lied so that she could see him, and when she eventually gave birth to their baby, he lived just four hours.

Two men walking away from a helicopter. Credit: HBO

7. The exposed core resulted in a helicopter crash

While this isn't true, it's not necessarily false either. In an interview with Men's Health, Mazin explained: "I wanted people to know that this was one of the hazards that these pilots were dealing with - an open reactor. Radiation was flying over it."

Chernobyl is available to watch on HBO (US) and Sky Atlantic (UK).