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EntertainmentPlenty of Fantasy in HBO’s ‘Chernobyl,’ but the Truth Is Real

19:06  04 june  2019
19:06  04 june  2019 Source:   msn.com

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A scene from the HBO mini-series “ Chernobyl ,” about the worst disaster in the history of nuclear power.Credit HBO .

nytimes.com. Ahead of the series finale, a science writer who has toured the site of the 1986 nuclear disaster weighs in. Henry Fountain is a science writer on the Climate desk of The New York Times. He toured the Chernobyl plant and the exclusion zone around it in 2014.

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Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

Henry Fountain is a science writer on the Climate desk of The New York Times. He toured the Chernobyl plant and the exclusion zone around it in 2014.

The first thing to understand about the HBO mini-series “Chernobyl,” which concludes its five-part run on Monday, is that a lot of it is made up.

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The HBO series " Chernobyl " gets plenty of things right about the nuclear power plant disaster that most likely exposed hundreds of thousands of She Yes, this basic truth is simplified, too, especially in the final episode, which portrays the trial of three power plant officials. I don’t want to give away

Only those who serve the dead reactor and its three functioning neighbors can pass beyond. In April 1986, workers and engineers scrambled to keep the Chernobyl nuclear power plant’s molten radioactive uranium from burrowing Plenty of Fantasy in HBO ’ s ‘ Chernobyl ,’ but the Truth Is Real .

But here’s the second, and more important, thing: It doesn’t really matter.

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Plenty of Fantasy in HBO’s ‘Chernobyl,’ but the Truth Is Real© HBO Chernobyl: 'Plenty of fantasy but the truth is real' The explosion and fire at Chernobyl’s Unit 4 reactor on April 26, 1986, was an extraordinarily messy and grim event, a radioactive “dirty” bomb on a scale that no one — certainly not anyone in the Soviet Union — was prepared for. It remains the worst disaster in the history of nuclear power, killing more than 30 people initially (and more in the years that followed, though the numbers are much disputed) and spreading radioactive contamination across large swaths of Soviet and European territory.

Plenty of Fantasy in HBO’s ‘Chernobyl,’ but the Truth Is Real© Liam Daniel/HBO From left, Stellan Skarsgard as Boris Shcherbina, Jared Harris as Valery Legasov and Emily Watson as Ulana Khomyuk. In the immediate panicked aftermath, and in the months of crisis and confusion until the completion seven months later of the concrete-and-steel sarcophagus that entombed the reactor’s lethal remains, the heroes and villains numbered in the hundreds, and the supporting cast in the hundreds of thousands.

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The producers of the mini-series don’t sanitise the disaster (sometimes the gore even goes a little too far: The radiation victims are often covered in blood for some reason). Instead, they simplify.

They leave the grim alone, but the demands of Hollywood, and of production budgets, take a toll on the messy.

That’s not to say there aren’t many touches of verisimilitude.

The rooftop scene in which conscripts have just seconds to toss radioactive debris to the ground is as otherworldly as it must have seemed to those who were there three decades ago.

And the Unit 4 control room is faithfully re-created, from the control-rod dials on the walls to the white coats and caps worn by the operators.

(When I visited the adjacent Unit 3 control room five years ago, I had to wear the same odd outfit, which seemed more appropriate for a bakery than a nuclear power plant.)

Plenty of Fantasy in HBO’s ‘Chernobyl,’ but the Truth Is Real© Rudi Blaha/Associated Press Valery Legasov, head of the Soviet delegation at the Chernobyl Review Conference in Vienna, Aug. 29, 1986. But if you didn’t know much about Chernobyl you could be forgiven if, after watching, you thought the entire response and cleanup was run by two people, Valery Legasov and Boris Shcherbina, aided valiantly by a third, Ulana Khomyuk.

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"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). @henryfountain.

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You could also be forgiven if you thought they were all real characters. Legasov and Shcherbina were real, though their roles were twisted and amplified to meet the script’s need to keep things moving.

Plenty of Fantasy in HBO’s ‘Chernobyl,’ but the Truth Is Real
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Khomyuk, on the other hand, was made out of whole cloth, and her actions strain credulity, from travelling to Chernobyl, uninvited, to investigate the accident to being in the presence of Mikhail Gorbachev at the Kremlin not much later.

The producers mention some folderol at the end, that Khomyuk was a composite character created to represent all of the scientists who helped investigate the disaster.

Fine, I guess. But much of the rest of “Chernobyl” gets the simplistic Hollywood treatment, too.

There are the brave, doomed firefighters, ignorant of the radiation hazards they encountered (though nobody climbed up over the reactor debris, as portrayed in the series; they were working the roof to prevent fires from spreading to the undamaged Unit 3).

The plucky, can-do miners, brought in to excavate under the reactor to stop the meltdown, stripping naked to get the job done (the series doesn’t say this, but their work ended up largely for naught).

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HBO ’ s Chernobyl is a terrific miniseries. Its writer hopes you don’t think it’s the whole truth . Craig Mazin on turning disaster into great TV and narrative It’s the story of the Soviet Union, but the danger is you make the story about how the Soviets were a bunch of liars and it’s easy for America

Chernobyl disaster. Image copyright Sky UK Ltd/ HBO . Image caption Trying to get behind the propaganda - Jessie Buckley as Lyudmilla Ignatenko and Emily Watson as Ulana "It' s a very interesting parable for our times - the political truth is more convenient than what the science is saying.

The no-nonsense helicopter pilots, risking radiation sickness to drop their loads of lead, boron and sand on the reactor (while one helicopter did crash, killing its crew, the accident happened months later, and radiation had nothing to do with it).

I could go on. Don’t get me started about that blue light from the exposed reactor shining high into the night sky in the first episode.

Yes, nuclear reactors can produce a blue hue, from something called Cherenkov radiation, but no, there’s no way Unit 4 would have looked like the “Tribute in Light” in Lower Manhattan on the anniversary of Sept. 11.

In the end, though, none of this really matters.

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).

“Chernobyl” is grim only partly because of all the destruction and death.

The need to constantly lie (or cope with the lies of higher-ups) weighs on its characters as heavily as all the lead that was dropped on the reactor.

Yes, this basic truth is simplified, too, especially in the final episode, which portrays the trial of three power plant officials.

I don’t want to give away much about these scenes, though I will reveal that the geeky term “positive void coefficient” — one of the reactor’s design flaws — was uttered. (As a science writer, I was overjoyed.)

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Plenty of Fantasy in HBO’s ‘Chernobyl,’ but the Truth Is Real© HBO In the show, a fire rages at the Unit 4 reactor. The scenes have a lot of tension, and are among the best in the whole mini-series. But they seem drawn more from American movie courtrooms than from Soviet jurisprudence.

The idea of someone speaking truth to power in this court seems about as far-fetched as anything else in the whole of “Chernobyl.”

How the show gets to its truth, however, is less important than that it gets there.

Viewers may come away from “Chernobyl” realising that, together, people and machines can do awful things — like create a nuclear catastrophe for the ages.

If they also come away understanding that in this case, that outcome was more the fault of a government and its apparatchiks, so much the better.

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Plenty of Fantasy in HBO’s ‘Chernobyl,’ but the Truth Is Real
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