Chernobyl: Relevant Decay

The television show has a new surge of popularity due to recent events.

Gideon Fogt, Staff Writer

In the year, the infamous Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant has come back into the news cycle due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and subsequent occupation of the entombed nuclear disaster. 

This led to reports coming from news outlets like The Guardian describing the occupation and oppression of factory workers. Later reports from other outlets such as Reuters revealed the sudden Russian evacuation from the area could have been due to potential irradiation risks.

All of this caused an interest in the cataclysmic event to be renewed. 

With that in mind, a spark in this writer’s very own interest was renewed in an Emmy-nominated miniseries from 2019 that carries the same name as the nuclear site. Directed by Johan Renck, “Chernobyl” is a dramatic recounting of the events leading up to the catastrophic tragedy, as well as the aftermath and cleanup that occurred soon after. 

The first episode opens with Soviet inorganic chemist Valery Legasov, played by Jared Harris, shortly before his suicide, where he is recording his final memoirs regarding his involvement with the Chernobyl incident. 

From there the insanity begins, as the viewer is taken back directly to the moment the core of reactor number four detonates and panic at the power plant ensues. 

Each of the following four episodes does not let up on the drama, as the spider web of lies the Soviet government attempts to weave in response to the disaster is presented both subtly and blatantly. 

In episode two we are introduced to Boris Shcherbina, played by Stellan Skarsgård, who is a gruff and established statesman in the Soviet Union. Shcherbina is called in by the party to investigate and later coordinate the cleanup of the nuclear accident, along with Legasov as the scientific opinion. 

One of the best points of character development in the series comes from Legasov and Scherbina, two polar-opposite individuals, as they develop a deep personal respect for each other despite initial misgivings. 

Another interesting character introduced in this episode is Ulana Khomyuk, played by Emily Watson. She is a nuclear physicist and, according to the post-finale credits, she is supposed to represent the many scientists who worked on the nuclear cleanup and uncovered the truth of the incident. Her arc portrays the stiff opposition members of the scientific community faced from the government when it came to openly sharing information. There are also scenes throughout the series involving Khomyuk that show the difficulties women faced by not being taken seriously in Soviet society.

The most chilling quote of the series comes from an open-ended question asked by Legasov: “What is the cost of lies?” Through every moment of failure, tragedy, heroism, deception, sacrifice, mismanagement and triumph, “Chernobyl” demonstrates how deep the cost of lies can be. 

As Russia formally withdrew from Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant at the end of March, the plant may once again fade from the relevant media stream, but the lessons retold in this dramatic series are ones that should never be forgotten.