In my post yesterday, I related my high opinion of the first four episodes of the HBO drama-documentary on Chernobyl. I have just viewed the 5th and final episode, and sadly, I think the last episode went off the rails…a bit …
The courtroom scenes stated that the reason for explosion was a test which went disastrously wrong. But this low power test sounded strange to me. Or it wasn’t that but they wanted to see if the spinning generator would provide power in the case of an accident. Which weird tale was correct? I kept asking myself….
Clearly the operators were trying to get the huge reactor (3.2 GW) to run at very low power but I think the real explanation was more likely that they were under orders from Moscow to try to follow electricity load…..which at 1.30 am would have been low and declining. It’s a much simpler explanation but it would expose who was really in control – ie Moscow. (And coincidentally expose a major shortcoming of nuclear power….its relative inability to follow demand.)
So the real villains were the central controllers of the Soviet grid in Moscow who kept ordering R4 to power down, not the hapless operators on a frolic of their own. The higher-up Soviet apparatchiks lied about everything else to save their skins – so should we believe their story about a test?
Mind you at this distance, both time-wise and location-wise, one cannot be sure of what the real reason(s) for the accident were, so my hypothesis remains just that – an educated guess.
But perhaps we shouldn’t dwell too much on the technical details of the accident, and look at the series as a whole. Overall, the drama-documentary still got the main things right… the gulf between truth and lies, and the fact that truth will always out. In the morass of lies and deceit that was (and, in some respects, still is) Chernobyl, it did end on a high moral note.
The conclusions screened at the very end were also very good…especially the Gorbachev quote that Chernobyl was the main reason for the USSR’s collapse. And the real numbers of expected fatal cancers …between 4,000 and 93,000. And the large increases in childhood cancers. So the programme itself did speak some important truths to new audiences.
So let’s give the series overall an A, though not quite an A+.
And I wonder whether a statue should be erected somewhere to Valery Legasov as representative of the brave scientists who spoke truth to power ….in more ways than one.
(PS. In 1996, 10 years after the disaster and 8 years after his suicide, Legasov was posthumously awarded the honour of Hero of the Russian Federation.)