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Scene report from the Chernobyl Zone (moxie.org)
397 points by BCM43 49 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 258 comments



The pictures are lovely and the reflections profound. But much of the cited data here appears wrong. For instance, the article states (italicized): "six hundred helicopter pilots were killed" and yet it was only 600 helicopter pilots who _flew_ liquidator missions[1], two of which were killed in an piloting accident and none were registered killed from immediate radiation exposure[2], though at least one eventually died from cancer likely from this exposure[3]. Similarly a claim of "Over six hundred thousand people were directly involved in dealing with the aftermath of the Chernobyl explosion" is not supported by the evidence[4].

I don't mean any of this to lessen the enormity of what happened and the tremendous, noble effort made by the liquidators to remediate what was there at great personal cost. It's just good when making specific claims for those claims to be substantiated.

[1] https://www.rotorandwing.com/2016/04/26/chernobyl-anniversar...

[2] http://www.terradaily.com/reports/Chernobyl_pilots_knew_risk...

[3] https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1990-07-04-mn-106-st...

[4] http://www.chernobylgallery.com/chernobyl-disaster/liquidato...


I think there's a lot of uncertainty in talking about Chernobyl, since most of the information published by the Soviet authorities was intentionally incorrect or misleading, designed to downplay the significance of the accident.

One thing I've found interesting in talking about Chernobyl is that advocates of nuclear power are often willing to accept the Soviet numbers as fact, since they confirm the idea that nuclear power is still relatively "safe" even in case of disaster.

I don't know what the exact numbers are, and I'm not sure if any of us will ever know for sure, but one of the documentaries I like is Discovery's "Battle of Chernobyl," since it includes a lot of interviews with people who were actually there and participated in the events. They interview Nikolay Antoshkin, the colonel general in charge of the helicopter operations there, which is where the 600 pilot deaths number comes from. I'm more inclined to believe that account than what the state published.


> One thing I've found interesting in talking about Chernobyl is that advocates of nuclear power are often willing to accept the Soviet numbers as fact, since they confirm the idea that nuclear power is still relatively "safe" even in case of disaster.

I believe the IAEA report (which you can read yourself) put together by the United Nations and relevant affected governments in the mid-2000s. It shows that over the entire course of time 4,000 people will have died prematurely as a result of the accident at Chernobyl (including people who killed themselves because they feared they were "contaminated"), and between 31 and 54 people died between both the explosion itself and to acute radiation injuries in the immediate aftermath -- including the helicopter pilots you mention. [1]

I also believe that 7.3 million people die every year as a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels. [2]

Everything is trade-offs. The accident was bad, and it could have been an awful lot worse. On the other hand, it's important we not lose sight of the big picture. When humans get hurt, they learn why, and move forward - this should not be an exception.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaths_due_to_the_Chernobyl_di...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_accidents


Most of those 7.3 million deaths are from people burning local fuels (wood, trash, dung, etc.) for heating and cooking.

It's seems unfair to compare subsistence, low-tech energy (dung burning) to nuclear energy.

It makes a lot more sense to compare high-tech nuclear energy with high-tech renewables (with storage).


> It makes a lot more sense to compare high-tech nuclear energy with high-tech renewables (with storage).

If you really want to compare that, rooftop solar actually has a significant risk of worker death. I am willing to bet that, per TWh, there would be significantly more deaths with solar than nuclear.


Your hypothesis made sense to me, so I did a bit of research to try and back up the claim.

No idea about the biases or accuracy of the information supplied in these links, so take it with a grain of salt, but they seem to support the idea that Solar (installation) is indeed more dangerous than Nuclear per TWh.

Too many factors to call it more "dangerous", and also disingenuous because the absolute worst case scenario for solar power doesn't have the possibility of negatively impacting millions of peoples lives.

But hey, this is a bit of a fun fact that might stop people demonising nuclear energy so much.

Sources:

https://www.nextbigfuture.com/2016/06/update-of-death-per-te... https://www.forbes.com/sites/jamesconca/2012/06/10/energys-d...


The absolute worst case scenario for Chernobyl would have happened if the corium had melted through to the water table and caused a huge steam explosion. This was narrowly avoided. It's hard to estimate the impact but at the very least a much larger area would have been heavily irradiated.

Deaths/TrKWhr isn't a useful measure, because nuclear has a binary risk profile. When it goes badly wrong it does a lot of lasting economic damage, in ways that other energy sources don't.

There's also no way to compare "TCO" like for like because coal etc are nasty immediate pollutants, while nuclear waste remains a problem for a very long time.

The real problem with nuclear isn't the technology, it's the trustworthiness of the management culture around it. If the industry was a byword for truth, honesty, and straight dealing it would be perceived in a much less negative way.

That doesn't seem to be how the industry operates.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_nuclear_whistleblowers


Interestingly enough Wiki notes a EU study[0][1] that shows that nuclear and wind are some of the cheapest energy sources when you price in environmental effects and health costs.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_impact_of_the_co...

[1] http://www.externe.info/externe_2006/exterpols.html


People "demonizing" nuclear typically do it because of the potential devastating consequences of an accident, and the uncertainty of storing waste for thousands of years. Not because they think nuclear have a high death toll in everyday use.


But the potential devastation isn’t rooted in reality - anyone can assume the worst could happen, and when it did happen in Chernobyl the numbers haven’t been very high.

The alternatives, even the green ones like hydroelectric, have dwarfed nuclear-related deaths hundreds, if not thousands, of times over with single catastrophes[0].

Arguments against the storage of nuclear fuel usually don’t understand how little waste there is and, even still, burying a problem for 200 years while we figure out how to deal with it is an infinite number of times better than dealing with the fallout of global warming by not shifting to nuclear energy.

[0] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banqiao_Dam


I'm actually pro nuclear, but I get concerned when I see people downplaying the risks. The only way we can have safe nuclear is if people actually understand and take the risks seriously and put oversight and safeguards in place. E.g. saying that Chernobyl is the "worst that could happen" is just willfully ignorant. Chernobyl was bad but could have been a lot worse.

Even then, nobody even knows or agrees how many victims Chernobyl have claimed or will still claim.

Comparing nuclear-related deaths to the Chinese dam disaster is a bit disingenuous also. China did not have nuclear power in the same time period, so of course no nuclear-related deaths happened. But if China had had enough nuclear plants to replace dams and they had the same amount of construction errors, removal of safety features, bad management and a "once in 2000 years" unforeseen natural disaster - are you sure no nuclear accidents would have happened?

If you just compare absolute numbers, you will see walking is more dangerous than skydiving.


> anyone can assume the worst could happen, and when it did happen in Chernobyl

The miniseries makes it clear that the absolute worst outcomes at Chernobyl were prevented through huge effort: water was drained from the tanks under the meltdown, so there was no steam explosion that would have smashed the other reactor cores as well. The meltdown then did not burn through the concrete and into the groundwater table.


Hydroelectric is not "green". It has devastating ecologic impact. It is better than some alternatives, but it also tends to destroy whole ecosystems.


Well let me give you another number then. 1 million deaths, annually, are linked to coal ash.


Are you telling me that this chart [1] is pure correlation with no causation whatsoever? Do you live in the area affected by the Chernobyl disaster? (I do). Or do you live half a world away with no direct health-related stake in this? Even so, why are you content with hiding under the rug these "statistical anomalies"?

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#/media/File...


The 7.3 million figure is like the “12 years left” figure, that is to say it requires a little work to understand where it came from and what it means.

“Ambient air pollution was responsible for 4.3 million deaths” and “3.8 million deaths every year as a result of household exposure to smoke from dirty cookstoves and fuels”.

I haven’t dug into the indoor figures but a quick reading suggests that attributing the death toll to fossil fuels in general is misreading the report.

For example, ”91% of those premature deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries” so the bigger problem is how the fuel is used - since richer countries actually use more fuel per capita.

Cooking with coal on an open stove in an unventilated room will slowly kill you from the carbon particulate. Apparently this is a large percentage of the indoor pollution death statistic. The problem here is coal stoves specifically not fossil fuels in general.

The outdoor statistic is a bit more interesting. The Model they use to calculate the number [1] basically takes a curve of PM exposure level across populations around the world, multiplied by an integrated exposure-response (IER) function.

Over the last few years they have lowered the counterfactual concentration (the point below which PM has no efffect) and steepened the IER.

Through this methodology they can arrive at a death rate of nearly 5 million without a single death certificate ever actually stating “air pollution”.

They do this by trying to tease out the damage done by PM by observing places where PM has changed and then looking at how mortality rate due to cancers and such also changed.

It’s an interesting figure, but in a sense misses the forest for the trees.

Particulate matter definitely has adverse heath effects. One study said an average shortening of life expectancy in Europe of 9 months. But the overall “industry” that creates PM (everything from cars kicking up dust on the road to smokestacks) also is responsible for the modern world where ~8 billion people can survive. Is PM shortening lifespans? Or is PM drastically extending lifespans (e.g. preventing mass starvation) while simultaneously also somewhat shortening an idealized life that could have magically gotten everything it needed to survive except without any PM.

If you are going to publish a number of the harm of PM by extrapolating from an IER and PM levels, it would also be useful to consider the net effect, which would be staggeringly positive in terms of lives saved and lengthened not shortened.

[1] - https://www.who.int/airpollution/data/AAP_BoD_methods_March2...


> If you are going to publish a number of the harm of PM by extrapolating from an IER and PM levels, it should be a net effect, which would be staggeringly positive in terms of lives saved and lengthened not shortened.

Respectfully I disagree. You've conflated the primary effect and the side-effect. The primary effect is energy is generated and energy is what has improved our lives. The side-effect is PM exposure which is killing us. Burning fossil fuels isn't extending anyone's lives. Generating energy is. If we can trade it out for a better method the same extension of life persists, and the premature deaths drop. Thus, we can factor it out. The truth is, it does both things, and we need to switch it out for an energy source which only does the former without doing the latter.

Imagine for a second a power plant that generates electricity but once in a while it murders a random passer-by. It think it's fair to say the power plant is responsible for those murders, and we can talk about replacing it without having to talk about all the good it's doing.


I actually agree with you and edited my comment before reading your reply to soften that specific part (should be -> could be useful to consider)

I think the interesting thing which the statistic misses is that people are still choosing to light that stove with coal even though the PM it creates is damaging their health, because it’s the least worst option.

Outside PM is different because it can come from the factory down the road producing widgets for some other country, but the fact that inside PM contributes to nearly the same negative health impact, that is not a government intervention / negative externality! Starve with clean air or cook food for your family. This isn’t a fossil fuel problem, and isn’t something that can be switched out in any sense.

A makeshift stove can burn coal and cook a meal. You’ll never match that with any non-emitting technology because it will always require some investment where literally none is available.


Yeah, I think that's totally reasonable and I should have addressed that in my reply too. There's definitely a big difference between PM released by factories and that of individuals cooking/heating/etc with coal.

> A makeshift stove can burn coal and cook a meal. You’ll never match that with any non-emitting technology because it will always require some investment where literally none is available.

True, I just hope that cheaper, clean power (whatever that means) allows more people to make the healthy choice.

To be clear, the other points I agreed with in large part.


This is the proper analysis


I see interviews with Antoshkin about the lack of precautions taken for the pilots, in stories citing the "600" number as the total number of pilots involved, but nothing establishing 600 fatalities.

I screened the Discovery documentary you're referring to and watched all the segments in which Antoshkin appears. It's the narrator of the special who claims 600 helicopter pilot fatalities, not Antoshkin himself, unless I've missed something. Can the 600 number be squared with the number of helicopters involved (the documentary claims 60, I think) and the number of missions the pilots fly (dozens per day), and with the fact that you can find some of those pilots giving interviews just a few years ago?


Sorry but 600 pilot fatalities in the Chernobyl disaster is just plain nonsense, no matter what you might believe about soviets.

> I think there's a lot of uncertainty in talking about Chernobyl, since most of the information published by the Soviet authorities was intentionally incorrect or misleading, designed to downplay the significance of the accident.

You seem to be assuming malice when there's mostly incompetence, and giving too much credibility to huge organizations; they aren't perfectly coordinated black boxes in control of everything they are trying to do. Chernobyl disaster has been cross documented top to bottom in that regard. Most of the missing info was due to corruption, see the song "Я вынес из зоны" by Sergey Uryvin as an example. There was an attempt to downplay the incident early on, but one simply cannot hide the disaster of that scale. Neither there was much desire to do this internally, after the scale became apparent. Besides, most of the information wasn't coming from authorities.

The only reason one can be uncertain about such ridiculous claims is unfamiliarity with the details of the disaster, and/or lack of understanding of culture at the time and also the language.


> One thing I've found interesting in talking about > Chernobyl is that advocates of nuclear power are often > willing to accept the Soviet numbers as fact, since they > confirm the idea that nuclear power is still relatively > "safe" even in case of disaster.

I figure it balances out the people who are extremely critical of nuclear power and accept that there could actually have been a 5 megaton explosion.

I'm not a strong advocate of nuclear power myself, but I tend to discount the value of Chernobyl as an argument for/against nuclear power. It was a terrible design in addition to being old, had little in the way of containment, and the games the operators were playing with the plant were off-the-charts stupid. Compared even to the oldest commercial Western-design reactors, it is a horrid contraption.


And even still the remaining 3 reactors at the Chernobyl plant continued to operate safely, the last one closing in the year 2000. There’s a number of RBMK reactors in use today; they learned from the accident and patched up the issues. Not to say the new western reactors aren’t better, the very much are.


Even the older western reactors were much better. Look up “positive void coefficient” and “passive nuclear safety”.


I believe it. In this case I think it's fair to say the results speak for themselves.


Sure, but Fukusima incident speaks itself for their safety.


After a magnitude 9 earthquake, one of those older reactors at Fukushima "just" melted down, and core material probably hasn't escaped secondary containment (unfortunately the water pumped through the core is a different story). In contrast, during a botched safety test the reactor core at Chernobyl exploded.

The impact to the surrounding environment was many orders of magnitude greater at Chernobyl, which is what happens when the reactor core explodes.

~50 people died at Chernobyl from acute radiation exposure in the first few weeks, and a couple employees actually got exploded. Lots of people died in the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, but none like that.

Please consider how you're hurting folks' ability to make good decisions when you spread misleading absolutist nonsense.


I don't see thousands of people adversely affected by renewable energy for years (due to cancer, displacement and other health issues). Only counting deaths does not paint an accurate picture.

Besides, noone knows the total cost of nuclear energy because noone has solved the nuclear waste problem for 100,000+ years. There are likely to be billions of dollars needed to be spent on this long term issue.


1) If you prefer we can multiply all the numbers by 100, nuclear is still better than what we actually did over the past 40 years since Chernobyl.

2) We have actual evidence of how a similar-era nuclear reactor fails in Fukushima (it was built in the 80s iirc). If we write off the Soviet numbers as misinformation, then using a strictly evidence-based approach and extrapolating from Fukushima, their numbers were overexaggurating the damage.

I doubt they were exaggurating, I think Chernobyl was a lot nastier than Fukushima, but as a commited nuclear advocate, the idea that I'm relying on Soviet numbers is a misrepresentation. I'm relying on the divide-by-40-years, the linear-no-threshold-model-is-not-sensible and the by-gum-we-know-a-lot-more-about-how-to-design-things-safely-since-we-are-now-in-2020 arguments (3 sig. fig). Also the this-thing-is-millions-of-times-more-energy-dense-than-anything-else-it-is-amazing-we-are-talking-orders-of-magnitude-improvment-your-brain-probably-can't-imagine-that-without-special-training motivating factor.


Fukushima is 60's design, launched in 1971-75.

https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/safety-and...


> since most of the information published by the Soviet authorities was intentionally incorrect or misleading

There's also the opposite - cold war era propaganda trying to make the Russians seem backwards and primitive. The Soviet Union at the time was also opening up through glasnost.

On top of this, fossil fuel companies had a lot to gain through scaremongering around nuclear energy. It worked as very well as almost all planned nuclear power plants were mothballed.


Discovery channel where every single documentary is staged, exaggerated and filled with useless emotions. Even the department of information in the Soviet Union is more reliable than that.


Even if a thousands died from Chernobyl, it reflects the danger of the Soviet system, not of nuclear energy.

Just take the thing we learned in this week's episode: The design flaw on the RBMK reactors that caused the explosion had been observed before, but the report was classified to not put the glorious Soviet nuclear technology in a bad light!!!

In any remotely sane system, security risks are published and compensated for. The operators would have known about this risk, and not pressed the fateful AZ-5 button that caused the explosion


I kinda miss your point. What then does the Fukushima incident reflect? Danger of Japanese system, lol? Or as the US contractors built it, the US system? As according analysis [1] the Fukushima station design itself did not consider the natural features of place. Chernobyl incident happened due to human error, according to same source.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Fukushima_and_Ch...

edit: formatting


Fukushima was a very extreme natural disaster striking at a precise location to expose that the Fukushima reactors were not fully ready for a theoretically possible but never in 1000+ years of Japanese history observed earthquake.

15,897 people died in Japan that day, in buildings, roads, and vehicles. None from the nuclear incident. Yet no one talks about how the building, road, and vehicle security failed and wants to ban those.

Sure, the Fukushima security could and should have been better. The industry has learned the lessons, as it does from all accidents. But even if it didn't, we could easily absorb accidents like these for once in a 1000+ years and still be the cleanest energy form there is.

The comparison with Chernobyl is no comparison. That was an unforced error on a calm spring night. Operators doing experiments on badly designed reactors with known flaws they were not informed about because it would look bad to spread the information that pressing a certain button in a certain situation was risky. So they pressed the button, and the reactor exploded.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2011_T%C5%8Dhoku_earthquake_an...


We could have a Fukushima and a Chernobyl a year and it would still be a net improvement.


In numbers of dead, you're right. In left behind "exclusion zones", it would become untenable.


If the exclusion zones were made as excessive as Chernobyl, sure, but most of the Chernobyl exclusion zone is safe today, and most of the rest could be made safe with relatively little additional effort. With even a somewhat more reasonable exclusion zone, if that was the trade-off and we could save those who die from fossil fuel plants today, it'd be an easy choice for my part.

Of course it's not a realistic trade-off - it's "easy" to make plants vastly safer than either.


> I think there's a lot of uncertainty in talking about Chernobyl, since most of the information published by the Soviet authorities was intentionally incorrect or misleading, designed to downplay the significance of the accident.

I'd add the Romanian authorities to that list (I'm from Romania). Looking at the areas contaminated with Cesium-137 [1] one can see that Bulgaria is reasonably high in that list while Romania is no-where to be found, even though my country physically stands between Bulgaria and Chernobyl. The reason for that is that Ceausescu's regime was either too incompetent or too ideologically corrupt to correctly measure the Chernobyl disaster's effects on the country's population and ecosystem.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#Environment...


>>One thing I've found interesting in talking about Chernobyl is that advocates of nuclear power are often willing to accept the Soviet numbers as fact, since they confirm the idea that nuclear power is still relatively "safe" even in case of disaster.

The other posters mentioned the trade-off, or people die in plane crashes but many more would have died had they taken the car. Power needs to be generated one way or another...

Also, can we agree that the Chernobyl plant's design and management might have been lacking? New models are much safer.


It's safe even if you take the worst case estimates. There's no need to accept the Soviet numbers to justify nuclear power.


Hehe. Discovery channel? I would rather trust Soviet lies. Of course Soviet lied to cover up but i believe there was also symmetric campaign to exagerrate impact o Chernobyl. And the very hbo series is going to be rather scary propaganda. I read a lot on topic. After Chernobyl ca half a million people were relocated. Most of it just for psychical comfort as there was no risk involved.


Exactly this, the numbers of casualties and description post disaster and the heroics during the disaster are not corroborated by the data.

Given the secrecy of the old Soviet system about such "embarassing" events I doubt we'll ever know exactly how many people died but the massive casualty rates that get casually flicked around make for a good story but aren't supported by any external documents at all. Perhaps we'll find a mass grave somewhere full of radioactive bodies of dead workers but barring that, most data based consensus puts the total death toll from all radiation effects at less than 1,000 and usually less than 100. But even that brings out the challenge right? So if person dies because they fell off an earth mover that was building an earthen berm to shield an area, that is clearly a death, it wasn't due to radiation and it could have happened on any worksite (like building a levy) but happened because this person was working at this disaster, does that count? Do you see how it gets complicated?

What is perhaps most interesting about the exclusion zone has been how effective it has been at recovering its natural state. It it certainly not a "radioactive wasteland" and there are numerous reports of people hunting (and eating) some of the now abundant wildlife there. It isn't the picture "post nuclear disaster" that most people have been given.


> Perhaps we'll find a mass grave somewhere full of radioactive bodies of dead workers but barring that, most data based consensus puts the total death toll from all radiation effects at less than 1,000 and usually less than 100.

The problem is that to this day we struggle to fully understand the effects of long-term low-level radiation exposure because figuring those out usually requires long-term epidemiological studies, which are expensive and complex [0]

[0] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2757021/


Okay. I'm trying to understand the "low level radiation" part though. What is disappointing about the study you reference is that they don't characterize what the level of radiation is compared to normal background radiation, they don't account for changes in population or diet, and they don't account for changes in industry.

As the study itself states: "These conclusions are regrettable because low statistical significance only means that chance has not been excluded as an explanation, assuming no bias and no real effect. In more detail, p values -that is, the probabilities that observed effects may be due to chance - are affected by both the magnitude of the effect and the size of the study. This means the results of statistical tests must be interpreted with caution [26]."

Meta studies based on statistical analysis is inherently challenged. This one is no better (and no worse) than the others.


It's a commentary on the study, it also states:

"Whatever the final explanation for the increases, the KiKK study and its implications raise many questions, including whether vulnerable people, such as pregnant women and women of child-bearing age, should be advised on possible risks of living near nuclear power stations."

and:

"It is recommended that US regulatory agencies should establish a KiKK-style epidemiological study of cancer incidences near all US nuclear power stations with precise distances being measured between cancer cases and nuclear reactors."

The point here is that our understanding of these impacts is obviously not as complete as many people like to pretend.


I don't disagree, and that same text is also in various meta studies about Cell phone towers causing cancer. And it is the problem in general with statistics based meta studies which where lampooned in XKCD[1] and lamented by the American Council on Science and Health[2]. The summary bit might be "These studies point to areas that should be looked at but offer neither hypothesis or prediction and thus not 'science' so much as they are an early investigative technique."

If nuclear plants caused childhood cancers, then they ALL would cause childhood cancers, so a scientific study would say "This mechanism, when present, has this effect. Here is our experiment to prove that, here are the results of the proof. We predict that if you look anywhere else where this mechanism is present you will see the same results."

If low level radiation did cause childhood leukemia then there would be clusters in Arvada Colorado and Moab Utah. But there aren't. So why not? When the science is done, and the other variables eliminated, to date there is no study that links low level ionizing radiation to any harmful effect on humans. Even using that term is difficult because there is alpha, beta, and gamma radiation based on electrons, protons, and neutrons. Only Gamma radiation has any sort of penetrating capability at all.

So without the science, this study means nothing. Now if they can follow up with core samples, air samples, water samples, and food products to see if there are any nuclear fission byproducts getting into the area around the plant that would be good science.

[1] https://xkcd.com/882/

[2] https://www.acsh.org/news/2018/06/29/problem-p-values-13130


> there is no study that links low level ionizing radiation to any harmful effect on humans

This does not mean much. The direct destruction effect of strong radiation on cells is cumulative, the longer you're exposed, the greater harm done. Given the physics and biology knowledge, our best bet so far is that effect of weak but extraordinary radiation is cumulative as well. It will increase probability of cancer and leukaemia.

Alpha radiation is lethal too if you get its source into your body.


"The direct destruction effect of strong radiation on cells is cumulative, the longer you're exposed, the greater harm done."

This statement is not actually true in the general case, and that is part of the problem. It, like many others involving the effect of radiation on people, originated in the late 50's when there was little data and it was difficult to experiment. A great article on that is here (https://www.forbes.com/sites/michaelshellenberger/2019/03/11...) but in a nutshell, the more we learn about DNA the more we discover that having evolved in a "low level radiation" environment it does a really good job of completely repairing/eradicating the damage done by low to moderate levels of radiation.

That does not say you can't get more harm faster than your DNA can fix it, which clearly you can. But the level where the damage is "cumulative" (aka permanent) is much much higher than we previously estimated based on our limited data.

Given modern tissue engineering it is conceivable could could actually do some solid experimental work in the field with a tunable radiation source and a set of growing tissue samples. Nobody has done that yet that I can find (I don't have access to a wide variety of journals in Biology that I do in some of the other sciences) but if they are please post their research here.


You've got some points on regeneration, but notice I wrote strong radiation. For weak radiation the issue is complicated, the effects develop over decades. Of course LNT model is under legitimate suspicion due to regenerative capabilities but LNT model is just about probability of cancer. It does not take into account other effects of radiation. The survivors of Chernobyl suffer different harms, for example one interview I read recently reported one survivor of high doses having to go for regular skin transplants. The radiation health effects are complex and the whole issue is just far more complicated than the Forbes biased opinion piece claims (although it does make a good point of taking the immediate death toll in perspective).


> This does not mean much.

It does in the context of places, like those mentioned above, with naturally elevated levels of background radiation. The absence of studies out of these areas with links to harmful health effects is evidence that such levels are likely safe.


Again, absence of evidence does not mean much. Nobody is expecting the workers to fall down after minutes of work there, the effects of low level radiation are subtle but given the known mechanism or damage there is no basis for calling such levels safe. Workers working with radioactive tailings may suffer harmful long-term effects. But it is hard to causally connect old age health issues with presence in these areas decades ago. You cannot conclude "likely safe" from absence of information or because the workers seem fine. You would have to do the studies, which as you say, probably were not made.


> The absence of studies out of these areas with links to harmful health effects is evidence that such levels are likely safe.

That's such an odd wording, making it sound like there's only an absence of studies showing harmful health effects. When in actuality there's an absence of studies, period.

That's why the commentary about the German KiKK study suggests also conducting such studies in the US. If those were already a thing, then there'd be no reason to suggest conducting them?


Not really; there’s always constant low level radiation exposure in our day to day from background radiation. It goes up tremendously when you eat a banana a day. It goes up another few orders of magnitude when you get on a plane. We’ve got a huge corpus of constantly irradiated people (flight attendants and pilots). We’ve got a pretty good idea of how this works.

[1] https://xkcd.com/radiation/


You miss the point. Studies on low level radiation effects study, for example, deviations from the linear model, but are so far inconclusive, because it is hard to prescribe and control the level of radiation over such a long time. It could be done in lab, but who would subject themselves willingly to regular blasts of radiation? Radiation intensity in planes varies a lot, depending on the height, time of flight, geographical location, etc., so little can be inferred. It would take decades and lots of volunteers willing to get harmed in the name of science to do such studies reliably. Do you know of any such study?


> It's just good when making specific claims for those claims to be substantiated.

After watching the Chernobyl miniseries last week, I dug deep into Wikipedia articles related to the accident. One thing I found interesting was the following: to empty the bubbler pools, three men dived below to reactor to open valves: Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov and Boris Baranov. In western media, it was reported that as soon as they emerged from the water, they were told it was a suicide mission and they died a few days later, implying of course that the Soviet Union knowingly send them to death.

However, according to Wikipedia:

> Research by Andrew Leatherbarrow, author of Chernobyl 01:23:40, determined that the frequently recounted story is a gross exaggeration. Alexei Ananenko continues to work in the nuclear energy industry [...]. While Valeri Bezpalov was found to still be alive, the 65-year-old Baranov had lived until 2005 and had died of heart failure. [0]

This is a great reminder that propaganda always happens on both sides.

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster#Steam_explo...


I think the more accurate way to describe it is "(Soviet) propaganda meets (Western media) sensationalism."

Not that we don't do propaganda, but I don't think it was government orchestrated and political in this case.


For a better-researched, well-sourced and grounded write-up of a visit to Chernobyl — with tons of background on the incident itself — see Andrew Leatherbarrow's Chernobyl 01:23:40, which is available as a blog as well as an e-book:

https://leatherbarrowa.exposure.co/chernobyl.

Edit: Posted to HN here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20033770.


Very interesting link, thanks for posting! More informative and detailed than TFA, in my opinion, and it also has cool pictures.


Thanks! I posted it as a story here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20033770.


Knowing many Belarusians, they recommend reading book by Aleksievich which is a written down summary of 500 individual discussions with first hand eye witnesses/victims of the event.

Highly recommended.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voices_from_Chernobyl


Estimates seem to vary wildly — which makes sense given the variety of agents and agendas. It's not really fair to hammer him on facts without acknowledging that the ground truth is far from certain.

Heck, even your fourth citation writes:

> Figures for the number of liquidators involved vary greatly from several hundred thousand to nearly a million people. It is likely that at least 300,000 – 350,000 people were directly involved. A report by the Nuclear Energy Agency quotes a figure “up to 800,000”. The International Conference “One Decade After Chernobyl” refers to “about 200,000 ‘liquidators’ who worked in Chernobyl during the period 1986-1987 and estimating the total number of people registered as involved in activities relating to alleviating the consequences of the accident at between 600,000 to 800,000.


You seem to have cherry picked sources that have a lower estimate for all these figures, i.e., "propaganda numbers".

I think the best source for these numbers is the Wikipedia article "Deaths due to the Chernobyl disaster" [1]. From the article, Russia claims "estimates ranging from 4,000" while scientific and environmental organizations claim "no fewer than 93,000". It's clear that Russia wants to downplay the enormous human and environmental toll this has had and will continue to have.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deaths_due_to_the_Chernobyl_di...


While later contested, it's not only "Russia" which estimated 4000 deaths. Wikipedia states the United Nations took part in the joint group, and

> "[...] worked to establish international consensus on the effects of the accident via a series of reports that collated 20 years of research to make official previous UN, IAEA, and World Health Organization (WHO) estimates of a total of 4,000 deaths due to disaster-related illnesses."

In fact, the sentence you quoted states:

> "[...] there is considerable debate concerning the accurate number of deaths due to the disaster's long-term health effects, with estimates ranging from 4,000 (per the 2005 and 2006 conclusions of a joint consortium of the United Nations and the governments of Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia), to no fewer than 93,000 (per the conflicting conclusions of various scientific, health, environmental, and survivors' organizations)."

So it's not just Russia.


anyway, it's much lower than death caused by burning coal.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Energy_accidents


Yes.

I think it's important the keep the hyperbole to a minimum, if we're truly interested in safe energy and in understanding this accident and its impact. Speaking of millions of deaths, as if it were proven fact, or getting our knowledge from sensationalized miniseries, is doing a disservice to both the Chernobyl disaster and the topic of nuclear energy.


It's unfortunate that people still point to Chernobyl as why we should never go back to nuclear power ever again.


Taking in mind that the human population living in the area has sinked, and that Prypiat has been a ghost town eating money for 33 years, I can understand the general lack of enthusiasm for repeating the Chernobyl experience at home.


How many Chernobyls would it take to equal the damage that is already inevitable from global warming? That's a serious question. It can be answered by comparing number of deaths, number of people displaced, or economic and political disruption, but no matter how you calculate the answer, the result is that Chernobyl is a tiny event by comparison.


Given the extent of tourism into the exclusion zone (myself visiting Prypiat in 2017), I wouldn't be surprised if the town itself actually made money and if (excluding opportunity cost and the costs of Sarcophagus) the whole Zone was net-profitable now.


Well, If you exclude costs in your formula, all is benefit. This is true. Lets talk about the costs.

The economic damage caused by Chernobyl in 30 years is estimated in 235 Billion of dollars.

Source Belarus Foreign Ministry: http://chernobyl.undp.org/russian/docs/belarus_23_anniversar...

This includes destroying trust in Ukrainian agriculture for 30 years and removing also a good chunk of lands suitable for agriculture in a country previously called "The Breadbasket of Europe (and soviet countries)".

I would expect also huge maintenance bills for a long time. The cost of the new sarcophagous and auxiliary buildings is estimated in 2.3 Billion dollars extra.

Plus increase of health services and cancer surveillance checks in nations affected by the disaster (like Ukranie, Belarus or Russia, but also Polland or Germany). Belarus registered a x40 increase in children's thyroid cancers since the accident.

Ukraine and Belarus still need to spend more than 5% of its annual budget in benefit payments to compensate 7 million people for the accident. In whole, Belarus pays around $1 million at day for Chernobyl

Plus the cost of vigillance of the restricted area to avoid garbage collectors (if not, mafias could load trucks with free metal scraps and sell it in Moscow, Berlin or Paris for example), or keeping unauthorized adventurers from doing stupid things.

Plus the cost of the damaged nuclear central itself that lose a quarter of its planned energy production for 15 years and is not producing any energy since the year 2000; only debts.

Taking all of this in mind, As thematic park and bussiness, Chernobyl is a ruinous one. Is a nice continental nature park, the first in the world, but apart of that is a ruinous adventure.


We shouldn't contrast fossil to nuclear energy but both to renewables.

In other words, stop burning things to get energy, for fossil energy because of the carbon dioxide and for nuclear energy because long-term storage of wastes is an unsolved problem. I am surprised again and again that people propose nuclear energy as a solution to climate change. Don't they know we will come out of the frying pan into the fire with nuclear energy? Enough said.


Edit: I should not have been so inflammatory, sorry for that. So let me retry:

We shouldn't contrast fossil to nuclear energy but both to renewables. We really should go out of both coal and nuclear.

In other words, stop burning non-renewable things to get energy, for fossil energy because of the carbon dioxide and for nuclear energy because of the long-term storage of waste.


You rejected a primary source and proposed a secondary source of amateur curation?


There are all sort of statistical outliers when looking at cancer rates around the rest of Europe. See, for example, testicular cancer in Swiss men in 1987/1988:

https://twitter.com/philshem/status/1131635837878362112?s=21


> while scientific and environmental organizations claim "no fewer than 93,000".

that is on the right scale. The Gomel and Mogilev regions of Belarus took the brunt of the fallout, and the cancer rates there is significantly higher. For example, the rate of the breast cancer (the most frequent cancer - normally more than 1 in 10 women would get it during lifetime) is 2x there (so with total 1M+ women living in those 2 regions more than 100K of them would get the breast cancer due to Chernobyl). In general, comparing Belarus cancer rates to Russia, Ukraine, Poland - the surrounding countries with a lot of similarities wrt. environment, ethnicity/DNA, lifestyle/unhealthy habits/etc. - Belarus gets about 10K extra cancer cases per year (with about 50% mortality).


Belarus is different from its neighbors in more significant ways than its proximity to Chernobyl; it's famously "the last dictatorship in Europe". Since the fall of the Soviet Union, it's economy has been weaker than its neighbors, as has its ties to the European Union.


That isnt a factor here for at least two reasons: 1. It doesn't have geographical distribution correlation that the Chernobyl fallout has with the cancer rates increase. 2. The Belarus per-capita GDP is more than 2x that of Ukraine.


I believe much of that drop is due to the Russian invasion and annexation of Crimea, followed by the invasion of Donbass. The drop off can be seen in the link below starting in 2014 when the invasion was initiated:

https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.MKTP.CD?location...

You're technically correct (depending on where you find the GDP data), but I don't believe it would be the case if the invasion and annexation had not happened. The numbers prior to 2014 show Ukraine with a much higher GDP than Belarus


>The numbers prior to 2014 show Ukraine with a much higher GDP than Belarus

Not really. Even back then the Ukraine per capita was still noticeably below Belarus - having 4.5x population it had 3x GDP at best.

Anyway, my point is that the macro-economical/macro-social things like for example per-capita GDP or government style have nothing to do with cancer rates there (overwise Poland, Russia, Ukraine would have huge differences among themselves), and definitely those macro-factors dont have geographical distribution like Chernobyl fallout to explain the Belarus cancer picture.


Here's a pretty detailed report on health care in Belarus from 2013:

http://www.euro.who.int/__data/assets/pdf_file/0005/232835/H...

Of note:

* Rates of smoking in Belarus are also high.

* The indirect impact of Chernobyl includes a lack of health care facilities in the (rural) regions most impacted.

If the stat you're working from was breast cancer mortality, I'd push back harder, but I don't think that's what you're saying.


> * Rates of smoking in Belarus are also high.

Russia and Poland have higher rates of smoking. Anyway, it would be mostly about lung cancer which isn't the main component here.

> * The indirect impact of Chernobyl includes a lack of health care facilities in the (rural) regions most impacted.

Lack of healthcare facilities doesn't really impact cancer incidence rate.

>If the stat you're working from was breast cancer mortality, I'd push back harder, but I don't think that's what you're saying.

Breast cancer incidence rate is the main component here. It shows the largest increase in absolute terms. Thyroid cancer shows largest percentage increase, though it is "just" a 1K of cases. Geographically correlates with fallout too.

So far i really fail to see how any argument you've put forward can explain such a significant and regionally (Mogilev and Gomel are large regions, so it is not some local effect) regionally correlated increase in the cancer rate. Especially given that those regions received several Hiroshimas worth of fallout which explains that increase perfectly.

So your explanation need to be at least as good as the Chernobyl fallout provides. Specifically any such explanation has to account for the observed size of the rate increase as well as its geographical distribution, i.e. it should clearly answer - "why Gomel and Mogilev?"


Smoking is closely linked to some forms of breast cancer.

I'm not trying to push hard on a particular argument here.


>Smoking is closely linked to some forms of breast cancer.

the smoking rates among women in Belarus is ~10%. To account for the breast cancer rate increase in the Gomel and Mogilev regions all the women smokers there would have to get the breast cancer. Add to that that women smoking rate for example in Russia is close to 20% and the breast cancer rates there are relatively normal. Given all that it is pretty obvious that smoking has nothing to do with that cancer rate increase in Gomel and Mogilev regions .


Indeed. Also, stands to reason that breast cancer incidence rate is less correlated with standard of living or availability of healthcare than mortality rate. (Unless the society is so primitive that cancer mortalities don't get counted)


Poland is also a neighbor of Belarus and a former Eastern Bloc country. But I will cop to not researching this carefully; if I had the comment to write over again, I would have stopped at "last dictatorship in Europe".

I have never been to Belarus or Ukraine and have no real desire to, though Poland is pretty high on my list.


It also says a 5kt explosion would have "levelled" Minsk and Kiev. They are 200 and 60 miles away, so that's just made up.


Does anybody know why this helicopter crashes after flying over the reactor core? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ICOu7KksgUA&feature=share

Was this a technical issue, or was the pilot affect by the radiation?


It collided with the crane cables. It can be seen on the video.


> equivalent of a 5 megaton explosion

Yep, the man greatly dramatises the story.

Total deaths from immediate "radiation poisoning" were likely less than 100, with possibly 100 more due to radionuclide ingestion.

Immediate DNA damage that does not result in radiation sickness, is much less lethal than popular culture suggests.

Another thing to add, the best protective equipment for nuclear disaster is a good respirator, and a chemsuit, and not the lead "x-ray suit" often portrayed in popular culture. The cause of most deaths during Chernobyl was smoke inhalation, seconded by radionuclide ingestion by people who ate contaminated meals from field kitchens.


> > equivalent of a 5 megaton explosion

To be clear, this didn't happen. No one said it did. There was a chance something like this could have happened (the Chernobyl miniseries does a great job of showing this). The issue was that there were large water tanks under the reactor, and that the reactor material would eventually melt into those tanks, superheat the water and cause an enormous steam explosion, further scattering radioactive materials into the atmosphere, and destroying the three other reactors at Chernobyl, scattering their material too.

That said, the idea that a 5MT explosion at Chernobyl would have levelled the city of Kiev is not particularly realistic [0]. (note that the fallout effects from Chernobyl would be much worse than from a nuclear explosion, so given winds, fallout could have made Kiev, or even Moscow, uninhabitable). And in fact, as explained elsewhere, the explosion wouldn't have been 5MT, but much smaller, although that wouldn't have mattered much for the issue of spreading radioactive material.

[0]: https://nuclearsecrecy.com/nukemap/?&kt=5000&lat=51.3906031&...


To be even more clear, a steam explosion cannot by any stretch of the imagination "level" a city fully two hours away. And the phrase "equivalent of a 5 megaton explosion" has no possible interpretation that squares with reality. The idea of a megaton-sized steam explosion is ludicrous, so I assume he means to imply some connection to radioactive fallout - but the amount of fallout isn't really correlated with the strength of the explosion. In fact, early fission bombs were relatively dirty while later thermonuclear bombs were relatively clean. The largest nuclear explosion ever produced was actually remarkably clean due to its unique design. So what is Moxie even talking about? It borders on incoherent, and I think you're being far too charitable.

By the way, the three men who faced "almost certain death" were certainly heroic but weren't in nearly as much danger as he plays up. All three men survived and lived for decades afterward.


See this reddit thread[0] linked elsewhere here. The issue is likely a faulty primary source, some russian official who wildly misspoke or miswrote something.

[0]: https://www.reddit.com/r/TVChernobyl/comments/boo19f/did_she...


> but the amount of fallout isn't really correlated with the strength of the explosion.

It absolutely is for a similar burst condition and similar weapon technology, so it's absolutely credible that one would use, say, groundburst yield with a technology then dominant for large weapons as a reference for fallout. (And, IIRC, groundburst yield is both much greater and much less variable by nuclear bomb technology than airburst since most of the fallout is ground material with induced radioactivity while with an airburst most of the fallout is bomb material, so that technology might not even need to be significant variable using groundburst yield as a reference scale.)


Man, 5 megaton tnt is like ~25 exajoules.

Thermal energy of 100 tons of 2000C uranium is like 0.25 terajoules...

Somebody missed at least 5 zeroes

And it was later found that only few percents of the fuel melted, so very likely 7 zeroes...

And given that it is not possible for anywhere close to 10% of thermal energy of such huge, solid body to go into steam flash, add 2 more zeros.


While 5 megatons definitely does seem like an overestimation, I think the fear was that it was a much larger mass of molten corium, including not just the fuel itself, but also molten silicon and lead, from the material dumped on the exposed reactor to quench the fires and prevent fallout. There was an estimated 5000 tons of this suppressant material, although I don't know how much could have reasonably been expected to melt (and I think later analysis shows that very little of it actually landed on the exposed core itself.)

Then when the molten corium hits the water, the water could act as a neutron moderator for a runaway fission reaction. You have to think this would be more a nuclear "fizzle" than the prompt criticality that is necessary for a >10kt (let alone megaton) bomb, but it would still be bad.

A 5 megaton explosion that levels Kiev? Probably not, but then again I'm not the nuclear physicist who came up with that number.

The idea that blowing the core material into the atmosphere and causing further meltdowns in the other three reactors would be a major radiological disaster for Northern Europe, though, I can appreciate.


The largest ever fission explosion was, IIRC, something like a few hundred kT. It's just physically impossible to have a bigger yield from fission alone, as the bomb assembly blows apart before it has time to fission. And this was from a carefully designed weapon, not a reactor fueled with LEU melting. So yes, 5 MT is pure fantasy with absolutely no connection to reality.

As for prompt criticality, in a weapon the neutron multiplication time is around a million times faster than in a prompt criticality transient in a thermal neutron reactor. That's what allows a weapon to have any significant yield before it disintegrates.


The largest fission device tested was the 720Kt UK Orange Herald:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orange_Herald


As Wikipedia says, that was a boosted fission device, not pure fission.


I should probably have said "single stage" rather than fission!


This is the worst case scenario, right?


The worst case scenario is still orders of magnitude less than "5 megaton explosion". Somebody's math was wrong, or lost in translation. Either the math was done wrong, not done at all, or the figures got messed up in translation.


>>What about the people who knowingly sacrificed themselves to stop a reaction that would have destroyed most of Europe?

If he is talking about those 3 people who went to drain the pool under the reactor - none of them died. I think they are all still alive to this day, at least they were the last time I checked.


“Research by Andrew Leatherbarrow, author of Chernobyl 01:23:40,[81] determined that the frequently recounted story is a gross exaggeration. Alexei Ananenko continues to work in the nuclear energy industry, and rebuffs the growth of the Chernobyl media sensationalism surrounding him.[88] While Valeri Bezpalov was found to still be alive by Leatherbarrow, the 65-year-old Baranov had lived until 2005 and had died of heart failure.”

From Wikipedia


Oh. Then I misremembered - my apologies.


> But much of the cited data here appears wrong.

I don't think this is a fair assessment. First of all you've ignored the most significant claims, that Chernobyl was very nearly a much worse disaster that "would have leveled Kiev and Minsk, and would have ejected the nuclear material from the other 3 Chernobyl reactors with a force that would have rendered much of Europe uninhabitable for hundreds of years." Or it nearly irradiated "groundwater for 50 million people" or that 50,000 people "were given 2 hours to pack whatever they could carry and get on a bus" and never come back.

On these points alone it would be inaccurate to say "much" of his data is "wrong" -- that's most of the data data right there and it is unchallenged.

Instead you've focused on whether it was 600K or merely 300K liquidators, or whether the 600 pilots were "registered" killed or merely suspected. These are relatively minor points (compared to ending large swaths of civilization) and even your own sources note that the figures are controversial and give ranges. While I would agree that Marlinspike has favored the worst case end of the spectrum here and his piece ought to cite sources, I think you have misrepresented the certainty of the evidence.


Highly recommend the HBO's new miniseries Chernobyl. One episode left. It's already at the top of IMDB TV show rankings.

[1] https://www.imdb.com/chart/toptv/


A bit over-dramatized, but very, very good.

Although I do not really like the decision to reduce the entire engineering team to a single character. I get that it simplifies the writing and casting, but it just perpetrates the lone scientist myth. It could have been really compelling to take the time to show the group effort.


It amazes me how there can be a small digit number of people that always will be complaining for something that is truly remarcable well done.


I feel you... that pesky people with different and well argumented opinions... tsk tsk...


What is remarkable? Everyone who recommended it to me didn’t articulate an actual reason. I find this quite often. It was over hyped to me

There’s nothing amazing about people disagreeing, surely?


The lone scientist hero myth is hardly unique to science, it's an abstraction that you see in all narratives that use a leader to represent a group.

There are few scientific characters because the show chooses to focus on the political/systemic failure rather than the technical one. It shows us the leaders who bury their heads in the sand, the clueless residents who suffer as a result, and the liquidators who are aware of the dangers and make the sacrifice regardless.

It's more a show about communism than it is about nuclear power, and I really like their take on the disaster.


It is a show about what happens when the state officials and secret state organizations have all the power to keep that power. It corrupts the people, because there is not much left to keep them honest.


It's worth listening to the podcast that the screenwriter put out alongside the show.

He discusses the decision to collapse the scientists into one character, and explains why he chose to do it this way. Whether or not you agree it's interesting to see the though process that goes into a decision like this.


HBO offsets the GoT S8 disappointment, Chernobyl is so far the best show I've watched in the past 5-10 years.


Agreed, it's brilliant and imho the best series in years. The last TV episode that left me as speechless and uneasy as the first episode of Chernobyl (the shift worker looking down into the open reactor from the roof!) was the now legendary Ozymandias episode of Breaking Bad.


I don't get the feeling it's very accurate, but it is very entertaining.

EDIT: the accuracy I am referring to is about the actual sequence of events of the plot, which I understand to be simplified as people replying have pointed out :)


This Twitter thread speaks to this, (supposedly) from a Russian guy. He said that as far as Soviet life goes it's extremely accurate.

https://twitter.com/SlavaMalamud/status/1132029943297265664


Yes. I lived in Soviet Ukraine at the time. While the British actors do take away some authenticity from it, the look and feel of 1980's Soviet Union is incredibly accurate. I showed a clip to my parents and they were like "wait, what, this is not a documentary?"


It varies. The physics part is oversimplified and, at times, overdramatized (the threat of a megaton-range explosion being a particularly egregious example). The range of characters is highly limited by the format of the series (hence the fictional Belarusian physicist meant to be a composite of many characters, but really just serving as a narrative shortcut to compress the whole thing into the length constraints they have). At the same time, the visual setting is very accurate (part of the filming is done at Ignalina, the site of another RBMK reactor plant with a similar workers' town, etc.) and the general atmosphere is vastly more true to life than any other dramatization of the accident I've ever seen.


The show's writer actually reduced the number: https://www.reddit.com/r/TVChernobyl/comments/boo19f/did_she...


It's actually wrong on several levels. First of all, in the show the characters explicitly state that they are referring to a steam explosion. A steam explosion in the megaton range isn't just implausible, it's patently absurd. The upper bound on the real number is lower by 4-5 orders of magnitude. Don't get me wrong - it would still have been extremely disasterous and could have increased the total radionuclide emissions by up to an order of magnitude, but all the stuff about half of Europe being uninhabitable or everyone in Kiev dying immediately is nonsense. Instead, the only way to get remotely close to a megaton range estimate is to assume the steam explosion would cause a nuclear explosion in one or more of the reactor cores. That possibility was briefly considered and quickly dismissed as improbable in the extreme, which it was.


In the context of a drama about the explosion and aftermath, I'd say it's quite reasonable to use an absurd number from one of the physicists involved.

Perhaps it was indeed wrong, but it sounds like that might be actually what those involved believed at the time.


That is very unlikely, at least at the higher executive commitee level. It's impossible to exclude the possibility entirely, of course, but there is no surviving evidence of it and it certainly doesn't appear in Legasov's original report (or any subsequent study).


>That possibility was briefly considered and quickly dismissed as improbable in the extreme, which it was.

A nuclear explosion would require Uranium enriched to at least 85%, whereas the fuel in RBMK reactors was only enriched to 2%. It's not just unlikely it's actually impossible.


That's not entirely correct. There is no specific level to which uranium (or any other fissile material) must be enriched before supercriticality may occur, the level of enrichment simply determines the critical mass required. For instance, the critical mass for pure U-235 is around 50kg, while for 20% enriched U-235 you'd need about half a ton or so. [1]

In the case of Chernobyl, the concern was that upon contact with water (which acts as a neutron moderator in these circumstances) and given the inevitable sequence of steam explosions that would follow, some regions of superheated corium might be forced into prompt criticality events. These would technically qualify as nuclear explosions, but the sequence of events required to get from this set of increasingly improbable assumptions to anything remotely close to a megaton range explosion is, as I said, improbable to the point of being trivially dismissable.

[1] EDIT: I realized I should probably point out for clarity that I'm referencing the traditional measures for a critical mass - the mass required for a homogenous sphere of a given material to go critical. Determining the critical mass for a highly inhomogenous material of complex geometry, highly varied temperature and potentially surrounded by neutron reflecting substances is not a trivial task.


Prompt critical is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for a nuclear weapon to go boom. In a weapon the neutron multiplication time is a million times faster than in a prompt criticality transient in a thermal reactor. Otherwise it would disintegrate before it could develop any significant yield.

But yes, certainly the melted fuel becoming critical and/or causing more steam explosions could have made the Chernobyl accident worse than it already was.


The question about the series, when something particularly unrealistic occurs, like the movie trope of three heroes volunteering to open the sluice gates, and having to swim through water, and having their lamps all go out at the same time - that happened - is whether the mini series is showing something unbelievable, but true, or something that just didn't happen.

By and large, the creators always tried to be biased away from the fantastical elements. That is, they left parts out of the movie, that while 100% true, just sounded too unrealistic.


The three workers wading through water to open the sluice gates did indeed happen, but it's worth noting that all of them survived just fine and at least two were still alive as recently as a few years ago.

I agree, though, I love how many tiny things that are actually true they managed to squeeze in there. As another example, the part where the firefighter's wife bribes her way into the closed hospital in Moscow - that really happened too.


"all of them survived just fine and at least two were still alive as recently as a few years ago." People keep saying this... any citation or link you happen to know of offhand? I've heard only exactly the opposite in various articles, that the three guys died within weeks.


Certainly. The most accessible source in the popular English press is an article in Business Insider [1] (probably reprinted elsewhere, I didn't check). It accurately refers to claims made in a very well researched book by Leatherbarrow [2]. If you read Russian, I've also seen several interviews with one of the survivors, but couldn't quickly find a link for you. I can look for it later if you're interested.

[1] https://www.businessinsider.com/chernobyl-volunteers-divers-...

[2] https://leatherbarrowa.exposure.co/chernobyl


Ah that's great, thanks. I can't read Russian so not a big deal (though Google Translate exists, of course! haha) . Cheers! :)


I like the naked miners


At least they wore hats!


You should listen to the Chernobyl podcast to get a sense of how insanely dedicated they are to capturing every possible detail They took a few dramatic licences (a few characters are composites) - but, by and large, the stories are told lockstep in as close to a factual account as can be told.


Also the series creator, Craig Mazin, is active on Twitter as @clmazin and on reddit as clmazin.


I read the English and German Wikipedia articles about the disaster after I watched the first episode and was quite impressed how accurate it was.


+1 - we saw last night's episode... the dogs and the baby... this must be seen but it's also something you can't un-see.


I find this one more... down to Earth(?) and despite being more of a love story, it touches almost every subject there is to touch.

https://m.imdb.com/title/tt2934916/ https://youtu.be/Xe8ptlQ1_FQ


Can anyone explain why the Pripyat hospital in the first episode was so dirty and old? It had only been running for about 15 years at the time of the disaster.


I've lived my early childhood though USSR (Latvia; born in 1979), and have been to relatively recently remodeled hospitals on multiple occasions for an extended stay. Plaster and paint easily fell off, tiling was irregular and often cracked, walls were never straight or evenly plasered, bed frames already had rust, springs always squeaked. All that said, it was clean, yet because of build quality, standardized pale paint colors, and poor lighting it seemed very used and in need of repairs. It could give impression of being dirty, when watched over TV. 15 years for that type of build quality is a long time.


I recently stayed at a hotel built with this quality. Everything was rusty, from the door hinges to the windows, to the front gate. There were cracks in the foundation that shot up the walls.

I asked the manager when they opened and he told me they had been open for less than a year. The building was less than 3 years old.


It is not a coincidence that you are seeing lots of old content about Chernobyl resurfacing now.

Still, the show is amazing.


I'm confused, did they legally entered the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone? I was told that biking into the Chernobyl Zone, e.g., is forbidden due to the risk of contamination when you exit.

Edit: Indeed it was not. From Instagram, “we spent the night tiptoeing around razor wire fences, coasting through sleeping security checkpoints, and riding frantically away from some surprisingly alert and vigilant guard dogs.” This validates what I know from Ukraine. Entering the exclusion zone is a very lucrative touristic business, with prices around $100-200 for a single day trip in a group.


There are plenty of videos about this nowadays. Here's a series of videos of a Ukrainian youtuber from this winter, biking into the exclusion zone, etc:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=199KDKgO1Uc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5knVD0AnTFw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DePsh2OFNVc

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hi9rhMn6qTU

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qY3jyNbbEHY


Moxie is an anarchist, and has detailed all sorts of adventures like this. Most notably, his Anarchist Yacht Club. There's a documentary out there.


Just FYI, you didn't need to check Instagram. It's in the article.


Price of a day trip is much less if you're local. Higher prices are for tourists, but they include smaller groups and more comfortable buses.


Loved this story! Also good timing as a lot of us are watching the HBO mini-series now. I especially liked this quote: "The reason it's so beautiful and so peaceful is precisely because we can't consume it. Like, perhaps, all real paradises everywhere."


When discussing the safety of nuclear power most comments seem to focus on the number of deaths. While death count is tragic in itself, it doesn't capture the full extent of human drama.

Consider this

Fukushima

"the nuclear accident was responsible for 154,000 being evacuated"

"In December 2016 the government estimated decontamination, compensation, decommissioning, and radioactive waste storage costs at 21.5 trillion yen ($187 billion), nearly double the 2013 estimate."

Chernobyl

"In 2005, the total cost over 30 years for Belarus alone was estimated at US$235 billion; about $301 billion in today's dollars given inflation rates."

"between 5% and 7% of government spending in Ukraine is still related to Chernobyl"

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disa... https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_disaster


> Standing in the bleachers, listening to the Pripyat municipal overture of resounding bird song, the only thing we could do was stare out at the trees and wonder "how long until New York looks like this?"

I'm curious what the author meant by this. Does he mean how long would it take NYC to look like Chernobyl after a similar nuclear/natural accident happened? Or do they have a fatalistic outlook on the future due to some environmental, economic, or political worldview?

Also the end of the story mentions there are no obvious monuments to the people who worked to help rescue people but there is one in the very city he was reporting from dedicated to the firefighters and others involved: https://oddviser.com/ukraine/chernobyl/memorial


> "Also the end of the story mentions there are no obvious monuments to the people who worked to help rescue people but there is one in the very city he was reporting from dedicated to the firefighters and others involved: https://oddviser.com/ukraine/chernobyl/memorial"

I've seen it and really love it. The distinction is that it's inside the exclusion zone, a guerrilla art installation built by the liquidators themselves, not somewhere people can see it where life goes on, like Kiev or Minsk.


Right, sounds like a fascinating place. Thanks for the article.

I'm interest to learn more about the security of the place (ie, how effective is it, the possible repercussions when caught, etc). Something I plan to read more into one day.


It just means that on a long enough timeline everyone's and everything's survival rate drops to zero. For NY it may be 50 years, may be 5000 years, may be 5B years.


> fatalistic

I do not think it means what you think it means.


Looks like a perfectly apt use of the word. A fatalistic worldview can mean, for example, that they expect humankind's destructive impulses will always lead to its own destruction.


As a non-native speaker: do you care to elaborate why you think this word is incorrect here?


The word refers to a belief fate or destiny; but the usage here implied negativity or pessimism of some kind.

A "pessimistic outlook" is probably closer to what they wanted to express.


There's a YouTuber who's been traveling around Belarus and recording his daily adventures. Many of the videos are from inside the areas affected by Chernobyl. They're fun to watch: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLqWdYjn21PdHRvHB7Nrwl...


Used to be a fan of Bald until his bizarre fake fight video with Harald Baldr. Then I started to notice other little things he was doing that were a bit off-putting and how creepy and exploitative some of his videos felt. Ended up unsubscribing after that.


The Belarus exclusion zone is huge, and sort of keeps growing whenever there is a forest fire and radioactive materials are redistributed.


I thought you were linking bionerd23

https://www.youtube.com/user/bionerd23/videos


That guy made a really cringey gopnick video, and comes off as a weird sexpat to me


Q for ppl more knowledgeable - How exaggerated is this claim? :

> would have ignited a second reaction that would have been the equivalent of a 5 megaton explosion. It would have leveled Kiev and Minsk, and would have ejected the nuclear material from the other 3 Chernobyl reactors with a force that would have rendered much of Europe uninhabitable for hundreds of years

(I can imagine it is exaggerated, but I am not an expert so can't tell the magnitude. I meant 5 megatons is not that much, the tested "Tsar Bomba" was estimated at 50+ megatons. And even will tones of material spread around, most of it would have settled on the ground on a smallish area, right?)


It seems extremely exaggerated, such explosions require complicated bomb design, otherwise the first stages of the explosion throw the reacting matter away and it won't react completely.

However, 5 megatons can destroy city completely, and if it explodes close to ground, it will create lots of contamination. Then it is up to the winds. Bad wind will make this contamination a major catastrophe thousands of kilometers away.


Visited Chernobyl 3 years ago, just before they cover it with Confinement.

https://imgur.com/gallery/uIOOz1p

Btw, you can easily visit it, because of lots of tours here, it cost about $100-$150 per day. I used this company https://www.chernobyl-tour.com/english/48-one-day-trip-to-th...


I was there around the same time as you — a couple of weeks before the new sarcophagus was rolled into place, and just after the last inhabitant of Chernobyl died and her house burned down.

Everyone recommends going, but to be honest I'd give it a miss. There are plenty of nice things to see and do in Ukraine.


Maby they did sneak in, but fool me once: http://www.kiddofspeed.com/chapter1.html

The last time someone posted pictures claiming they rode their motorcycle through the forbidden zone it caused a stir because that is expressly forbidden because of the risk of picking up contaminated dust. Enclosed tour vehicles only for this reason. Then apparently, in the case of kiddofspeed, we find out she rode her motorcycle to the standard meeting place and took the standard tour. While carrying her helmet along with her for effect.


Moxie isn't known for bullshiting about stuff like that he's done a fair few things "normal" people would think fairly crazy.


Mmm, that isn't strictly true. From what I've read his anarchist-leaning sailing documentary "Hold Fast" is... controversial, in sailing circles.


I enjoyed watching his documentary, but I'm not part of sailing circles. In what way is it considered controversial?


Disclaimer: I also am not in sailing circles and also have not seen the documentary in question - I'm basing this impression entirely on the hearsay of an extensive Reddit thread (that I cannot alas find again) full of sailors who had no idea about Moxie's other life. The objections I remember were:

-incompetent sailing

-criminal behaviour (or more likely faked criminal behaviour) including theft

-making a big show about being poor and bohemian when in fact they had loads of cash (some of which was spent on the boat offscreen, rather subverting the message)

This is exactly the same kind of pseudo-rebellious sketchiness as pretending to ride your motorcycle illegally through Chernobyl, when in fact you took the official tour.

(I have just queried a sailing IRC channel and got a similar response, so I don't think I'm misremembering.)


and yet whole article is full of nonsense(death toll, explosion etc).


Funny story - dosimeters don't tick. Geiger counters tick.


All of Moxie's stories are great and I highly recommended them: https://moxie.org/stories.html

The train stories in particular made me recall reading Days of War, Nights of Love in a really good way.


Can anyone comment on the validity of the 5 MT explosion when the core material hit water? This was also stated the the HBO show.

I don’t think 5 MT fission bombs are even possible, as they tend to blow themselves apart.


Nothing against Moxie, but this stated fact is clearly nonsense. It certainly would have been terrible for a large volume of water to reach the burning core, but you're not going to get a 5MT blast from a reactor accident. It takes a LOT of things working perfectly to make a nuclear bomb explode correctly. Lots of bad things happen when reactors go critical, a nuclear blast is generally not one of them. It's the spread of contaminated matter that makes reactor accidents bad. Also, sure, explosions can happen with rapid temperature changes like one encounters in these situations, but nothing like an actual nuclear bomb.


"Only 1400 kilograms of uranium and graphite mixture would have needed to hit the water to set off a new explosion. Our experts studied the possibility and concluded that the explosion would have had a force of 3 to 5 megatons. Minsk...would have been razed." - Vassili Nesterenko, director of the Institute of Nuclear Energy at the National Academy of Sciences of Belarus.

I am not a nuclear physicist, but at least some people who are did not find this to be "clearly nonsense."


If nothing else, consider this. If all it takes to cause a 3-5MT explosion is to get uranium hot and poor water on it, why would anyone go to the effort of developing a more complex weapon? The entire Manhattan project could have been easily solved if it was this simple, and even then the Fat Man and Little Boy bombs only yielded between 13-22kT. It wasn't until 7 years after WWII that the US managed to conduct a test that broke the mega-ton barrier. More complex H-bombs are required for this.

But regardless, we're picking nits here. It's a fun read and I enjoy your stories, so I wasn't intending to pick on you.


Ignoring the plausibility of the yield, Minsk is over 150km away from Pripyat. It's impossible for a 5Mt explosion centered on Pripyat to even reach Minsk, let alone "raze" it.


I watched a documentary on the new concrete sarcophagus that they built to contain the reactor.

Its amusing that the EU had to invest billions into the project. Hell even the US put in money and expertise despite being an ocean away. Where was Russia? It was their powerplant that blew up!


"When that material then started to smolder downwards out through the floor of the chamber, it threatened to come into contact with a large amount of water that had pooled there as a result of early firefighter attempts to put it out with hoses. This would have ignited a second reaction that would have been the equivalent of a 5 megaton explosion. It would have leveled Kiev and Minsk, and would have ejected the nuclear material from the other 3 Chernobyl reactors with a force that would have rendered much of Europe uninhabitable for hundreds of years. With only days to stop it, Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov went into the ruins of the plant, knowingly facing almost certain death from that level of radiation exposure, to release valves that would drain 5 million gallons of water."

Is this really true? Are there better sources than this blog post?


The HBO series chernobyl says the same pretty much. I suppose thats a better source, but not by much.


> This cost $1.8 billion to construct, $60 million a year to maintain,

What are the maintenance costs for The Object? Is it monitoring/auditing or is there active construction/repair?


If you are talking about the New Safe Containment structure, then the plan is to disassemble the original sarcophagus and remove as much as can be done safely. Its not merely a static entombment structure (though that is its failsafe function).


Not so long ago there was a submission about visit of Arkadiusz Podniesiński in Fukushima. Before that, though, he was visiting the zone multiple times and made two long movies about it. Here's a trailer of second one. Worth a look as the visuals are quite nice.

Alone in the Zone 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdCBQA7Z1Y0


watching Chernobyl on HBO brought to life some of the stories that happened during that fateful period. Easily the best show on HBO right now


The book, 'Chernobyl, History of a Tragedy' by Serhii Plokhy gives a very good account of the accident. Days preceding, the burning days ,and political and social repurcussions there after.


Coincidentally I just started watching Chernobyl series on HBO https://www.hbo.com/chernobyl


I have got a stalker who keeps downvoting each every comment I write.


When was this published? I couldn't find a date.


Looks like 4 days ago, if I'm reading the Instagram dates correctly.


1 gallon of water weighs 8.34 lbs.

5 * 8.34 * 3 = 125.1 lbs


Five megaton explosion? That's hydrogen fusion bomb range, dude, not a steam explosion.


never ceases to amaze..


On that score- the atomic bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki did less overall damage than the Allied's firebombings in other cities- and, IIRC, there were less casualties in the nuked cities as well- the damage was just different.


We detached this subthread from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20033412 and marked it off-topic.


Well yes, some consider that the atomic bombs saved lives by ending the war. If the bombs weren't dropped and the ware continued then those fire bombings would have killed even more.


Your comment is based on the myth that the atomic bombs ended the war.

https://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-stone-kuznick-hi...

""" The atomic bombings, terrible and inhumane as they were, played little role in Japanese leaders' calculations to quickly surrender. After all, the U.S. had firebombed more than 100 Japanese cities. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were just two more cities destroyed; whether the attack required one bomb or thousands didn't much matter. As Gen. Torashirō Kawabe, the deputy chief of staff, later told U.S. interrogators, the depth of devastation wrought in Hiroshima and Nagasaki only became known "in a gradual manner." But "in comparison, the Soviet entry into the war was a great shock." """

""" Most Americans have been taught that using atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 was justified because the bombings ended the war in the Pacific, thereby averting a costly U.S. invasion of Japan. This erroneous contention finds its way into high school history texts still today. """


Incidentally, after the second atomic bombing the, officers from the Staff Office of the Ministry of War of Japan and many members of the Imperial Guard staged an attempted coup aimed at preventing the emperor from delivering his surrender. During this 'Kyūjō incident' the rebels managed to seize control of the Tokyo Imperial Palace, but of course ultimately failed, with their leaders committing suicide.

To these incredible[ly misguided] men, both atomic bombings and the impending Soviet invasion were insufficient motivation for surrender. It's an incredible incident that few have ever heard of.


Exactly, the soviet entry is clearly what led the leaders of Japan to surrender - the timeline also matches very closely. Not sure what we keep hearing the A-bomb propaganda such a long time after the facts.


In the end the atomic bombs weren't really any different than the other tools of total war though, like all the aforementioned fire bombings. There's a lot of reasons the Japanese capitulated, and the relentless damage being inflicted across the entire country by the US (including the atomic bombings) was a very important reason. If the US had just backed off and stopped applying pressure on Japan, the war may never have ended, at least not on the terms that we were demanding (and got). The continued bombing campaigns (including atomic bombs) was one way of continuing to apply pressure and force the war on towards its conclusion.

You can get into a more general argument about what kinds of acts are tolerated in war, but the atomic bombs don't seem to stand out either way. The real question is, is it acceptable to target a civilian population? What about even if doing so will ultimately save more lives? Look at the civilian death toll Japan had been inflicting on China, for instance; is it ethical to inflict a smaller number of Japanese civilian deaths in order to prevent a larger number of ongoing Chinese civilian deaths?


> at least not on the terms that we were demanding (and got)

Terms that were un-necessary. Japan still has an emperor no? Could have ended the war much earlier if they wanted to.


Emperor yes, military no. What's the point?


The point was a month before that the Japanese tried to surrender and their only condition was still having an emperor.

CydeWeys 49 days ago [flagged]

It's hard to say with certainty. It's not like we can re-run history and try it again. Japan certainly turned out well with what did happen; it's not clear that a better outcome would have resulted from a less total surrender on their part. There's a lot of value in helping to move forward when you admit that you were completely beaten, not just mostly beaten; the latter leaves the door open for a repeat.

And another factor is that we haven't had a nuclear war since Japan, which showed the horrors of nuclear warfare. Had that not happened, maybe real nuclear weapons would have been used by someone later on, when they were much more powerful and more numerous, and even when both sides possessed them? The bombings have helped ensure that something much worse hasn't happened since.

And you know what, the Japanese government deserved it. They started the war, killed millions of people in the process (including many millions of civilians in Asia), and then had the gall to try to bargain for decent surrender terms after all that horror they caused? Nope. Sometimes harsh punishment is necessary.


> And you know what, the Japanese government deserved it. They started the war, killed millions of people in the process (including many millions of civilians in Asia), and then had the gall to try to bargain for decent surrender terms after all that horror they caused? Nope. Sometimes harsh punishment is necessary.

The government yes. The people did not elect them. They had no choice in the matter, and were also trained into full propaganda mode many years before the war. So targeting civilians with fire-bombing is certainly questionable. Even McNamara said that what they did in Japan would be considered "crimes of war" in case they did not end up victorious.


A different perspective, not trying to justify killing civilians.

No matter which way a leader comes to power, the population pays the taxes and the ultimate tolls.

This means that when we are on the inside, in the country, we can't be more or less complacent with a bad dictator than a bad elected leader, we always pay the price for what they do. It's always our problem.


Back-channel peace negotiations had been taking place for quite a while before the war ended. There was a large faction in the Japanese leadership that wanted to end the war, because it was widely understood to be unwinnable.

The offer was a negotiated surrender that would end hostilities with some face-saving concessions - specifically for the Emperor.

There isn't a perfect historic record of the negotiations, but it's clear the Allies pushed hard for unconditional surrender.

If the argument is about minimising the loss of lives, the war could have been ended much earlier.

If the argument is about the post-war relationship between the allies/survivors, and which actors the bombs were supposed to send a message to, the situation is much more complex.


The face-saving concessions were an important sticking point.

The Japanese leaders didn't deserve them after what they'd did, and it really would have changed the entire post-war dynamic between Japan and other countries, and even more importantly, between the Japanese government and its own people.

Here's one term from the Potsdam Declaration, which the Japanese rejected: "The Japanese Government shall remove all obstacles to the revival and strengthening of democratic tendencies among the Japanese people. Freedom of speech, of religion, and of thought, as well as respect for the fundamental human rights shall be established."

It's not unreasonable to say that had the Allies not continued prosecuting the war and pushing for unconditional surrender that Japan might not have ended up with a democratic government at all. It would have been much worse if the emperor and military figures had stayed in charge, and could have easily led to more repeats of wars of Japanese imperialism.

So yeah, I think it's important to look at it holistically and see what the actual long-term outcome after the war was (which was about as ideal as was possible), vs. what would've happened had we just ended the war as quickly as possible to minimize casualties but without getting wholesale reforms in the Japanese form of government.

DocTomoe 48 days ago [flagged]

> They started the war, killed millions of people in the process (including many millions of civilians in Asia), and then had the gall to try to bargain for decent surrender terms after all that horror they caused?

Applying that standard, there would not be a single American left alive for the constant war they wage since the end of WW2.

CydeWeys 48 days ago [flagged]

The key difference is that Japan was defeated utterly; the US was never even close. The last fighting we did on our home soil was the Civil War; discounting that, 1812.

In warfare more than almost anything else, might matters.

DocTomoe 48 days ago [flagged]

Indeed. You better pray that the US keeps being able to keep war away from their soil, because what comes around goes around. Especially when people like you gleefully claim that civilians "had it coming".

CydeWeys 48 days ago [flagged]

The thousands of nuclear weapons we have make this an academic question. Everyone knows that we would use them if facing an invasion of our homeland, so there never will be a foreign invasion on our soil.

I know we've done some shitty things to a variety of different countries over the years, but those acts are never going to be reciprocated in kind because they're the kinds of acts that only the powerful can do to the weak, and the US is not weak. It's not a value or moral judgment, it's just the reality of how power and force work.


Spoken like a true Roman, ca. 409 AC

soperj 48 days ago [flagged]

>They started the war, killed millions of people in the process (including many millions of civilians in Asia), and then had the gall to try to bargain for decent surrender terms after all that horror they caused? Nope. Sometimes harsh punishment is necessary.

Wonder what you have to say about what the US deserves after the Iraq war?

CydeWeys 48 days ago [flagged]

Not the same situation at all? Japan was defeated utterly in WWII. We were nowhere close. We chose to leave; we didn't need terms.


No, no terms necessary. Harsh punishment though.


That's something that Soviets very much want the world to believe, but they have never had shown how they could even possibly get their troops anywhere near Japanese mainland, what with Russian/Soviet/Russian navy historically being more dangerous to people who serve there than any enemy. And whatever happened in Manchuria or Korea didn't really concern Japan by that point anyway.


There were no either Japanese Navy nor Japanese Air Force at this point, so quality of Soviet Navy does not matter. All they would need to do is to transport enough bodies to the islands.


You can't really move a massive invasion force on wooden rafts. Unless they would've asked form some D-Day leftovers, it's just not very feasible.


There were enough of Soviet troops to invade Japanese puppet Manchukuo, and they were planning on going to Hokkaido. [1]

Japan was plenty concerned, especially remembering the last time they met USSR military. [2]

In fact, memories of that smashing were arguably the reason Japan turned east to Pearl Harbour, rather than west to Soviet Union. [3]

[1] https://www.warhistoryonline.com/instant-articles/red-army-i...

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battles_of_Khalkhin_Gol

[3] https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/13102802-nomonhan-1939


Oh, they had enough troops for Manchuria, but of course at that time what happened there wasn't all that important to the mainland, and USSR had little in the way of ability to get there anyway.

What Zhukov had shown at Khalkhin Gol, just as against Germans, was that with a significant advantage in manpower and equipment (double the manpower, 7 times the tanks) Soviets can actually beat up someone.


Well the reality is that the Japanese leadership at the time didn't give a damn about the suffering and death of its own people. There were those who wanted Japanese schoolgirls to charge American tanks with bamboo spears.

After WW2 it was more convenient for everyone to say that Hiroshima was what ended the war. The picture of a bunch of crazy generals in a bunker planning Japanese resistance until literally the last man woman and child is not very flattering.


I have a U.S. Political History textbook (highschool level I believe) from 1949. The first page after the table of contents features a picture of a mushroom cloud from a nuclear explosion, and a blurb about how the U.S.A. created an ultimate weapon that saved the lives of millions by forcing Japan to make peace. It was such a shock opening to that page the first time I opened the book... Understandable that the myth has propagated for so long; we were indoctrinating our children with this misinformation.


Interesting, I started off by getting 6 or so upvotes; 1 day later, I'm down to -1. I wonder what changed?


It's also the ending of WW2 in every movie, book and game exported from USA.


Oliver Stone is a professional conspiracy theorist.


If you are ever in Japan, IMHO, it is really interesting to go both to the Hiroshima peace memorial museum and the Yasukuni shrine war museum in Tokyo. The contrast is really interesting, especially wrt the interpretation of the end of WWII in Japan. I think it's fair to say that whoever you talk to there is a fair amount of propaganda pushing one, mostly political, view over another.

What I can say with some certainty is that after the war more than 1 million people in Japan died of starvation due to the combined effects of the US blockade during the war and the poor food distribution system in Japan at the time. In fact, Japan's protectionist agricultural system of today is based on measures put in place by the occupational government, designed to ensure that such a famine could not occur again.

Japan was already beaten by the time the atomic bombs were dropped. Firebombing would have been completely unnecessary. The US just needed to wait. The main issue, of course, was whether or not there would have been a conditional surrender or an unconditional surrender. Similarly talks of land invasions and militia trying to defend the main islands is also interesting, but actually pretty unrealistic. If you can find it, I recommend reading "Barefoot Gen" which is a manga about the time period written by someone who survived it. It is available in English.

As someone who now makes Japan his home (and hopefully eventually obtain citizenship), I am of mixed feelings about the end of the war. It worked out the way it worked out and I think people would be hard pressed to say that the outcome was ultimately bad for Japan. I suspect that Japan was even dramatically better off for having lost the war. Hindsight is 20:20, of course. However, I think the rationalisation of the use of atomic weapons is pretty darn thin. The argument that it saved lives is incredibly speculative and really not based in any realistic evaluation of the situation at the time. Even today there is a lot of propaganda flying around. I try not to second guess that decision. Whatever reasons there were, it happened the way it did. However, I don't think we need to perpetuate the image of America doing no wrong. We don't have to rationalise the decision. It was what it was.


I have heard this argument so many times, it almost seems like this has been drilled into American minds post fact to rationalize the only nuclear attack in human history. I can never take this argument seriously. There was no way there would have been more deaths unless the bombs were dropped. Imagine someone suggesting dropping a bomb in a dense city as an argument for “saving lives”. It seems absurd. Nobody knows how the exactly the war would have played out. So there was no guaranteed outcome. So, the bomb was dropped at best based on some probability.


> Imagine someone suggesting dropping a bomb in a dense city as an argument for “saving lives”.

But they did say that, and they said that after the war too.

Dresden fire bombing was justified partly with that kind of thinking.

The US's use of "Shock and Awe" had the same aims.

> Using as an example a theoretical invasion of Iraq 20 years after Operation Desert Storm, the authors claimed, "Shutting the country down would entail both the physical destruction of appropriate infrastructure and the shutdown and control of the flow of all vital information and associated commerce so rapidly as to achieve a level of national shock akin to the effect that dropping nuclear weapons on Hiroshima and Nagasaki had on the Japanese."[10]

> Reiterating the example in an interview with CBS News several months before Operation Iraqi Freedom, Ullman stated, "You're sitting in Baghdad and all of a sudden you're the general and 30 of your division headquarters have been wiped out. You also take the city down. By that I mean you get rid of their power, water. In 2, 3, 4, 5 days they are physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausted."[11]


> drilled into American minds

This was also taught to me in Europe.


I had some suprisingly varied versions of this in school (also europe)

a) to save lives b) the bombs were actually planned for use against berlin, but the nazis already collapsed when they were ready c) because how else could you ever test these weapons in a realcase scenario d) to force a unconditional victory

The truth is probably as often a mixture of multiple interests at different levels with different motivations


Yes, their national birthrate, for example...


I found it very distracting that none of the ostensibly Russian or Ukrainian characters have an even remotely slavic accent.


The creator/writer/director has a podcast where this was discussed. He opted to have the actors speak in their natural accent so that the actors don't act to the accent but instead act to the situation. I may be doing a bad job explaining it but he said something along the lines of actors starting to take on stereotypical traits when doing an accent, and he wanted to focus more on the reactions to the situation at hand.


I believe you are referring to the HBO miniseries, Chernobyl.

The showrunners explained in a podcast that in auditions, characters used Slavic accents but ended up becoming distracting and could have ended up comical.

https://open.spotify.com/episode/2T6ldM41ZbVzuEaL644sef?si=1...


So Soviet characters that speak English with a slavic accent would be less distracting? Surely if you are bothered by this they should be speaking Russian with English subtitles.


I think we have seen this sort of approach succeed in a major US TV production in Netflix's Narcos. There are English-speaking characters, yes, but most of the drama happens entirely in Spanish.

I think this series would also have been better fully in Russian with English subtitles.


That would have been much better.


But was it more distracting than the actors attempting a bad accent, and the affect that would have on their overall performance?


I hate it when movies try to portray foreign language speakers as speaking accented English. That’s not how any of this works!

If they want to go for accuracy, the actors should speak the actual language. Provide subtitles for outside audiences.

Otherwise, just have the actors speak normally. It’s no less authentic than speaking with an accent, and the actors can focus on acting.

Another prominent Soviet example of doing this well is The Death of Stalin. You actually get a sense of the people as real people instead of scary foreigners.


I’ve heard some audiences (probably Americans) don’t like subtitles. So it’s a matter of money in some ways.


I wonder if that explains Amazon Prime's dubbed shows? I thought it was unusual (along with Netflix's 3%); in the UK I'm used to foreign programmes only being subtitled.


After seeing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, I became a fan of subtitled movies. Part way through the movie it felt like I understood Mandarin.


I wish they had gone with the actual language + used subtitles, it really destroys the immersion.


I feel the opposite. I always feel like having to read subtitles destroys the immersion, because I can't read the subtitles and also watch the environment and visual cues and facial expressions. If I'm reading subtitles, I might as well be reading a book because I'm not watching the show anymore.


If you grew up watching subtitled cinema, it becomes second nature. You manage to hear the original audio, watch the actors' faces, and read the subtitles, all without missing a beat. Believe me, it trumps the alternative, which is dubbing. Where I come from, dubbing is for kids' movies ;)


The main actors are definitely A-List and they "make it work" beautifully in English with whatever their native accents happen to be.

If it were a Russian language production with Russian actors, that could also be just fine, but it wouldn't get as much distribution.


Somebody, please explain me, why out of blue it became fashionable to put that native-sounding flavour of an accent in games and movies even when its story assumes almost every character in it is a native speaker?

I always find it disturbing. As every native Russian speaker, I tend to feel it perceive as beautiful and melodic. Just as any other Russian, Ukranian, Greek or whoever else. Sounds like a joke and not a good one. Makes me skip the whole title.

Why are they doing it? Does it really help anybody with immersion?


I believe accents go along with a campy or cliched artistic aesthetic.

In any case, I think American evening comedy peaked before I was born.


Surprisingly, that's how I thought about it.


I speak with Russian accent, and most of the time I find the representation of it by English actors extremely laughable.


Being from around those parts, and remembering the time when the accident happened (watching the evening news with my father when they admitted publicly to the disaster and my father shaking his head and saying "hell, if they admitted to this much, the reality must be 10x as worse"). Anyway, I'd have to say the lack of accents were not even noticeable because the acting, the scenery, even down to small details like the clothes, haircuts, paint color schemes were are just incredibly well done.

Yeah they took some liberty with condensing multiple characters into the Khomyuk character, but even she was believable.


It's actually very distracting that most of them speak a perfect british accents. I was quite confused at the beginning whether british engineers or scientists were actually working for Russia or Ukrainian at the time.


I thought it was German soldiers who spoke British. It's a crazy old world.


I remember seeing a couple of WWII movies, one where the German's had english accents vs Americans. The other with English accents as the 'good guys'. I asked my dad if WWII was a war within England.




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