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.
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.
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. 
I also believe that 7.3 million people die every year as a direct result of the burning of fossil fuels. 
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
The alternatives, even the green ones like hydroelectric, have dwarfed nuclear-related deaths hundreds, if not thousands, of times over with single catastrophes.
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.
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.
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.
“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  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.
 - https://www.who.int/airpollution/data/AAP_BoD_methods_March2...
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 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.
> 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.
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?
> 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Of course it's not a realistic trade-off - it's "easy" to make plants vastly safer than either.
I'd add the Romanian authorities to that list (I'm from Romania). Looking at the areas contaminated with Cesium-137  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.
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.
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.
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 
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 ."
Meta studies based on statistical analysis is inherently challenged. This one is no better (and no worse) than the others.
"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."
"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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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. 
This is a great reminder that propaganda always happens on both sides.
Not that we don't do propaganda, but I don't think it was government orchestrated and political in this case.
Edit: Posted to HN here: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20033770.
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.
I think the best source for these numbers is the Wikipedia article "Deaths due to the Chernobyl disaster" . 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.
> "[...] 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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
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.
* 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.
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?"
I'm not trying to push hard on a particular argument here.
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 .
I have never been to Belarus or Ukraine and have no real desire to, though Poland is pretty high on my list.
Was this a technical issue, or was the pilot affect by the radiation?
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.
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 . (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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
There’s nothing amazing about people disagreeing, surely?
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.
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.
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 :)
Perhaps it was indeed wrong, but it sounds like that might be actually what those involved believed at the time.
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.
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.
 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Still, the show is amazing.
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.
"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."
"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"
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
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.
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.
I do not think it means what you think it means.
A "pessimistic outlook" is probably closer to what they wanted to express.
> 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?)
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.
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...
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.
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.
-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.)
The train stories in particular made me recall reading Days of War, Nights of Love in a really good way.
I don’t think 5 MT fission bombs are even possible, as they tend to blow themselves apart.
I am not a nuclear physicist, but at least some people who are did not find this to be "clearly nonsense."
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.
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!
Is this really true? Are there better sources than this blog post?
What are the maintenance costs for The Object? Is it monitoring/auditing or is there active construction/repair?
Alone in the Zone 2: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zdCBQA7Z1Y0
5 * 8.34 * 3 = 125.1 lbs
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.
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.
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?
Terms that were un-necessary. Japan still has an emperor no?
Could have ended the war much earlier if they wanted to.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Applying that standard, there would not be a single American left alive for the constant war they wage since the end of WW2.
In warfare more than almost anything else, might matters.
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.
Wonder what you have to say about what the US deserves after the Iraq war?
Japan was plenty concerned, especially remembering the last time they met USSR military. 
In fact, memories of that smashing were arguably the reason Japan turned east to Pearl Harbour, rather than west to Soviet Union. 
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.
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.
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.
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."
> 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."
This was also taught to me in 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
The showrunners explained in a podcast that in auditions, characters used Slavic accents but ended up becoming distracting and could have ended up comical.
I think this series would also have been better fully in Russian with English subtitles.
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.
If it were a Russian language production with Russian actors, that could also be just fine, but it wouldn't get as much distribution.
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?
In any case, I think American evening comedy peaked before I was born.
Yeah they took some liberty with condensing multiple characters into the Khomyuk character, but even she was believable.