A Radiologist’s Reaction to the Chernobyl Miniseries

Category: Chernobyl, Disaster
Last Updated: 28 Feb 2023
Pages: 4 Views: 80

The world's greatest nuclear disaster happened at Chernobyl, located in Ukraine, in the early morning hours of April 26, 1986. After watching the Chernobyl miniseries, it can be said that the lack of public knowledge regarding radiation effects and with the Soviet Union trying to cover up the catastrophe, many lives were lost, and others carry long term effects from the disaster. The following is my analysis of the film and my personal reaction towards it.

When reactor number four first exploded, a low-dose dosimeter gave off a reading of 3.6 R/hr, which was the highest the dosimeter was designed to detect. Regarding the dosimeter reading, Deputy Chief Engineer Anatoly Dyatlov says, "Not great, not terrible." (Wohlenberg, 2019) Little did they know just how much radiation there actually was.

Dyatlov was also in denial about the core exploding and said it was impossible. He sent two men to go check the core. When they arrived where the core should have been, their faces immediately turned red (erythema). When they returned to the control room, one of the men started vomiting. Erythema and vomiting are just two of the early tissue reactions from high doses of ionizing radiation.

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Later, Dyatlov, along with the plant director, Viktor Brukhanov and others gathered in a shelter that was actually built for a nuclear attack from the United States. A man asked how the reactor core exploded and once again, Dyatlov says it could not have happened. Then Dyatlov started to vomit.

Since Dyatlov and others in management were in shock and denial regarding the explosion they did not realize the amount of radiation being released. However, while they were having discussions in the nuclear shelter, workers, firemen, and as well as town residents were being exposed to a highly toxic amount of radiation.

Pripyat was a town about 2 miles from Chernobyl built for the workers and families of the plant. Members of the community were watching the fire off in the distance as the wind carried the fallout from the explosion right over them. The ash coming down was like snow to the kids and they were playing in it.

The adults were oblivious to the danger. It would appear that neither the plant management nor the government had taken steps to explain what to do in the event of a nuclear disaster. As the sun rose, everyone was still going about their normal lives not knowing just how dire the situation was.

General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev appointed Deputy Chairman Boris Shcherbina and Valery Legasov, Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy to assess the situation. Before they went to Chernobyl, Shcherbina was reporting that everything was stable, the radiation being put off was no more than 3.6 R/hr which was equivalent to a chest x-ray, and the media did not know anything about the disaster. Legasov informed Shcherbina that the radiation was actually equivalent to 400 chest x-rays.

Once they arrived at Chernobyl, a high- range dosimeter was put on the front of a lead-lined vehicle along with the driver protected as much as possible and the reading was 15,000 R/hr at the plant site. This was 30 to 40 times as much radioactivity as the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs combined in 1945 (Sherer, 2018, p.27).

15,000 R/hr is more than enough radiation to cause acute radiation syndrome (ARS). ARS occurs when large doses of ionizing radiation are received by the whole body over a short period of time. This is exactly what happened to several workers and firemen at the nuclear plant.

There are four stages of ARS:

  1. Prodromal occurs within hours of being exposed and causes the skin to blister, turn red, and then black;
  2. There is a latency period where the immediate effects subside and the person seems to be recovering;
  3. Manifest illness occurs when the bone marrow dies, immune system fails, and the organs and tissue begin to decompose;
  4. Next is either recovery or an extremely painful death.

Besides the early effects of radiation, there are also late effects. These can occur months or years after exposure and include cancer, cataracts, and birth defects. Thyroid cancer is one of the main adverse health effects for the people in the Chernobyl region.
The city of Pripyat was not evacuated until 36 hours after the explosion.

During those 36 hours, the public was not given any information about the explosion or how to protect themselves. The next day is when the world found out about Chernobyl. Radioactive particles made their way to Sweden and when questioned if there had been a nuclear accident, Moscow said no.

Only when Sweden threatened to file an official alert with the International Atomic Energy Authority is when Moscow admitted that there had been an accident at Chernobyl (Berdnyk, 2020). The official cause of the explosion was a combination of human error and a flawed reactor design. Since then, the safety of all Soviet-designed reactors has improved vastly (World Nuclear Association, 2021).

In addition, many nuclear engineers from the former Soviet Union have visited Western nuclear power plants (World Nuclear Association, 2021).

My reactions to watching the Chernobyl miniseries were very emotional. My first reaction came when the people were on the bridge with the fallout coming down all around them. I'm sitting there telling the tv, "no, no, no", especially when the kids were playing in it. Watching the residents evacuating made me cry.

The scenes with the pregnant wife of the fireman who lost her husband as well as her baby was heart wrenching. There were times when I felt I was watching a fiction movie, but then I remembered that this actually happened. I don't think my reactions would have been so strong if I wasn't a radiology student and had learned the dangers of radiation and the effects it can have.

The Chernobyl disaster may or may not have been preventable but certainly better communication and accountability would have saved lives and long-term consequences of the people at the plant and in the surrounding areas. For the plant to not have a high range dosimeter on site was irresponsible.

For the Government to try to cover up the disaster was inexcusable. We can only hope that the lessons learned from this catastrophic event will help to prevent such a situation from ever occurring again.

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A Radiologist’s Reaction to the Chernobyl Miniseries. (2023, Feb 28). Retrieved from https://phdessay.com/a-radiologists-reaction-to-the-chernobyl-miniseries/

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