Chernobyl HBO show: myths vs reality of the nuclear disaster

Retelling the 1986 Chernobyl disaster is an exercise in unburying the truth.

The world’s worst nuclear power plant accident forced the city of Pripyat, in what was then part of the Soviet Union, to evacuate after being exposed to toxic levels of radiation. In its wake, Soviet officials publicly downplayed the incident. To this day, scientists are still working to understand the effects of the fatal explosion.

Read more: ‘Apples the size of watermelons’: A psychologist reveals what it was like to grow up in the Chernobyl fallout zone

What we do know is that the core of a nuclear reactor opened, sending plumes of radioactive material into the air. The toxic fumes not only contaminated the local vegetation and water supply but also poisoned nearby residents, some of whom went on to develop cancer.

Within three months of the disaster, more than 30 people had died of acute radiation sickness.

“We can only estimate the real effects on people’s lives,” said Jan Haverkamp, a senior nuclear energy expert at Greenpeace, who noted the catastrophe most likely had a severe impact on hundreds of thousands of people.

While developing his HBO series, “Chernobyl,” the writer and producer Craig Mazin approached conflicting accounts of the event with a degree of caution.

“I always defaulted to the less dramatic because the things that we know for sure happened are so inherently dramatic,” he told Variety’s “TV Take” podcast.

The miniseries earned 19 Emmy nominations, including in the Outstanding Limited Series category, in which it’s considered a frontrunner. The award show will be held Sunday, September 22.

For the most part, it’s hauntingly accurate — with the exception of a few artistic liberties. We fact-checked some of the major plot points from the series to determine what’s true and what verges on myth.

Note: This article contains spoilers of episodes one through five.

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