Useful Notes / Chernobyl

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Above: The Chernobyl Power Plant. Below: The abandoned city of Pripyat, Ukraine.

"Look at this place. Fifty thousand people used to live here. Now it's a ghost town. I've never seen anything like it."
Captain MacMillan on Pripyat, Modern Warfare

The site of what is often regarded as the worst disaster in nuclear power history, the Chernobyl (AKA Chornobyl or V.I. Lenin Memorial) Nuclear Power Plant was one of the USSR's biggest and most modern nuclear power plants, designed to give power to the city of Kiev, Ukrainian SSR (now Ukraine). The disaster was the first accident to score a 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the scale's highest rating (the only other with this rating is the Fukushima Daiichi disaster) and surrounding areas remain uninhabitable to this day.

The disaster, which happened in April 1986, was the result of several factors. The RMBK designs of the Soviet Union were inherently flawed in that they could heat up very quickly. Reactor number 4 (the newest of the reactors and the one in which the accident occurred) had a strong containment structure on the side, but its roof wasn't as strong. The plant personnel were also carrying out a dangerous test with reactor 4 for power outage protocols at night (since they didn't want to interfere with citizens' electricity usage) with inexperienced workers. As they tried to maintain a delicate balance between cooling the reactor and powering it, things slowly got more and more out of hand. Then, communication between both sides got cut off. The explosion occurred when after several desperate corrections, the side controlling the graphite power rods (which had already taken out a dangerously large number of them to begin with) put too many back into the reactor all at once, triggering the disaster. The explosion wasn't like, say, a nuclear bomb explosion, but more comparable to a volcanic eruption.

As this was still during the years of the Soviet Union, and Mikhail Gorbachev had only been in office for a year at this point, news about the disaster was slow to come out. The day after the disaster the people of Pripyat were just minding their own business as usual, and it was until the second day when action was actually taken: the government forces up and showed up at Pripyat and told everybody to pack only their essentials (they claimed the citizens of Pripyat could return later) and evacuate immediately. The radiation spread through Russia, and the Kremlin remained tight-lipped. Then it spread to the Baltic states, and the Kremlin remained tight-lipped. Then the radiation reached the Capitalist bloc in Sweden... and that's where the cat got out of the bag and the Soviet Union had to admit that the accident happened. The international reaction led to a halt of almost all nuclear reactor development worldwide, with some (such as Italy) going so far as to close down their nuclear plants. Many neighboring areas to the plant were made instantly unsafe for habitation, with a 30 km exclusion zone established, with cities in the zone (most notably Pripyat, the city where workers of the plant lived) remaining ghost towns to this day.

The Soviets also had to contend with the plant remains, given that there was (and will be for the next several thousand years) enough plutonium inside the reactor to potentially poison one hundred million people. Their initial response was to haphazardly have hundreds of thousands of men wearing lead suits briefly push some of the debris on the top of the reactor building down into the reactor for 3 minutes each, since the radiation levels were so high that doing it any longer would be extremely dangerous, even in the best radiation protection suits available. Once this was done, they hastily built a containment structure to temporarily contain what was left in reactor number 4. As radiation remained in the power plant's other reactors, the power plant remained operational until they could safely decommission each reactor, with the plant finally closing down in the year 2000. Since the containment structure was meant to only be a quick and short term solution, a giant moving arch structure called the Chernobyl New Safe Confinement was built next to the plant. After several delays, the arch was moved into place in November 2016, with the end wall scheduled for completion in late 2017. The disaster led to 31 immediate deaths, with cancer deaths caused by the disaster estimated to be in the thousands. Containment cost the Soviet Union 18 billion rubles,note  and the disaster has cost hundreds of billions of dollars in containment and treatment since.

Contrary to popular belief, the plant and its exclusion zone are not as unsafe as you might think. While travel into the exclusion zone is strictly controlled and usually available only through tour groups, the ghost towns of Pripyat (the more famous ghost town and closest to the plant) and Chernobyl are safe to visit and are fairly well preserved Soviet ghost towns, though staying there longer than with the tour groups would be unwise, and you would do well to listen to your tour guide's instructions while you're there. The exclusion zone has also become an unintentional wildlife preserve, with many scientists studying the effects of radiation on such life, though with few exceptions, animals in the area don't seem affected by it much.

Due to being home to ghost towns and impossibility of detecting radiation without proper tools until it's too late, Chernobyl and its surrounding area lends itself well to horror settings.


Tropes associated with Chernobyl:

  • Abandoned Area: An unfortunate result of the catastrophe. Families were told to pack only essential items with the implication that they would return (obviously, they never did), and as a result, there are still family pictures, furniture, and other assorted items you'd find around the house still lying around relatively untouched, with the exception of most valuables—either the families took them with them, or they were looted in the years since the accident.
    • Subverted in the case of a few small villages within the Zone, in which elderly residents (mostly old women with no living kin) have stubbornly insisted on going back to the homes their families had inhabited for generations. Ukrainian security personnel occasionally remove them from the Exclusion Zone with stern lectures about the danger, but the returners say they'd rather spend a short old age near the place where they were born and their ancestors are buried than a long old age among strangers.
    • Preliminary plans to re-purpose parts of the Zone for solar farms may further subvert this trope, assuming the installation of panels and restoration of long-neglected power lines can be carried out by work crews that rotate out frequently.
  • Abandoned Playground: The theme park in Pripyat, which was scheduled to open shortly after the disaster. There are also more conventional abandoned playgrounds in the area.
  • Apocalypse How: Class 0—regional catastrophe.
  • Black Site: In connection to its Forbidden Zone status, some fiction portrays it as hiding something top secret.
  • Company Town: Pripyat was this before the disaster. As was typical in the USSR for their key industry and military sites, the Soviets built an entire town near the plant to house its workers and their families. It possessed twenty schools, fifty stores and restaurants, ten gyms, and even an amusement park.
  • Forbidden Zone: The Chernobyl exclusion zone.
  • Ghost Town/Ghost City: Pripyat is one of the most iconic modern examples.
  • Hiroshima as a Unit of Measure: Reactor meltdown about to happen in your story? Use "X" Chernobyls to describe how bad it's going to get.
  • Nuclear Nasty: As a place of radioactive contamination, many stories portray the area as a source of these. This is mostly Averted in real life, with local animals not affected by the radiation heavily and some even adapting to the radioactive environment. However, one of the most notable objects in the zone is the Elephant's Foot, a mass of cooled nuclear lava in the basement of the plant that is so radioactive that people actually can't look directly at it without dying very quickly.


Chernobyl in Media:

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     Anime And Manga 
  • Mentioned in Gunslinger Girl, as Elisabeta/Petruskha had lived in a part of the Ukraine that had been heavily affected by Chernobyl, which ended up giving her cancer. This led to her leg getting amputated, ruining her dream of becoming a ballerina, and led her to attempt suicide, which brought her to the attention of the Agency that made her a cyborg. It's revealed near the end of the series that Chernobyl also gave her leukemia, which eventually kills her.

     Films  
  • The climactic fight of A Good Day to Die Hard occurs in Chernobyl.
  • Chernobyl Diaries is a horror film set in Pripyat.
  • Universal Soldier: Regeneration has the protagonist defusing a hostage situation at the Chernobyl plant.
  • A part of Transformers: Dark of the Moon takes place here; the protagonists discover some tech taken from the Ark (the Autobots' ship) and Shockwave (who, according to the prequel comics, had been sealed underneath Chernobyl for years) shows up and attacks the men investigating the tech.
  • In Godzilla (1998), Niko Tatopoulos was studying earthworms in Chernobyl before military people stopped him.
    • And in Godzilla (2014), the ruins in the Janjira "death zone" were clearly inspired by photos of Pripyat.
  • The environmental disaster that weakens the Klingon Empire at the beginning of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country is widely considered to have been inspired by Chernobyl.

     Live Action TV  
  • In episode 3 of Series 21 of Top Gear, The Final Challenge involves the hosts trying to run out of fuel so that they don't have to drive into this area. Only Richard Hammond succeeds. The other two end up having to drive into the exclusion zone, taking necessary precautions, and Jeremy Clarkson runs out of gas in Pripyat.
  • One episode of River Monsters was shot in Pripyat and near Reactor #4, as Jeremy Wade was searching for supposed giant mutated fish. In the end, he caught nothing that was close to a mutant monster. It was a Wels catfish, which he'd previously caught in an earlier season in Spain, but the one from Chernobyl was less than half the size of an ordinary Wels of the same general age.
  • In the Millennium episode, "Maranatha", it featured a Monster of the Week who was actually responsible for the Chernobyl disaster, as he was a religious psychotic who wanted to start the Apocalypse by creating wormwood.
  • In the The X-Files episode "The Host", Scully concludes that the Flukeman creature was created due to radioactive sewage from Chernobyl.
  • Life After People used footage of Pripyat to illustrate how civilization's remnants would fall apart after two decades without any human presence.

     Video Games  
  • S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl takes place in a world where a second explosion occurs at the power plant and results in the Zone (as the game calls the area) becoming a bizarre place of anomalies and mutants. Taken further with the sequel having the subtitle "Call of Pripyat". The scary thing being that a second explosion was a real threat during the initial containment of the disaster, the molten "corium", responsible for formations like the Elephant's Foot, could've hit cooling water in the basement and triggered an even bigger flash-steam explosion if not for a few brave workers that swam around said water in the dark in order to drain it.
  • The Arctic Thunder arcade game has a course called Chernobyl Meltdown.
  • Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has two levels that take place here. Told in flashback not long after the meltdown, it involves sneaking through the containment and hot zones lovingly crafted and recreated to the smallest detail from the real place.
  • In Metal Gear Solid, a codec reveals that Nastasha Romanenko used to live near the Chernobyl plant (implied to have been Pripyat) and her parents both died in the work to contain the disaster. This is the source of her strong anti-nuclear weapon stance.
  • In Snatcher, the Catastrophe involving an explosion at a nuclear facility in Chernoton, Russia, releasing a biotoxin called Lucifer-Alpha is similar to the Chernobyl disaster.
  • The Strike Series entry Soviet Strike plays up the horror movie aspect of the setting while addressing the very real disaster through stock footage of the aftermath and potential terrorist threat of trying to gain access to the nuclear materials of the melted down reactor.

     Webcomics  
  • On top of Chernobyl being mentioned in a few strips in XKCD, the comic creator even made a chart chronicling radiation doses. Naturally, Chernobyl is referenced quite a bit in this chart.
  • In Polandball, Belarus is often depicted as having 3 eyes in reference to the Chernobyl disaster. This is due to the fact that Chernobyl is near the Ukrainian-Belarusian border, with the latter receiving most of the nuclear fallout.

     Web Original  

     Western Animation  
  • Referenced several times in The Simpsons, usually made in light that some kind of terrible accident was (barely) averted at the Springfield nuclear power plant.
  • Spiderman The Animated Series. In The Six Forgotten Warriors arc towards the end of its run, the Big Bad has a base of operations beneath the power plant. Inevitably, Spidey, a bunch of mercs, Kingpin and the Sinister Six all end up outside, which is when they​ all take notice of their surroundings. Rhino doesn't see what the big deal is, Kingpin is nonplussed, while Scorpion, Vulture and Doc Ok are having a collective Oh, Crap!. The prospect of radiation poisoning steers both teams to call it a draw and leave pronto.

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