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Headscratchers / Chernobyl

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     Why don't you just shoot him? 

  • Was there any point in keeping any of the control room ops and firefighters alive who were dosed with THAT much radiation after they've given their testimonies in Episode 3, and real life for that matter? I know the USSR wasn't the pinnacle of humane treatment, but if those people were going to die in the most painful way imaginable, surely a few bullets to the head would be a mercy?
    • In the show it's because they didn't do it in real life. In real life it's because in 1986 there was no legal euthanasia. A more cynical take might be that allowing the radiation sickness to run its course had medical/analytical value. Putting them out of their misery sure would have been more humane.
    • That could be said about countless people dying in hospitals in slow and incredibly painful ways. Even in 2019, most countries don't allow euthanizing people with terminal illnesses.
    • ARS is also not as clear cut as it may seem. I'm sure Yuvchenko was happy that he was not put down despite receiving what was statistically a lethal ammount of radiation, for example.
    • The public execution of your own citizens is very bad for morale, even in the Cold War Soviet Union. The same reason they couldn't kill Legasov for burning the KGB. Well, at least at his show trial. If he blabbed at Vienna, they probably would have executed him.
    • There is also the matter is that you did have an international team of doctors working on the patients. Mind, most of the exposure was at least mitigated, even for the firefighters, by the treatments they had at the time. In truth, a far greater concern was the development of cancers/health issues over the following decades rather than immediate death.

    The old Pripyat doctor 

  • While the chance for any radiation leaking would been assumed to be very low, why is a doctor who appears to be in charge and is working in a hospital in a nuclear industry town not only hopelessly inept at treating radiation burns, but also completly unable to recognize them and not even having a stock of iodine pills in storage?
    • Probably because of the Soviets believing their own publicity. What’s the point in training a civilian doctor to treat radiation sickness, when there’s nothing that can go wrong with a nuclear power station that could cause anyone to suffer from it? In the Real Life USSR in 1986, the leading authority on treating radiation sickness was Dr Angelina Guskova, who came from a military background, specifically the treatment of serviceman injured in radiation accidents. This wasn’t the sort of information that got shared with civilians.
    • The male doctor is actually not in charge of anything as far as we know. He's just an old maternity doctor that is pushed to treat radiation victims when the hospital is overhelmed with them. Word of God is that both characters are doctors (and the older doctor does indeed call Zinchenko doctor in their first scene): the old is a representative of the older generation of Soviet doctors who were not educated in many modern treatments due to the USSR's isolation during their youth, and would resort to folk treatments like cleaning burns with milk; while the young (Zinchenko) is a representative of the newer generation that is better informed.

    Lethal Radiation 
  • There seems to be many, many different ways to measure harmful radiation: roentgens, grays, sieverts, rads.... what is the difference? Also, which levels are lethal and which could you recover from?
    • Sieverts, grays, etc. are SI units. SI is a series of unit measurement that is used throughout most of the world. Some other examples of SI units include the metric system (centimeters, meters, kilometers) and the Celsius measurement system. Roentgen, REM, and rads are non-SI units and aren't really commonly used anymore. Ambient radiation levels are expressed in Roentgen, which is a non-SI unit. Roentgen measures the amount of radiation in the air. This measurement doesn't really have an SI Unit equivalent. If radiation enters an object, living or not, we measure it in either rads (non-SI unit) or Grays (SI unit). REM (non-SI unit) and Sieverts (SI Unit) measures the effect of radiation on the human body. 1REM absorbed by your body increases your risk of cancer by 0.05%. 1 Roentgen deposits 0.96REM in the body. 1REM is equal to 100 Sieverts.

    Diver Survival 
  • Apparently, the divers all survived, and two are still alive today (Boris Baranov died of a heart attack in 2005). How is this possible? Radiation loves to concentrate in water, so I can't see how they could have survived that mission without dying in a few weeks.
    • Water is actually an extremely good source of protection against radiation. The majority of nuclear power plants across the world actually store spent nuclear fuel in open pools of water for this very reason. Therefore, while there may have been radioactive isotopes dissolved or suspended in the water, the actual radiation dose for the workers wading into the water would have been lower than just walking through a dry tunnel, because water blocks radiation exceptionally well. Relevant XKCD
      • In some harder sci-fi novels, spaceships use water as shielding against cosmic radiation.
    • In addition, the diving suits they were wearing were providing additional protection against the radiation.
    • And finally, since they were using rebreathers, they could avoid breathing in any radioactive particle that might had been floating in the air.

    The Sarcophagus 

  • Any reason the construction of the containment Sarcophagus wasn't depicted? It was the culmination of the efforts of the bio-robots and robots; to clear the roof of graphite chunks to allow for the wrecked remains of Reactor #4 to be sealed off and prevent further radiation spread. The nature of its construction and the hasty, almost haphazard way it was built (by necessity most likely, given the levels of radiation) and omitting it when it was a key event in the whole Chernobyl disaster is a bit strange.
    • My guess is that it was omitted because it wasn't important. Don't get me wrong, it was a momentous project and a heroic technological effort, but for the purposes of focusing on the main characters, it had nothing to do with them. It was the human drama of hubris and sacrifice that made up the series' intrigue, not a rote historical lesson. Plus, at that point, the cat was out of the bag and The Soviet Union had no choice but to (literally) clean up their mess. So any kind of drama from obstructive bureaucrats and stubborn stonewallers wouldn't have been feasible, and thus the drama would be undercut. Finally, the three major characters who were the protagonists were booted off the project, so they couldn't participate, and switching to a new set of main characters just for a denouement episode would not have worked.
    • In episode four the podcast about the series that he co-hosted, the writer of the series basically confirmed what the above person said - the sarcophagus wasn't really the main event so it got skipped over due to time constraints.

     Civilians commanding soldiers 

  • During the first two episodes, there are numerous instances where civilian authority figures give orders to soldiers or policemen even when said civilians' jobs don't actually pertain to commanding troops or police. One example involves Bryukhanov and Fomin, the manager and chief engineer of the Chernobyl Power Station, who instruct a soldier or military policeman to escort Sitnikov to a roof overlooking the destroyed reactor core. In the next episode, Shcherbina - the Vice-Chairman of the Council of Ministers - threatens to have soldiers throw Legasov from the helicopter they're riding in. What gives civilian officials such as the ones mentioned, whose jobs don't relate to the military or police, the authority to order military personnel as if they were military officers themselves?
    • The soldiers at the plant were basically glorified security guards under the direction of the plant managers. Also, while the Soviet Union enforced its rule through military force, it was not actually a military dictatorship. The true power in the country were the civilian politicians and bureaucrats running the Politburo and Central Committee. As a direct representative of the Soviet government, Shcherbina would have the authority to order pretty much anybody in Chernobyl around.
    • Scherbina at the time was Deputy Chairman of the USSR Council of Ministers. Directly above Scherbina was the First Deputy Premier of the Soviet Union, who was something like the Vice President of the USSR; a role essentially analogous to the Secretary of State, but with even more power. As for Bryukhanov, see the two points below - all info in this section comes from the the book Midnight in Chernobyl, first chapter:
      • Bryukhanov was the first employee of the Chernobyl plant (before it was even built) and he essentially was responsible for the existence of Pripyat. He was, in some instances, seen as something like the 'mayor' of the town.
      • Furthermore, Bryukhanov was a member of the communist party, which was an extremely illustrious position; in the 1980s, fewer than 1 in 15 Soviet citizens could even afford to pay the membership dues. Being in the party granted you a lot of perks and special connections, so that's another reason why a regular conscript wouldn't want to confront a party member.

     Test completion 
  • The results of this attitude aside, even if no catastrophe had happened, how would Dyatlov have been able to report the test as completed if the actual numbers/results of the test were (as several people point out they would have been) invalid due to several possible reasons?
    • Because the test was not on the reactor, it was on the turbine. The question that the test asked was: if we suddenly get disconnected from the rest of the power grid, forcing a shutdown of the reactors, can we still power the cooling pumps? The issue was that the on-site diesels took up to a minute to get up to speed, creating a power supply gap that needed to be bridged. The idea was that the inertia of the turbine could bridge that gap. During the three previous attempts, this test had failed in that the complex electrical systems that govern routing power from the turbine to the pumps had cut out too soon. This was what the plant managers Bryukhanov and Fomin had falsified in the records, and instead reported that the test was successful, and is why they were so desperate to get it done. The test was: spin the turbine up to normal operating speed, stop moving steam through the turbine (simulating a core shutdown), let the turbine — and only the turbine — power some of the cooling pumps (simulating a loss of power from off-site sources), and see if the turbine can keep the pumps going for long enough to allow the diesels to come online and take over the job. Since unit #4 had already been taken off duty and was not delivering power to the grid, the turbine was not under load and could therefore be spun up to its normal operating speed, even with only low power coming from the reactor. Dyatlow thought 200 MW thermal power was all right because that was enough to get the turbine up to the correct speed for the test to proceed, and thus the parameters of the test were fulfilled. But the floor limit of 700 MW thermal power was not a limit because of what the test needed, but because below that power level the reactor was at its most dangerous. With their attempts to get out of the "xenon pit" by pulling out as many control rods as they could; the xenon indeed burning out and lifting the core out of the "pit"; with the cooling-water starting to move slower due to the slowing pumps, therefore beginning to boil and thus putting the positive void coefficient into play; and the graphite-tipped control rods adding massive amounts of reactivity, this danger became reality in the worst possible way.
    • Because the people who could call him out on it aren't high enough on Communist Party totem pole to be immune from repercussions, which is why Akimov went through with Dyatlov's orders even though he knew something was going wrong. While the people who were high enough haven't the slightest clue on how nuclear reactors work and what would constitute an invalid result, so as far as they'd be concerned, any result could be a perfectly acceptable one. And Dyatlov, being more concerned with progressing his career in the Party, would never openly admit to producing an invalid result for the test and would have coerced his subordinates into silence anyway.

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