At the Belorussian Institute for Nuclear energy in Minsk, Dmitri (Matthew Needham) and Ulana Khomyuk (Emily Watson) analyze a sample of a substance in the air. Although Ulana is a composite character, she adequately represents the struggle of Russian nuclear scientists to break through bureaucratic red tape to expose the simple truths of the Chernobyl disaster.
36 hours after the explosion, Pripyat’s 49,000 residents are finally evacuated courtesy of hundreds of coaches piling into the city. With the town now an eerie relic of what it once was, Khomyk arrives and quickly informs Legasov and the others that they’ve made a mistake – the water tanks in the plant aren’t empty. As dread sets in, Valery Legasov (Jared Harris) realizes the seriousness of the situation and calls for an emergency meeting with the commission.
Legasov soon meets with officials in Moscow, including Mikhail Gorbachev (David Dencik), the General Secretary of the CPSU. Shcherbina (Stellan Skarsgård) is largely downplaying the disaster. Legasov delivers his dire report to a room filled with upper-level Soviet government ministers, but it’s only when he provides an entry-level explanation of what comprises a nuclear reactor that he’s able to drive home the severity of their situation.
Legasov notes how graphite on the ground means the core exploded, adding that dosimeter readings are inaccurate — they are only low because they’ve maxed out with those particular dosimeters. In other words, the radiation is much higher than a chest x-ray. When accused of exaggerating, Legaslov says, “It’s not alarmist if it’s a fact.” When asked about the RBMK reactor, he compares every gram of U-235 to a bullet. While the bullets may not always kill instantly, they have potentially highly lethal effects.
As Legasov explains before Gorbachev and crew: The temperature will rise because of the sand, and the uranium will melt the sand, creating lava. If the “lava” formed melted through the reactor floor and into the water below, it could create a significant steam explosion that would be detrimental to most of eastern Europe. When the lava enters the water tanks, it is certain to cause a thermal explosion, destroying everything within 30 kilometers (approximately 18.64 miles).
While it’s unclear exactly what happened behind closed doors during the events of the Chernobyl disaster, Dencik plays Gorbachev as a man who’s coming to terms with a failed cover-up as well as the harsh reality and true nature of the nuclear disaster. It’s no secret that Chernobyl was a prime factor in Gorbachev’s glasnost policy, eventually leading to the dissolution of the Soviet Union itself. In that regard, Dencik’s portrayal is very much accurate, though still dramatized.
Chernobyl delivers a harrowing and true account of the events that led to one of the biggest human-made disasters of our time. The acting is fantastic throughout. The haunting, minimalist music and great camera work make Chernobyl such a gripping and enthralling watch.
Chernobyl has a menacingly gripping narration and writing. It never lets the attention of the viewer waver. It is very unnerving in the best way possible. The creators managed to get a very engaging story out of a real catastrophe. The way a faulty system was both the cause for the accident and a constant roadblock for fixing it was very well conveyed.