Watching HBO’s Chernobyl miniseries. Realizing how blissfully ignorant I was.
😊 Richard G @ 2019-05-20 04:14:00
Holy shit.
😊 Paolo Greco @ 2019-05-20 08:31:30
Working with a bunch of nuclear engineers and particle physicists (and sharing an office with a radioprotection nuceng for 5 years) I have been exposed to that kind of knowledge way too much.
😊 Paolo Greco @ 2019-05-20 08:35:14
The thing about level 7 nuclear events is that there have been only two: Fukushima and Chernobyl. So it seems like they are roughly similar. Well. What the public does not know is that level seven is "everything above 6". You might want to stop reading here.
😊 Paolo Greco @ 2019-05-20 08:48:59
Chernobyl's core was open. People watched it radioactive glow from a bridge several km away. They did not know, but that glance gave them enough gamma to kill them. Nuclear fire is that bad. Also, apparently, the activity outside the broken shielding of the Fukushima reactor is around 270 Siverts/hour, while nowadays the clothes used in the eighties by emergency workers in Chernobyl are reading over 350 Sv/h. Workplace threshold is a total of 0.1 Sievert per five years. 1 Sievert has a 5% chanche of giving you cancer. Wearing those clothes is worse than cuddling the broken Tepco shielding.
😊 Richard G @ 2019-05-20 09:10:09
The show is pretty merciless, and deals in detail with how much worse it could have been, and how officials just couldn’t handle facing the disaster, so you see a repeating pattern of denial, which causes further harm and exposes more people to deadly levels of radiation. I had not previously considered how extremely heavy radiation can disable machines - or how many heroic mission movies depend on stuff like reliable batteries, for the torch that lights the protagonist’s path through the labyrinth. And absolutely everything takes on dreadful significance when you know it’s invisibly killing people. Not recommended for anyone of a nervous disposition. Puts me in a similar frame of mind as the movie Stalingrad.
😊 Paolo Greco @ 2019-05-20 09:56:44
The very weird thing about radiation is that, at a base level, it's performing semi-random alchemy on everything it touches. So, for example, what was once iron might now in part be now cobalt, and cobalt-steel behaves differently from non-cobalt-steel. Beside that, radiation might shift atoms thus breaking crystals. Which is what actually happens when DNA gets irradiated. It simply breaks! But fortunately it has a double helix so, unless the damage is so big both strands are broken, it twirls and snap back in place. Apparently evolution found a reasonably optimal level of redundancy and data-recovery necessary at a cell level.
😊 Paolo Greco @ 2019-05-20 10:55:20
Of course this is much worse for microelectronics, as not only there are many integrated components that can fail, but the components are made of many less atoms, so 1 shifted/transmuted atom is much more of a problem. And let's not even get started about what happens when you get beta-emitting isotopes in semiconductor junctions. If the junction starts filling its own lacunas by itself, it's not good. Funnily enough there are some nanogenerators that work exactly this way! put some beta emitters in a diode junction, and those happy beta particles will behave like the electrons they are and follow the diode's direction in the circuit.
😊 K Yani @ 2019-05-20 11:59:55
My first city is about 100 km away from the reactor. We were told, from what I remember, after May holidays (Labour Days of May 1st and 2nd, very big and important communist holidays, with parades and attractions). On holidays (I think it was 2nd) we went to park, and it was a wonderful day. Just after the announcement, city went very clean and very silent. Green grass, clear glass, meticulously swept sidewalks, no trash; partially a leftover from the holidays (when the city was prettified) but partially because of fear. In this beautiful city, nobody was playing on playgrounds, people barely showed up. Within dwelling people tried to plug the windows with plastic; in pharmacies iodine rapidly vanished from the shelves, because it was supposed to help (some people rumored died or got chemically burn by drinking it). My father was going around with Geiger's counter he was luckily able to borrow from work. In my mother's old notebooks, years later, I found half-life time for various radioactive elements. About two days later, father drove us about 500 km away to stay with my uncle (there was a river of cars driving out of the city), and then we went even farther away for the summer while he was back in the city, working as he had to. In September, it was back to school, business as usual. Talks about the Zone, about leaves as big as head and mutated cattle. One girl in our class, transferred from Pripyat, attended only maybe a couple of times and then never returned. And it was relatively benign because it was a big important city with good infrastructure quite far away from the disaster. What was happening in nearby places, small villages, was much less kind. I hope that series will do a justice to all these people.
😊 Richard G @ 2019-05-20 13:04:23
The show so far is very much focused on the people responsible for mitigating the disaster - our “ordinary population” have been firefighters, hospital workers and their families. I hadn’t realised how close Pripyat is to Kyiv. The wind was blowing the other way... until May Day, when there were large parades in Kyiv and Minsk. But the core was essentially open for... 8 months?! And they restarted other reactors on site that year and kept them running until 2000. I wonder who worked at the plant during that period and is still available to comment.
😊 K Yani @ 2019-05-20 13:11:05
@Richard G I don't know anybody personally, but there is a distant possibility my father might know somebody; I might be able to ask him this summer, if you are seriously interested.
😊 K Yani @ 2019-05-20 13:15:25
From what (little) I know, in a wake of USSR shattering, these workers, firefighter, doctors and their families, didn't even get proper financial support in later years. A title, a medal, maybe a small financial boost, and then non-remembering.
😊 Richard G @ 2019-05-20 13:44:14
I find it astonishing that in the period after the collapse of the USSR there was no international or EU effort to secure and mitigate Chernobyl, nor to give serious support to Ukraine. Maybe astonishing is not the word. Depressing. But of course Germany was busy with East Germany, and I don’t know how many disaster management efforts that required. I am interested, but not professionally - I don’t have any research questions right now. My work has tended to follow my gaming interests (I got into shipping because of games, I worked at a natural history museum because of questions I first asked while designing games) and I’ve had a long-running gaming interest in Soviet and post-Soviet construction... it could turn into something serious, but I wouldn’t want to waste someone’s time before it does. Does that make sense?
😊 K Yani @ 2019-05-20 14:00:33
There might have been some person-scale help, but even if it existed I doubt much of it reached these people due to corruption. When there are no bread on shelves now, people don't think much of those who saved them a couple of years in the past as well. Understand. If you change your mind, feel free to drop me a note before mid-July. It is a long shot anyway, especially because many of them are, probably, getting into heavy years if still alive.
😊 Richard G @ 2019-05-22 03:50:19
...so far they’re moving strictly forward through the timeline, with date-stamps for so many days after the accident. They totally glossed over the May Day parades.
😊 K Yani @ 2019-05-22 10:51:42
I guess here goes my part of the goverment-abused childhood. May parades in ignorance did happen. I asked my mother about the situation and she recalled that disaster announcement (very downplayed and small initially) was made after parades, on workday. This is whole week after the disaster by the most benevolent estimation.
😊 K Yani @ 2019-05-22 10:53:02
While I am glad that they are precise about the disaster itself, I wonder if they ever show the quiet terror and less quiet panic that spread amidst usual people.
😊 Richard G @ 2019-05-22 12:29:18
Not so far. It’s looking very much like a procedural, up to ep3: here’s wbat happened, here was the plan for what to do about it. Gorbachev looks like the coolest head in the room. Self-sacrifice is presented as a common response - as more information piles up, the reactions of the writers to the material become more apparent. What they do dwell on is a general ignorance among the population regarding what radiation is, how it affects people etc. Maybe accurately, maybe unfairly, I don’t know.

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