HBO’s “Chernobyl” greatly exaggerates the disaster’s fallout risks

The HBO mini-series “Chernobyl” has many people raving about it. Including those who support nuclear power. Yet, it also appears that the producers had to exaggerate the reality of the accident to produce the degree of emotional impact that they were seeking in developing this series.  This is the upshot of objections raised by the top US radiation doctor who, in fact, went to the then Soviet Union to treat victims, as reported by Michael Shellenberger of the environmental group, Environmental Progress. Robert Gale, a UCLA expert on bone marrow transplant, a common procedure used to treat radiation victims, took his displeasure to “The Cancer Letter.”

In the subscription based newsletter, Gale states that “In the subsequent 30 years, I have been involved in several studies of the long-term medical consequences of the accident.” Through those thirty years,  “most radiation contamination was superficial and relatively easily managed by routine procedures.” Gale cites a specific anecdote (from the series) in which an unborn baby absorbed radiation when the mother visited the father, a firefighter and first responder to the accident, in the hospital. “The radiation would have killed the mother” exclaimed the fictional scientist, “but the baby absorbed it instead.” Gale claims that not only is this story completely fictional, but that it is not even possible.

“First, as discussed, none of the victims were radioactive; their exposures were almost exclusively external, not internal,” Gale responds. “More importantly, risk to a fetus from an exposure like this is infinitesimally small.” Gale explicitly states that many of the scientific and medical information used in the mini-series was blatantly inaccurate. It is not surprising the producers were misinformed because as Gale exclaims,”I’m amazed the producers didn’t get technical advice from a health physicist or radiobiologist rather than basing much of their screenplay on a novel (Voices of Chernobyl).”

As highlighted by Shellenberger and Gale, much of the public has an ill-advised view on Nuclear Energy. “Chernobyl,” which has captured the praise of many viewers, has capitalized on this fear by depicting and monetizing a dramatically exaggerated story. Worst of all, it has furthered the public’s already misinformed view on the dangers of nuclear energy and radiation. Unfortunately, much of the time, the public isn’t informed of the dangers that coincide with using other forms of energy. Not even mentioning the world-wide dangers of carbon pollution, Gale says,

“Although the 31 immediate Chernobyl-related deaths are sad, the number of fatalities is remarkably small compared with many energy-related accidents, such as the Benxihu coal mine disaster in China 1942, which killed about 1500 miners, and the 1975 Banqiao dam accident, also in China, which killed about 250,000 people.”

“About 15,000 people reportedly die mining coal every year, although the true number may be much higher, and this figure does not consider morbidity from occupational hazards such as coal workers’ pneumoconiosis (black lung disease).

To read further, visit the full perspective in Forbes: “Top UCLA Doctor Denounces HBO’s “Chernobyl” AS Wrong And “Dangerous”,” by Michael Shellenberger.


About the Author:

Mason Friedberg

Leave A Comment