The Devastating True Story Behind HBO's Chernobyl
It’s been more than 30 years since the Chernobyl disaster, the worst nuclear power plant accident in history. The incident was catastrophic, leaving a swath of Ukraine a radioactive no-go zone. On Monday night, HBO will debut a five-part miniseries based on the disaster—so here’s everything you need to know before you watch.
What was Chernobyl?
The Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant was built between 1970 and and 1983, and located in the then-Soviet controlled Ukraine, 68 miles north of Kiev. The plant contained four nuclear reactors by the time of the disaster, while the construction of two more reactors was planned. Nuclear power plants do the same job as other power plants—generating energy used to create electrical power—but they do so by harnessing nuclear fission, which occurs when the nuclei of atoms of elements like uranium are split, releasing large amounts of energy.
Among the communities nearest the plant were the city that gave it its name, Chernobyl, home to around 14,000. But there were so many people employed by the plant that a community called Pripyat was founded in 1970 specifically to house the nuclear plant's workers and their famiilies. Home to 50,000 people, Pripyat, like any city, contained schools, factories, movie theaters and hospitals. An amusement park was scheduled to open just days after the disaster.
How did the Chernobyl explosion happen?
On April 26th, 1986, at 1:23am, Chernobyl’s engineers disabled some of the reactor’s safety features while it was still running—as part of a safety test. A combination of human error and design flaws lead to a fire and then an explosion that blew the lid off of reactor Number 4, exposing the nuclear core and releasing into the atmosphere 400 times more radiation than was emitted when American forces dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima during World War II.
This story originally appeared on Esquire.com.
* Minor edits have been made by the Esquiremag.ph editors.