This documentary traces the unfolding of the tragic events at Chernobyl following the accident during an experimental shut down that went wrong in March 1986 and up and till the mid-2000s when the film was made.
It starts on a day-by-day basis beginning on the day before the accident, showing life on the streets of the nearby town of Pripyat, which had been built for workers at the plant.
The accident happened during an experimental shutdown on the night shift which was supposed to be testing new safety measures. The experiment should have been performed during the earlier day shift but was posponed.
The shut down caused a series of explosions sending radioactive material a kilometre into the atmosphere, which spread not only around the surrounding area on the Ukraine Belarusus border but also all over Russia and Europe.
The people in Pripyat were not told of the release of radioactive materials, and were not evacuated until two days after event, by which time they had already been exposed to severe levels of radiation.
What is not so well-known, and what this film brings out is that there was nearly a secondary explosion in the coming days, which, had it taken place, would have contaminated most of Russia and Europe leaving them uninhabitable.
This was warded of by people who became known as the Liquidators: they drew off the water under the reactor, removed the radioactive material strewn over the plant, washed down the buildings in Pripyat, killed all the animals they could find in the area and built a giant sarcophagus over the broken reactor.
Around 500,000 people were involved in these operations over a period of around 9 months. How many got radiation sickness of one kind or another, causing sickness, genetic mutation, cancer and death is not known. The estimates vary widely from 4,000 (WHO) to nearly 1,000,000 (Chernobyl, published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences).
The containment and clean-up operation cost 16 billion roubles, took out 2,000,000 acres of arable land, crippled the economy of the Soviet Union, and brought it one step nearer its total disintegration, which happened only 4 years later.
For the ongoing effects of the disaster see Chernobyl Heart, a documentary I am scheduling for tomorrow.
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Some Stills from the Documentary