Chernobyl Left Us With A Lot Of Big Unanswered Questions

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HBO's Chernobyl purports to show not just the causes of the historic nuclear accident, but the bureaucracy that stood in the way of rescue and recovery in the aftermath. With the real-life history being shrouded in such secrecy, it's a story that can't help but leave some questions unanswered.

A lot of numbers get thrown around in Chernobyl. When Valery Legasov explains the worst case scenario to the Soviet Central Committee, we get figures of potential fatalities that are downright catastrophic. When Legasov gives the numbers needed to contain the disaster, from the cost it demands, to the years it will take, and the lives that will be lost in the process, it sounds like horrific science fiction.

But one number audiences don't get is a concrete death toll.

Part of the problem is the Soviet Union's lack of records relating to the topic, but another, trickier issue is the way radiation exposure actually causes death. While many people lost their lives in the disaster's immediate aftermath, there were also untold numbers whose deaths were more indirect, caused by radiation-related illnesses that took years to develop.

Notes at the end of the series put the death toll between 4,000 and 93,000, but those numbers are far from universally accepted. The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists estimates between 4,000 and 27,000 lives lost, while Greenpeace believes it to be in the range of 93,000 to 200,000. Chernobyl showrunner Craig Mazin has also shared estimates he's read that put the death toll closer to a million.

The estimates are so varied that unfortunately, when it comes to the question of how many people died from the Chernobyl disaster, the only answer we can all agree on is "too many."

One of the most heartbreaking chapters in Chernobyl comes in the fourth episode, in which we follow a trio of Soviet liquidators tasked with killing any animals, mostly domesticated pets, left behind in abandoned villages. Fleeing civilians were not allowed to bring pets with them for fear the pets could contaminate humans. While the episode was difficult for some viewers to watch, showrunner Craig Mazin has said that his dramatized story is still a toned-down version of what actually occurred. Keep watching the video to learn more about how Chernobyl left us with a lot of big unanswered questions.

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The death toll | 0:16
The pets of Chernobyl | 1:42
Did anyone refuse to leave? | 2:51
How did the tapes get out? | 4:07
The fall of the USSR | 5:13
Could it happen to us? | 6:32
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