has done some annotation of Chernobyl's script, referring to it as masterful but flawed in that the show's scrupulous use of available sources to English-speakers had misled it. I call it a mangled train wreck that is like leaking intestines twisted and folded like a pretzel several times over. Scores injured, one fatality - the truth. The show's primary problem wasn't that key sources were unavailable to it, it was that the top source on the topic, written by experts and intended to be rather comprehensive on the matter of what happened, available in English
was demonstrably not understood if at all actually read. Consequently misleading pro-Soviet interest claims - it was in the Soviet interest for operators to shoulder the blame - often tracing back to Chernobyl's aftermath and in instances just plain nonsense escaped critical attention and were presented as truth.
I'll be using the script for episode 5
502 EXT. PRIPYAT - VARIOUS - DAY 502
Even a planned Soviet city can look beautiful on a day like this. Alive. Someone's dream of home...
At the risk of starting on the wrong foot, one day God pulled his pants down, squatted over what is now New York City and took an average-looking large dump with some relatively bright advertisements on it. Irresistibly inspiring it has been reproduced in miniature facsimile countless times by those who eat its famous pizza that is at the place in the food pyramid where the dead pharaoh lies. Yet it's someone's greatest city on Earth, because they live in it or want it to be.
The bigger point is this statement is an indication of an amateur mistake - being led by basic stereotypes. "Even a planned Soviet city can look beautiful on a day like this", meanwhile Bryukhanov was well on his way to planting a rosebush for every man, woman, and child in the city. Stereotypes are perfectly understandable and no one is above them, but as we are going to see the information prominently available makes them untenable here. Craig Mazin mistakenly portrays scientists as puppy-eyed nerds whose modest lives dedicated to knowledge render them pure, blames the KGB for overriding the scientific community on nuclear safety, portrays plant bosses as crass promotion seekers with dubious aptitude, and Dyatlov specifically as hellbent and incompetent.
503 INT. BRYUKHANOV'S OFFICE - DAY 503
APRIL 25, 1986 2:00 PM
FOMIN sits patiently across from Bryukhanov's desk. DYATLOV sits in the other guest seat. Glances at Fomin. Casually disdainful of him. Silence.
I hear they might promote Bryukhanov. This little problem we have with the safety test? If it's completed successfully... yes, I think a promotion is very likely. Who knows, maybe Moscow.
Dyatlov's eyes narrow.
Naturally they'll put me in charge once he's gone. And then I'll need someone to take my old job. I could pick Sitnikov...
It takes a moment for Dyatlov to swallow his pride. Then:
I would like to be considered.
Craig Mazin has said that he regrets Adam Higginbotham's Midnight in Chernobyl came out too late for him to use so it's very unfair to use it against him but on this one occasion (along with the rosebushes) I will as INSAG-7 doesn't address an allegation like this. Pages 22-23:
By the spring of 1986, Chernobyl was, officially, one of the best-performing nuclear stations in the Soviet Union, and the word was that Brukhanov's loyalty to the Party would soon be rewarded. According to the results of the latest Five-Year Plan, the plant was due to receive the state's highest honor: the Order of Lenin. The staff would win a financial bonus, and Brukhanov would be awarded the star of the Hero of Socialist Labor. At the Ministry of Energy, the decision had already been taken to promote Brukhanov to Moscow, and Fomin would take his place as plant director. The news would be announced on the May 1 holiday, with a decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet.
Brukhanov had also raised Pripyat from nothing, creating a beautiful model town cherished by its citizens. And despite the appointment of a city council, almost every decision about the atomgrad - no matter how trivial - remained subject to his approval. From the outset, the architects had called for the city to be populated with a lush variety of trees and shrubs - birch, elm, and horse chestnut; jasmine, lilac, and barberry. But Brukhanov was especially fond of flowers and ordered them planted everywhere.
The safety test does indeed seem to have been a little problem. So little, apparently, that on page 84:
Simulating the effects of a total power blackout on a single unit of the Chernobyl power plant was a deceptively simple process, and many in the control room mistakenly regarded the rundown test as a matter mostly for electricians. The reactor's role seemed almost incidental. The test program closely duplicated one conducted on Unit Three in 1984 - which, although it failed to produce the desired results and keep the circulation pumps running, had nonetheless concluded without incident. Nikolai Fomin, the chief engineer, had ordered that test himself and without clearance from above and saw no reason to behave differently this time. He did not notify the State Committee for Nuclear Safety, NIKIET, or the specialists at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow of his plans. He didn't even bother to tell Director Brukhanov that the test was taking place.
If anything they ruined their promotions and Brukhanov may have been unaware the test was taking place, lol.
Time to turn to INSAG-7, pages 51-52:
The Commission considers that it is wrong to regard these testing programmes as purely electrical ones, since they involve a change in the electricity supply to the unit's essential systems and require interference in the protection and blocking system. Such tests should be classified as complex unit tests and should be approved by the General Designer, the Chief Design Engineer, the Scientific Manager and the regulatory body. However, regulations NSR-04-74 and GSP-82, which were in force at the time of the accident, did not require the plant managers to obtain approval for such tests from the aforementioned organizations.
The main idea of the programme is to test the design basis conditions as realistically as possible and there is nothing wrong with the programme itself. In the light of contemporary approaches to the development of testing programmes for conducting similar tests at nuclear power plants, the programme documentation in question is not entirely satisfactory, primarily in terms of its safety measures. However, the operating documentation as a whole (regulations and instructions), together with the programme in question, provided sufficient basis for the safe testing of the planned operating conditions. The causes of the accident lie not in the programme as such, but in the ignorance on the part of the programme developers of the characteristics of the behaviour of the RBMK-1000 reactor under the planned operating conditions.
The problem was that this ignorance of the de facto operators of the reactor was not a product of their own incompetence - you learn and behave according to what is available to you, it was not up to them to determine the knowledge basis of the whole field and write general operational procedures accordingly. That is the area of high level institutes and scientists. Local engineers just had to write and execute a program in accordance to available rules and understanding handed down. The test was mandated, but the program was left to them. The fact that they were writing the program themselves becomes important in understanding why the target power value was 700 MW and why operators would deviate from it.
Next in the script we have Legasov entering the picture with the KGB chief. There is considerable evidence that prior to Chernobyl Legasov was not at all the prudent saint he is portrayed as. I'll see where I'll end up fitting this if at all here. Ironically his sauciness overlaps with some of the nonsense his character says in episode five. First as he's pleading with the KGB chief who is remarkably maligned by Craig Mazin's writing, which on this astonishing fact alone deserves Emmy consideration:
And these rewards are not yours yet. First, your testimony at the trial.
Comrade Charkov, I understand my duty to the State-- but you gave us assurances. You said the reactors would be made safe. It's been months. There have been no changes made, no changes even discussed...
First, the trial. Once it's over, we will have our villains, we will have our hero... we will have our truth.
After that, we can deal with the reactors.
INSAG-7 page 49:
The Commission considers that the negative properties of this type of reactor are likely to predetermine the inevitability of emergency situations and that they certainly do not demonstrate that such situations are likely to be extremely rare and would occur only in the event of an extremely improbable combination of reactor operating procedures and conditions adopted by the unit personnel.
Thus, it seems that the reactor designers were well aware of the possible dangerous consequences of the reactor characteristics and understood how the safety of the RBMK-1000 reactor could be improved. This is confirmed by the fact that the main technical measures to enhance the safety of the RBMK-1000 reactor  were announced less than a month and a half after the accident.
Let's supplement this with a Midnight in Chernobyl one more time as the irony is too good, page 276:
[During the Vienna conference like four months after the explosion] Pressed by reporters on the disadvantages in the reactor design he had mentioned, Legasov replied, "The defect of the system was that the designers did not foresee the awkward and silly actions by the operators." Nonetheless, he acknowledged that "about half" of the USSR's fourteen remaining RBMK reactors had already been shut down for technical modification, "to increase their safety."
Meanwhile in HBO Chernobyl's made-up world the KGB chief is jerking Legasov around, seemingly genuinely uninterested in the prospect of another Chernobyl and having the authority or the orders to risk it:
Charkov dismisses him with a wave of the hand. Nothing left to say. Legasov opens the door to exit, and:
Oh, I should mention-- the trial is going to be somewhat delayed.
Talk to Shcherbina.
Shcherbina's in Kiev. I haven't heard from him in--
He returned to Moscow an hour ago.
Charkov gives Legasov that smile again.
Or so I've been told.
The KGB DRIVER opens the door fully to let Legasov out. Legasov EXITS and watches as the ZIL drives away.
In fact, what Legasov said in Vienna here is nothing short of the main talking point
of Soviet spin. Bzzzzz (buzzwords actually applying). Even after the Soviets had to admit the control rods introduced positive reactivity (page 13 of INSAG-7),
Some analysts found that with the diminished void coefficients it was difficult to match the time history of the power excursion as it had been published by the Soviet scientists at the Vienna meeting. A search therefore began for an additional mechanism that might have come into play. It was in this connection that the positive scram effect of safety rod insertion came to be publicly postulated, apparently first in some western analyses.
Detailed analysis indicated that the reactivity injected by the positive scram, when added to that provided by voids from increased boiling, was sufficient to generate a severe reactivity driven transient, comparable with that described at the Vienna meeting.
Most analyses now associate the severity of the accident with the defects in the design of control and safety rods in conjunction with the physics design characteristics, which permitted the inadvertent setting up of large positive void coefficients. The scram just before the sharp rise in power that destroyed the reactor may well have been the decisive contributory factor.
they apparently phrased the revelation (which they had already addressed with one of the safety measures promptly announced after Chernobyl) in the following manner (page 30):
A report by the I.V. Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy , approved after presentation of the report  to the IAEA, states that: "the primary cause of the accident was an extremely improbable combination of violations by the unit personnel of operating instructions and procedures, in the course of which deficiencies in the design of the reactor and the control rods of the control and protection system emerged" (no words are italicized in the official version). Moreover, as is stated in the same report : "... it is fairly obvious that the only version that does not contradict the available data is the version that deals with the effect of the control rod displacers.''
Mind you, the italicization is not mine. The problem with HBO's Chernobyl is encapsulated by this quote - it's the description of episode five. Hook, line, and sinker.
perhaps more digestible thread on Soviet lies. There is going to be overlap between these threads and this one but there is richness in the details, especially in the stuff the mini-series makes up or takes from deceitful sources that INSAG-7 contradicts. This is pretty damn fun. The irony of the spin is that Gorbachev, the leader of the Soviet Union himself, may not have understood how prescient he was here
I am very concerned about the work of the government commission, which is investigating the causes of the catastrophe. We will raise this issue very strictly and very extensively at the Politburo, and we will not allow them to manipulate us with all kinds of professional conclusions, which are actually just excuses.
This was not a mere case of "statecraft". Granted scientists were assisted in lying (the government and the KGB ultimately assisted them rather than thwarted them), the lying started with them, and its full extent may have been understood by few even within the Soviet "power structure".
Early this morning. He broke his glasses and used the shards--
They got to him in time. He's in the hospital, under observation.
Or he was making a statement.
Legasov doesn't answer. He just removes his glasses, weary. Turns them around in his hand. Thinking about Fomin again. Mystified by the man's actions.
Fomin was making a statement with his suicide attempt alright.
Because I'm brutally stubborn. Which you were hoping for.
Right. So. As if to convince her...
Charkov is saying they're going to fix the reactors after the trial.
Do you believe him?
A pause. No. Of course not. But Khomyuk leans in.
The State will never willingly fix the reactors, because acknowledging the problem means admitting they lied. They will have to be forced.
Forced? What is she on about?
At the trial, you're going to tell the truth. You're going to convince a jury.
Legasov stares at her as if she's lost her mind.
It's a show trial. The "jury" has already been given their verdict...
I'm not talking about them. The Central Committee has invited members of the scientific community to observe the trial. Our colleagues. From Kurchatov, from Sredmash, from Minenergo...
And now Legasov sees where she's going.
They will be sitting in the crowd, listening to every word you say. A jury only we know is there. And when your testimony arrives at the moment of the explosion... that is when our jury will finally hear the truth.
And do what with it?
Insist on reforms. Not just to the RBMK, but the entire industry.
No, no, no... no.
They need us to function. If we refuse to work unless--
This is obviously bs. As far as the industry as a whole is concerned, Soviet premier Ryzhkov had a slightly different take
inside the Politburo:
RYZHKOV: How could something like this happen here [in our country]? What are the causes of this biggest accident in the world? We have been walking toward it for a long time. And we accumulated the danger. By chance? But there are too many coincidences. No, this is a causal chain, which emerged in our energy industry. And lack of discipline. Had it not happened here and now, it would have happened in a different place. At the dawn of NPS's, everything was built strictly and reliably. Gradually, the nuclear power industry spread beyond Slavsky (i.e. beyond the boundaries of responsibility of the head of the Ministry of Medium Machine-Building), but the discipline did not follow with it. And besides, we pumped up the reputation of Slavsky and Aleksandrov [the preeminent scientist who is my top candidate for the deception that occurred] too high. We lowered oversight at all levels, and our vigilance got dull. There has not been a single year without accidents at NPS's. The accident at the Leningrad [NPS]--no conclusions were drawn. The Ministry of Medium Machine-Building, science, the Ministry of Energy--they are not at the level that is required by nuclear energy. And [there was] a lack of communication between agencies.
Conclusions should be strictly objective. A lot depends on it.
The fate of the country is being decided, and here, in front of our eyes, at the Politburo, like a wall against a wall [like a street fight--colloquial]: the Ministry of Medium Machine Building, Ministry of Energy, the Academy of Sciences ... And what is there below [the Politburo level]?!
There were deficiencies ... and everything was concealed, put away somewhere to prevent revelations. The bosses' sense of responsibility got dull. We cannot guarantee that it will not happen again without taking serious organizational and technological measures.
What should be decided:
- define the type of the reactor. Cancel the Chernobyl type.
- create a Ministry of Atomic Energy. Give it part of Medium Machine Building.
- create a Charter--like Aeroflot and the Ministry of the Maritime Fleet has.
- give absolute right of access to the State Oversight [Agency]. Now they are not allowed anywhere, even to [civilian] aviation and the fleet.
- create an Interagency Council, but not under Slavsky, at the Academy of Sciences or the State Committee on Science and Technology, or even better at the Council of Ministers.
- involve the Ukrainian party organs to analyze the consequences.
And Gorbachev was downright salty:
GORBACHEV: You just amaze me. Everything we have collected now on Chernobyl leads to only one conclusion--these reactors should be banned. They are dangerous. And you are trying to defend your parochial reputation.
MESHKOV: No, I am trying to defend the nuclear energy industry.
GORBACHEV: And whose interests are more important? We have to respond to this question. Millions of people in our country and abroad are demanding it from us. We have to put an end to the situation where NPS's are built at the level of thinking of the 20s or 30s. We must think at the level of Chernobyl. In the United States, after the big accident, they have not built a single new bloc!
We have been hearing from you (scientists, specialists, ministers--A. Ch.) that everything is under control here. And you expect us to look up to you as if you were gods. This is where it all started. Because the ministries and all the scientific centers got out of control. And it all ended in failure. And even now I do not see that you are contemplating any conclusions. You are all just stating facts, or even trying to smooth over some of them.
The [station] personnel are to blame for the accident [he did not know all the facts and the "smoothing" that was going on]; but the scale of the accident is due to the design of the reactor.
We live in a democratic society. And everybody can express their opinion.
Where centralization is needed, we don't have it; however, where a simple nail needs to be hammered in, thousands of agencies get involved. There is not a more dangerous object than a NPS, there is energy to the millionth power; they are more dangerous than any military object. Academician Dollezhal raised concerns in his time, but he was judged as incompetent and publicly humiliated at a press conference in front of foreign journalists.
This is where the monopoly in science and in industry leads. The problem of energy production in every aspect--scientific, experimental --turned out to be out of control.
[Reads expert opinion] The reactor was unreliable. And you did not do anything about it. It did not raise your concern. Why weren't theoretical studies funded? Where have you been? Academician Aleksandrov himself said that. But he also missed something. Today he is agonizing over it, although he bears great blame.
Mazin may not have had access to this either but INSAG-7 makes it sufficiently clear Chernobyl was largely a scientific failure. Blaming the KGB and the government for it acting against an oppressed scientific community (which was apparently exalted in the Soviet Union) is in essence a Western peasant fantasy, the equivalent to some nimrod in present-day Russia fantasizing about the CIA. The funny thing is the politicians were hot about this, their impulse was truth and reform. But something did indeed cool them down. The public position was "crafted" and the extreme statements were not acted upon.
EXTREME CLOSE ON: the letters A3-5 (AZ-5 in Cyrillic).
Khomyuk stares at the Volkov article. Exhausted from torturing herself. Wishing she'd never read it. Wishing she didn't know.
Do you know what happened to Volkov? The man who wrote the report you found? They just removed him from his position at the Institute. Sacked for the crime of knowing. And you think these scientists, handpicked to witness a show trial, will somehow be stirred to action? By me? Because of some heroic stand I take in defiance of the State?
There's one Volkov on page 60 of INSAG-7:
Somewhat earlier, on 1 May 1986, V.P. Volkov, head of the I.V. Kurchatov Institute Research Group on the Reliability and Safety of Nuclear Power Plants with RBMK Reactors, provided A.P. Alexandrov, Director of the I.V. Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy, and subsequently the leaders of the country, in a letter of 9 May 1986, with another version of the accident which attributed it "not to the actions of the operating personnel, but to the design of the reactor core and a lack of proper understanding of the neutron physics processes going on in it." This version suggested that the accident was caused by a positive reactivity excursion following the insertion of the RCPS rods as a result of their defective design and the large positive void coefficient of reactivity.
And a different one in one of Dyatlov's
short articles that the mini-series' creator deems untrustworthy:
Curve 2 of Figure 3 is shown in INSAG-7 as the actual dependence at the same time of the accident on 26 April. This is a Jesuitical approach – neither a lie nor the truth. A similar void effect existed at all RBMK reactors, and not only on 26 April. The curve was obtained several years prior to the accident by an employee of the Kurchatov Institute, V. Ivanov, and was subsequently confirmed by measurements. The administration did not believe Ivanov. They understood that an explosion threatened, but they did not check this out either by calculation or by experiment. So there you have it. One might ask why Ivanov did not squeal? Only one person squealed, and that was V. I. Volkov, who was quickly disposed of with an invalidity pension.
This sounds like the right one, except what is being referred to here is a worse positive void coefficient than the design calculation. "Khomyuk" is referring to the AZ-5 scram/shutdown button, as we see in the trial later. INSAG-7 makes interest comments on this topic, page 13:
The existence of the positive scram effect was first acknowledged by Soviet experts at the Conference on Nuclear Power Performance and Safety in Vienna in 1987. The SCSSINP Commission report states that this phenomenon had been known of at the time of the accident and that it had first been identified at the Ignalina RBMK plant in the Lithuanian Republic in 1983 (Annex I, Section 1-3.8). Although the Chief Design Engineer for RBMK reactors promulgated this information to other RBMK plants, and stated that design changes would be made to correct the problem, he made no such changes, and the procedural measures he recommended for inclusion in plant operating instructions were not adopted. Apparently, there was a widespread view that the conditions under which the positive scram effect would be important would never occur. However, they did appear in almost every detail in the course of the actions leading to the accident.
The SCSSINP Commission (Annex I, Section 1-3.8) reports that, after discovery of the positive scram effect at Ignalina in 1983, the chief engineering organization informed other organizations and all nuclear power plants with RBMK reactors that it intended to impose restrictions on the complete withdrawal of control and safety rods from the core. Such restrictions were never imposed and apparently the matter was forgotten.
The Chief Design Engineer  and the Scientific Manager [two of the top Soviet institutions rather than people, the Scientific Manager being the Kurchatov Institute] knew about this effect before the accident. It was discovered experimentally in NovembeDecember 1983 during the physical startup of Ignalina Unit 1 and that of Chernobyl Unit 4, i.e. almost two-and-a-half years before the Chernobyl accident . The Physical Startup Commissions proposed some measures to eliminate these negative effects, but none of them were implemented before the accident. ... The Scientific Manager drew attention to the extremely dangerous nature of this effect. In particular, it was noted that "When the reactor power decreases to 50% (for example, when one of the turbines is switched off), the reactivity margin is reduced as a result of poisoning and distortions of the axial field are observed up to \power peaking factor] Kz * 1.9. Triggering of the EPS in this case may lead to the introduction of positive reactivity. It seems likely that a more thorough analysis will reveal other dangerous situations" . The following proposals were then made, which, had they been implemented, might have prevented the Chernobyl accident on 26 April 1986:
The Scientific Research and Design Institute for Power Technology had recognized the possibility of a positive reactivity excursion  and had suggested some measures to offset this effect. However, the technical measures were not implemented by the Chief Design Engineer ... The Chief Design Engineer proposed organizational measures to eliminate the dangerous upper position effect of the RCPS and made the following recommendation: "that the number of rods which may be fully withdrawn from the core (up to the upper limit stop switch) should be limited to 150 for the RBMK-1000 reactor and that the other, partially inserted rods must be inserted into the core by at least 0.5 m" .
The recommendation permitted a positioning of the RCPS rods whereby the breeding characteristics in the lower part of the core at a height of 1.2 m would increase when the rods moved simultaneously in response to an emergency protection signal. If this recommendation had been implemented it would have been possible to have an ORM of 3-5 manual control rods, which would have contravened the requirements of section 9 of the Operating Procedures, where the minimum permissible ORM is specified as 15 manual control rods.
It's like they were playing Hot Potato, or depending on what you read Cold Potato. This is an interesting research topic.
As Stepashin recites the charges, Khomyuk leans in to whisper to Legasov. He puts a hand up. Yes. He sees them.
Legasov glances over his shoulder, and we see: SIX PEOPLE, four men, two women, seated together in the audience. Men and women he knows. Scientists. The invisible jury...
In contrast, the HBO Chernobyl script reads like comic relief.
To test this theory, the reactor is placed in a reduced power mode-- 700 megawatts-- to simulate a blackout condition. Then-- the turbines are shut off, and as they slowly spin down, their electrical output is measured to see if it is sufficient to power the pumps. The science is strong-- but a test is only as good as the men carrying it out. The first time they tried, they failed. The second time they tried, they failed. The third time they tried, they failed. (beat) The fourth time they tried-- was on April 26th, 1986.
According to pages 51-52 of INSAG-7 the science is not so strong:
The tests were necessary because one of the most important emergency operating modes had not been properly tested prior to commercial operation of units in this series. The proposal to use the rundown mode of the turbogenerator to supply power for the unit's internal requirements was made by the Chief Design Engineer  in order to guarantee forced circulation in the reactor cooling circuit by providing reliable electric power supply to the main circulating pumps and feedwater pumps. The rundown concept was accepted and included in the design of plants with RBMK reactors (see, for example, the Technical Safety Report for the second stage of the Smolensk nuclear power plant: "In a design basis accident, involving total loss of power for the unit's internal requirements, cooling water is fed to the damaged part by feedwater pumps powered by the turbogenerator rundown").
According to the design requirements for total loss of power in the event of a DBA, electric power supply to the feedwater pumps of the third subsystem of the emergency core cooling system (ECCS) had to be provided by the mechanical energy of the rundown mode of the turbogenerator. However, Chernobyl Unit 4 was commissioned in December 1983 without having been tested under these conditions. Such tests should be an integral part of the pre-operational testing of the main design basis conditions carried out at different power levels.
In 1982, the corresponding tests were carried out at Chernobyl Unit 3 under an agreement with the firm Dontekhehnergo with the participation of representatives of the General Designer and the S. Ya. Zhuk Gidroproekt Institute. The tests showed that the requirements, in terms of the characteristics of the electrical current generated by the turbogenerator rundown, could not be met for long enough and that the turbogenerator's excitation regulation system had to be improved.
Additional tests with a modernized rundown unit were performed in 1984 and 1985. The 1982 and 1984 programmes provided for, the connection of the turbogenerator in rundown mode to one main circulating pump on each side of the reactor, whereas the 1985 and 1986 programmes provided for connection to two main circulating pumps. The 1984, 1985 and 1986 programmes provided for disconnection of the ECCS by manual isolating slide valves.
The emergency operating mode hadn't been properly tested prior to commercial operation of units in this series
. Testing in 1982 of Chernobyl Unit 3 (it's unclear what series is being referred to, and I still don't even know if this test had been completed successfully at another RBMK facility) was unsuccessful as apparently a system needed to be improved. A 1984 test was unsuccessful too and I'm not sure any other test was successful.
To understand what happened that night, we have to look back ten hours earlier.
To how the xenon poisoning maximum was passed and as opposed to accumulating xenon content was decreasing. Here is a good cut-off for the next part.