“MIDNIGHT IN CHERNOBYL”

April 27, 2019 at 5:00 am

33 years ago today, reactor #4 exploded in Chernobyl, creating the world’s worst nuclear accident. The Soviets’ secrets about what led up to the event, and it’s cover up, is now revealed.

Aired on April 26, 2019.

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>>> 1986, PLACE, CHERNOBYL.
IN THE HEART OF THE UKRAINE
WHERE A NUCLEAR REACTOR
EXPLODED.
30 PEOPLE DIED AND 50,000 FLED
THEIR HOMES.
RADIOACTIVE FALLOUT SPREAD TO AN
AREA LARGER THAN LONG ISLAND,
MAKING IT A VIRTUAL NO MAN'S
LAND.
THE PLANT WAS ENCASED UNDER A
GIANT DOME.
30 YEARS LATER, THAT DOME IS
CRUMBLING AND CHERNOBYL'S THREAT
IS ONCE AGAIN IMMINENT AS
ANOTHER DISASTER LOOMS.
DEADLY RADIATION IS BEING
RELEASED.
>> CHERNOBYL.
A CATASTROPHIC NUCLEAR DISASTER.
THREATENING AGAIN.
NOW ENGINEERS BUILD A MASSIVE
STRUCTURE TO PREVENT ANOTHER
RADIOACTIVE CRISIS.
>> EXTREMELY DANGEROUS.
>> BUILDING CHERNOBYL.
>> NOW MORE THAN 30 YEARS LATER,
THERE ARE MANY QUESTIONS STILL
LINGERING ABOUT WHAT EXACTLY
HAPPENED THE NIGHT OF THE
TRAGEDY.
HERE TO BRING US SOME INSIGHT,
ADAM, WHO IS THE AUTHOR OF
MIDNIGHT IN CHERNOBYL.
NICE TO HAVE YOU HERE WITH US.
>> THANK YOU.
>> I HAVE TO TELL YOU, THIS
READS LIKE A NOVEL.
LIKE A MYSTERY DISASTER NOVEL
WHICH I SHOWN A COMPLIMENT.
>> THAT WAS THE IDEA.
YES.
>> YOU ACHIEVE IT.
>> FIRST QUESTION IS, OF MOST
AUTHORS, WHAT DREW YOU TO THE
STORY AND TO MAKE DECIDE IT'S
TIME TO WRITE THIS?
>> WELL, MY REPORTING ON THE
STORY GOES BACK QUITE A LONG
WAYS IN 2006.
I INITIALLY WENT TO RUSSIA AND
UKRAINE TO WRITE A MAGAZINE
STORY.
AT THAT POINT I WAS JUST
INTERESTED IN RECONSTRUCTING THE
EVENT THROUGH THE ACCOUNTS OF
EYEWITNESSES.
WHEN I BEGAN TALKING TO THEM, I
REALIZED THERE WAS MORE TO THE
STORY THAN I HAD KNOWN ABOUT.
AND BOOKS WERE BEING WRITTEN TO
THAT POINT.
AND SO THEN I KNEW THERE WAS A
MORE, A FULLER ACCOUNT TO BE
WRITTEN.
AND THEN I WENT BACK AGAIN IN
2011 FOR ANOTHER STORY.
AND AT THAT POINT, THIS WAS
ABOUT A TOTALLY DIFFERENT ASPECT
OF THE ACCIDENT.
ABOUT THE ECOLOGICAL ASPECT.
THE WILDLIFE.
THERE IS THIS IDEA THAT IT HAD
BECOME A RADIOACTIVE SAFARI PARK
WHERE ANIMALS THRIVE IN SPITE OF
RADIATION.
I WAS REPORTING ON THAT.
AT THAT POINT I DID SOMETHING IN
THE COURSE OF REPORTING.
I WENT TO PLACES, AND I SWORE I
WOULD NEVER GO BACK AGAIN.
THEN ABOUT THREE YEARS LATER, I
FOUND MYSELF SITTING AT MY DESK
THINKING, THERE'S THIS OTHER
PART OF THE STORY.
AT THAT POINT, I REALIZED THAT I
HAD TO WRITE A BOOK ABOUT IT.
>> IT PULLED YOU IN.
>> YES.
WHEN YOU SAID YOU WENT BACK AND
YOU WERE SURPRISED BY THINGS,
WHAT WAS IT THAT YOU THINK,
LET'S FOCUS FIRST ON THE EVENT
ITSELF AND THE FOLLOW-UP.
THE INITIAL ATTEMPT TO COVER UP.
DID YOU LEARN THINGS ABOUT THAT
THAT YOU HAD NOT KNOWN BEFORE?
THROUGH YOUR OTHER REPORTING?
>> WELL, THAT WAS ONE OF THE
MAIN POINTS THAT DREW ME IN IN
2006 WHEN I REALIZED, EVEN THE
READING I HAD DONE.
I HAD DONE A LOT OF STUFF TO
BEGIN REPORTING IN THE RUSSIAN
UKRAINE.
ONE OF THE STANDARD QUESTIONS, I
ASKED ALL THE EYEWITNESSES IN
2006, WHAT TO YOU IS THE MOST
FRIGHTENING MOMENT OF THE EVENT?
OBVIOUSLY, I EXPECTED PEOPLE TO
SAY, WELL, I WAS IN THE BUILDING
AND THIS TREMENDOUS EXPLOSION, I
THOUGHT THE WAR WITH AMERICANS
HAD BEGUN.
WHICH IS WHAT ONE PERSON SAID TO
ME.
THIS ONE GUY IS A PHYSICSIST WHO
HAD ENORMOUS EXPERIENCE SERVING
IN THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY.
I ASKED HIM THIS QUESTION.
HE DIDN'T SAY THAT.
HE SAID FOR ME, THE MOST
FRIGHTENING MOMENT, MAY 5 OR 6,
WHEN ME AND ALL THE OTHER
PHYSICSISTS AROUND THE PLANT
THOUGHT THERE WOULD BE A SECOND
EXPLOSION.
IT WOULD BE EVEN MORE EXPLOSIVE
AND WE THOUGHT WE WOULD DIE.
SO AT THAT POINT, HOW DID I NOT
KNOW ABOUT THIS?
THAT TO ME WAS THE MOST
SURPRISING THING?
>> YOU TALK ABOUT IT IN THE
BOOKS.
YOU TALK ABOUT THE NOTION THAT
THIS SHOULD HAVE BEEN
PREDICTABLE.
PEOPLE SHOULD HAVE BEEN ABLE TO
SEE THE CHANCES OF THIS
HAPPENING.
WHY DO YOU THINK THAT WAS?
>> TO GO BACK INTO THE STRUCTURE
AND THE NATURE OF THE SOVIET
UNION.
IT WAS BUILT ON SECRECY AND
LIES.
BUT THE APPROXIMATE CAUSES WERE
THE DESIGN FAULTS IN THE
REACTOR.
THE PEOPLE THAT BUILT AND
DESIGNED IT KNEW ABOUT IT.
MORE THAN TEN YEARS THAT THE
ACCIDENT HAPPENED.
SO THAT ALONE, YOU KNOW, WAS AN
INDICATION THAT THERE WERE
PEOPLE WITHIN THE NUKE INDUSTRY.
WITHIN THE MINISTRY OF NEEDING
MACHINES ALL DAY.
THE MONO LITHIC MINISTRY OF THE
SOVIET UNION THAT RAN NOT ONLY
THE ATOM WEAPONS PROGRAM BUT
ALSO ALL THE FUEL CYCLES FOR THE
CIVILIAN STATION.
THOSE PEOPLE KNEW THERE WERE
THESE PROBLEMS.
THEY COVERED THEM UP.
MINIMIZED THEM AND KEPT DETAILS
EVEN FROM THE PEOPLE WHO
OPERATED THE PLANT.
>> LET'S TALK ABOUT YOUR VISITS
BACK.
IN CHERNOBYL NOW.
AND I WAS STRUCK BY THE FACT
THAT THERE WERE SO MANY PEOPLE
THAT ARE STILL ALIVE, THAT HAD
BEEN THERE, AND I THINK SOME OF
THEM ARE STILL, THIS ONE IS
INVOLVED IN THE NUCLEAR
INDUSTRY.
>> THAT WAS SOMETHING I WAS
SURPRISED BY RIGHT AT THE
BEGINNING 12 YEARS AGO.
I THOUGHT I WOULD FIND PEOPLE
WHO ARE PERIPHERAL TO IT.
AMONG THE FIRST PEOPLE I MET,
THEY WERE PEOPLE INSIDE THE
PLANT AT THE INSTANT OF THE
EXPLOSION.
NOT ONLY SURVIVED THAT BUT
SURVIVED UNTIL THE PRESENT DAY.
THERE IS ONE GUY, BORIS, WHO I
INTERVIEWED A COUPLE OF TIMES
WHO WAS IN THE CONTROL ROOM AT
THE MOMENT OF THE EXPLOSION.
AND HE NOT ONLY SURVIVED BUT
THEN WENT BACK TO WORK IN THE
NUCLEAR INDUSTRY AND THEN
RECENTLY WAS APPOINTED THE HEAD
OF THE UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR SAFETY
BOARD.
>> HOW ABOUT THE AFTERMATH?
IT LOOKS LIKE MEDICALLY, THE
PEOPLE WHO HAD BEEN IN THE
PLANT, THE PEOPLE AROUND THE
PLANT, WHAT DID YOU FIND ABOUT
THAT?
>> WELL, I MEAN, THE PEOPLE WHO
RECEIVED THE WORST LEVELS OF
EXPOSURE IN THE HOURS AND DAYS
AFTER THE EXPLOSION, YOU KNOW,
THEY SUFFERED VERY SEVERE
RADIATION INDUSTRIES.
AND MANY, THE 30 PEOPLE YOU
MENTIONED, THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE
WHO DIED.
OTHER PEOPLE WERE AFFECTED BUT
RECOVERED.
SO THERE WERE SOME PEOPLE THAT I
SPOKE TO WHO SPENT MONTHS IN
HOSPITAL.
BUT EVENTUALLY, THEIR HEALTH
RECOVERED AND THEN THEY HAD TO
LIVE WITH THE LONG TERM
CONSEQUENCES OF WHAT HAPPENED.
THEY WOULD KEEP GOING FOR TWREMT
SKIN GRAFTS, REMAIN ON
MEDICATION.
AND THOSE PEOPLE COULD NEVER
RETURN TO WORK AT A NUCLEAR PLAN
BECAUSE OF THEIR EXISTING
RADIATION EXPOSURE.
BUT IF YOU'RE ASKING MORE
BROADLY ABOUT PEOPLE IN THE
WIDER POPULATION, YOU KNOW,
THERE WERE 5 MILLION PEOPLE IN
THE AREAS THAT WERE WORST
AFFECTED.
IN UKRAINE, BELARUS.
AND REALLY, NO KIND OF
COMPREHENSIVE STUDY OF THEIR
HEALTH HAS EVER BEEN DONE.
IT'S BEEN DONE PIECEMEAL.
SO AT THIS POINT, PARTLY BECAUSE
OF THAT AND BECAUSE THE SOVIETS
ATTEMPTED TO COVER UP AND
MINIMIZE WHAT HAPPENED, WE'LL
PROBABLY NEVER KNOW WHAT THE
HEALTH CONSEQUENCES OF THE
ACCIDENT FOR THOSE PEOPLE ARE.
>> AS I AM IN THE BEGINNING, IT
IS A MARVELOUS READ.
IT DOES INDEED READ LIKE A
NOVEL.
AND CERTAINLY IT TELLS US SO
MUCH.
EVEN PEOPLE WHO THOUGHT THEY
KNEW EVERYTHING THERE WAS TO
KNOW ABOUT CHERNOBYL WILL BE
SHOCKED WHEN THEY REALIZE HOW
MUCH THEY DIDN'T KNOW.
THANKS FOR SPENDING SOME TIME
WITH US.
APPRECIATE IT.
>> THANK YOU.
>> CONGRATULATIONS.
GREAT WORK.
>> THANK YOU.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by James and Merryl Tisch, Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Irene Schwartz, Rosalind P. Walter, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Janet Prindle Seidler, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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