[The Kremlin, Moscow: Valery Legasov enters the room with General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and Deputy Chairman Boris Shcherbina]

Mikhail Gorbachev: Thank you all for your duty to this commission. We will begin with Deputy Chairman Shcherbina's briefing, and then we will discuss next steps if necessary.

Boris Shcherbina: Thank you, Comrade General Secretary. I'm pleased to report that the situation in Chernobyl is stable. Military and civilian patrols have secured the region, and Colonel General Pikalov, who commands troops specializing in chemical hazards, has been dispatched to the plant. In terms of radiation, plant director Bryukhanov reports no more than 3.6 roentgen. I'm told it's the equivalent of a chest X-ray. So if you're overdue for a check-up...

Gorbachev: And foreign press?

Shcherbina: Totally unaware. KGB First Deputy Chairman Charkov assures me that we have successfully protected our security interests.

Gorbachev: Good. Very good. Well, it seems like it's well in hand, so...if there's nothing else, meeting adjourned.

[Gorbachev and the committee begins to stand up]

Valery Legasov: [Pounds table] No!

Gorbachev: Pardon me?

Legasov: Uh, we can't adjourn.

Shcherbina: This is Professor Legasov of the Kurchatov Institute. Professor, if you have any concerns, feel free to address them with me later.

Legasov: I can't. I am sorry. I'm so sorry. [Frantically flips through the pages of reports] Page three, the section on casualties. Uh...[reads the reports] ‘A fireman was severely burned on his hand by a chunk of smooth, black mineral on the ground, outside the reactor building.’ Smooth, black mineral—graphite. There's-There's graphite on the ground.

Shcherbina: [To Gorbachev] Well, there was a—a tank explosion. There's debris. Of what importance that could be, I have n—

Legasov: [Overlapping] There's only one place in the entire facility where you will find graphite: inside the core. If there's graphite on the ground outside, it means it wasn't a control system tank that exploded. It was the reactor core. It's open! [Inhales]

Gorbachev: [Reads through the reports again] Um, Comrade Shcherbina?

Shcherbina: Comrade General Secretary, I can assure you that Professor Legasov is mistaken. Bryukhanov reports that the reactor core is intact. And as for the radiation—

Legasov: Yes, 3.6 roentgen, which, by the way, is not the equivalent of one chest X-ray, but rather 400 chest X-rays. That number's been bothering me for a different reason, though. It's also the maximum reading on low-limit dosimeters. They gave us the number they had. I think the true number is much, much higher. If I'm right, this fireman was holding the equivalent of four million chest X-rays in his hand.

Shcherbina: Professor Legasov, there's no place for alarmist hysteria—

Legasov: It's not alarmist if it's a fact!

Gorbachev: Well, I don't hear any facts at all. All I hear is a man I don't know engaging in conjecture in direct contradiction to what has been reported by party officials.

Legasov: [Stammers] I'm, uh, I apologize. I didn't mean, uh...[clears throat] Please, may I express my concern as—as calmly and as respectfully as I—

Shcherbina: Professor Legasov—

Gorbachev: [Interrupts] Boris. I will allow it.

[Everyone sits right back down]

Legasov: Um...An RBMK reactor uses Uranium-235 as fuel. Every atom of U-235 is like a bullet traveling at nearly the speed of light, penetrating everything in its path: woods, metal, concrete, flesh. Every gram of U-235 holds over a billion trillion of these bullets. That's in one gram. Now, Chernobyl holds over three million grams, and right now, it is on fire. Winds will carry radioactive particles across the entire continent, rain will bring them down on us. That's three million billion trillion bullets in the...in the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat. Most of these bullets will not stop firing for 100 years. Some of them, not for 50,000 years.

Gorbachev: Yes, and, uh, this concern stems entirely from the description of a rock?

Legasov: Yes.

Gorbachev: Hmm. Comrade Shcherbina, I want you to go to Chernobyl. You take a look at the reactor—you, personally—and you report directly back to me.

Shcherbina: A wise decision, Comrade General Secretary. I—

Gorbachev: And take Professor Legasov with you.

Shcherbina: Uh...[chuckles] Forgive me, Comrade General Secretary, but I—

Gorbachev: Do you know how a nuclear reactor works?

Shcherbina: No.

Gorbachev: No. Well, then how will you know what you're looking at? Meeting adjourned.”

Explore more quotes:

About the author

This page was created by our editorial team. Each page is manually curated, researched, collected, and issued by our staff writers. Quotes contained on this page have been double checked for their citations, their accuracy and the impact it will have on our readers.

Kelly Peacock is an accomplished poet and social media expert based in Brooklyn, New York. Kelly has a Bachelor's degree in creative writing from Farieligh Dickinson University and has contributed to many literary and cultural publications. Kelly assists on a wide variety of quote inputting and social media functions for Quote Catalog. Visit her personal website here.

Kendra Syrdal is a writer, editor, partner, and senior publisher for The Thought & Expression Company. Over the last few years she has been personally responsible for writing, editing, and producing over 30+ million pageviews on Thought Catalog.