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Chernobyl Quotes

[April 26, 1986: Immediately after the explosion, deputy chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov stands shocked as shift supervisor Aleksandr Akimov calls his name repeatedly and alarms blare]
Aleksandr Akimov: Comrade Dyatlov? Comrade Dyatlov?!

Anatoly Dyatlov: What just happened?

Leonid Toptunov: I don't know.

[Turbine engineer Vyacheslav Brazhnik rushes into the room]
Vyacheslav Brazhnik: There's a fire in the turbine hall.

Dyatlov: The turbine hall... The control system tank. Hydrogen. [addressing Akimov] You and Toptunov, you morons blew the tank.

Toptunov: No, that's not—

Dyatlov: This is an emergency, everyone stay calm. Our first priority is to—

[As Dyatlov speaks, foreman Valeriy Perevozchenko runs through the open door in a panic]

Valeriy Perevozchenko: It exploded!

Dyatlov: We know. Akimov, are we cooling the reactor core?

Akimov: We shut it down, but the control rods are still... They're not all the way in, I disengaged the clutch—

Dyatlov: Alright, I'll disconnect the servos from the standby console. [to two other engineers] You two, get the backup pumps running, we need water moving through the core, that is all that matters!

Perevozchenko: There is no core! It exploded, the core exploded!

[Beat as all the engineers stare at Perevozchenko in disbelief and fear]

Dyatlov: He's in shock, get him out of here.

Perevozchenko: The lid is off. The stack is burning, I saw it.

Dyatlov: You're confused, RBMK reactor cores don't explode. Akimov!

Akimov: [to Toptunov] Don't worry, we did everything right. Something... something strange has happened.

Toptunov: Do you taste metal?

Dyatlov: Akimov!

Akimov: [to Perevozchenko] Comrade Perevozchenko, what you're saying is physically impossible. The core can't explode. It has to be the tank.

[Perevozchenko wordlessly shakes his head]

Dyatlov: We're wasting time. Let's go. Get the hydrogen out of the generators and pump water into the core.

Brazhnik: What about the fire?

Dyatlov: [annoyed; as if it were obvious] Call the fire brigade. [storms out]
[Legasov is arrested by the KGB for refusing to toe the party line and is led to a private interrogation room]

Charkov: [reads file] Valery Alexeyevich Legasov, son of Alexei Legasov, Head of Ideological Compliance, Central Committee. Do you know what your father did there?

Legasov: Yes.

Charkov: As a student, you had a leadership position in Komsomol. Communist Youth, correct?

Legasov: You already know.

Charkov: Answer the question.

Legasov: Yes.

Charkov: At the Kuchartov Institute, you were the Communist Party secretary. In the position, you limited the promotion of Jewish scientists.

Legasov: Yes.

Charkov: To curry favor with Kremlin officials. You're one of us, Legasov. I can do anything I want with you. But what I want most is for you to know that I know. You're not brave. You're not heroic. You're just a dying man who forgot himself.

Legasov: I know who I am, and I know what I've done. In a just world, I'd be shot for my lies, but not for this, not for the truth.

Charkov: Scientists...and your idiot obsessions with reasons. When the bullet hits your skull, what will it matter why? [beat] No one's getting shot, Legasov. The whole world saw you in Vienna; it would be embarrassing to kill you now. And for what? Your testimony today will not be accepted by the State. It will not be disseminated in the press. It never happened. No... you will live, however long you have. But not as a scientist. Not anymore. You'll keep your title and your office, but no duties. No authority. No friends. No one will talk to you. No one will listen to you. Other men, lesser men, will receive credit for the things you have done. Your legacy is now their legacy; you will live long enough to see that. [beat] What role did Shcherbina play in this?

Legasov: None. He didn't know what I was gonna say.

Charkov: What role did Khomyuk play in this?

Legasov: None. She didn't know either.

Charkov: After all you've said and done today, it would be curious if you chose this moment to lie.

Legasov: I would think a man of your experience would know a lie when he hears one.

Charkov: [beat] You will not meet or communicate with either one of them ever again. You will not communicate with anyone about Chernobyl ever again. You will remain so immaterial to the world around you that when you finally do die, it will be exceedingly hard to know that you ever lived at all. [starts to exit]

Legasov: What if I refuse?

Charkov: [turns back to face Legasov] Why worry about something that isn't going to happen?

Legasov: [Scoffs] ‘Why worry about something that isn't going to happen?’ Oh, that's perfect. They should put that on our money.”
[As the courtroom is at a recess, Legasov meets with Shcherbina outside]

Shcherbina: [Coughing] Do you know anything about this town, Chernobyl?

Legasov: Not really, no.

Shcherbina: It was mostly Jews and Poles. The Jews were killed in pogroms, and Stalin forced the Poles out. And then the Nazis came and killed whoever was left. But after the war people came to live here anyway. They knew the ground under their feet was soaked in blood, but they didn't care. Dead Jews, dead Poles. But not them. No one ever thinks it's going to happen to them. And here we are.

Legasov: How much time?

Shcherbina: Maybe a year. They call it a...[coughs] They call it a ‘long illness.’

Legasov: It doesn't seem very long to me.

Shcherbina: I know you told me, and I believed you. But time passed, and I thought, it wouldn't happen to me. I wasted it. I wasted it all for nothing.

Legasov: For nothing?

Shcherbina: Do you remember that morning when I first called you, how unconcerned I was? I don't believe much that comes out of the Kremlin, but when they told me they were putting me in charge of the cleanup and they said it wasn't serious, I believed them. You know why?

Legasov: Because they put you in charge.

Shcherbina: Yeah. I'm an inconsequential man, Valera. That's all I've ever been. I hoped that one day I would matter, but I didn't. I just stood next to people who did.

Legasov: There are other scientists like me. Any one of them could have done what I did. But you...Everything we asked for, everything we needed. Men, material, lunar rovers. Who else could have done these things? They heard me, but they listened to you. Of all the ministers, and all the deputies, entire congregation of obedient fools, they mistakenly sent the one good man. For god's sake, Boris, you were the one who mattered most.

Shcherbina: [Sees a small caterpillar on his lap and lets it crawl on his index finger] Ah, it's beautiful.”
[Pripyat, April 25, 1986 - twelve hours prior to the explosion]

Fomin: I hear they might promote Bryukhanov. This little problem we have with the safety test, if it's completed successfully... yes, I think promotion's very likely. Who knows? Maybe Moscow. 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.

Dyatlov: I would like to be considered.

Fomin: We'll keep that in mind. [Bryukhanov enters] Viktor Petrovich, preparations for the test have gone smoothly. Comrade Dyatlov's been working per my instructions, and reactor 4's output has been reduced to 1600 megawatts. With your approval, we're ready to continue lowering power to—

Bryukhanov: We have to wait.

Fomin: Is, uh...

Bryukhanov: Are you going to ask me if there's a problem, Nikolai? You can't read a fucking face? Three years, I've tried to finish this test. Three years. [lights a cigarette] I've just had a call from the grid controller in Kiev. He says we can't lower power any further. Not for another ten hours.

Dyatlov: A grid controller? Where does he get off telling us—

Bryukhanov: It's not the grid controller's decision, Dyatlov. It's the end of the month. All the productivity quotas. Everyone's working overtime, the factories need power, someone's pushing down from above, not that we'll ever know who. [sighs] So do we have to scrap it, or what?

Fomin: No, I don't think so. If we need to wait ten hours, we wait.

Bryukhanov: [to Dyatlov] Running half power, not going to have stability issues?

Fomin: No, I should think—

Bryukhanov: I'm not asking you.

Dyatlov: It's safe. We'll maintain at 1600. I'll go home, get some sleep, come back tonight. We'll proceed then. I'll personally supervise the test, and it will be completed.

Bryukhanov: Well, I'm not waiting around. Call me when it's done.”
Legasov: [showing pictures of the damaged reactor] The atom is a humbling thing.

General Nikolai Tarakanov: It's not humbling, it's humiliating. Why is the core still exposed to the air? Why have we not already covered it up?

Legasov: We want to, but we can't get close enough. The debris on the roof is graphite from the core itself. Until we can push it off the roof back into the reactor, it'll kill anyone who gets near it. You see the roof is in three levels. We've named them. The small one here is Katya, one thousand roentgen per hour. Presume two hours of exposure is fatal. The one on the side, Nina, two thousand roentgen. One hour, fatal.

Tarakanov: We used remote-controlled bulldozers in Afghanistan.

Shcherbina: Too heavy. They'd fall right through.

Tarakanov: So then...?

Legasov: Moon rovers. Lunokhod STR-1s. They're light. And if we line them with lead, they can withstand the radiation.

Shcherbina: We couldn't put a man on the Moon. At least we can keep a man off the roof.

Legasov: That is the most important thing, General. Under no circumstances can men go up there.

Tarakanov: What about this large section here?

Shcherbina: [grimly] Masha.

Legasov: Twelve thousand roentgen. If you were to stand there in full protective gear head-to-toe for two minutes, your life expectancy would be cut in half. By three minutes, you're dead within months. Even our lunar rovers won't work on Masha. That amount of gamma radiation penetrates everything. The particles literally shred the circuits in microchips apart. If it's more complicated than a light switch, Masha will destroy it.

Shcherbina: It would be fair to say that that piece of roof is the most dangerous place on Earth.

Tarakanov: [sits in stunned silence for a moment, before taking a draw from his cigarette] So... what do we do?

Shcherbina: That's what we wanted to ask you.”
[May 3, 1986: A Party official and two soldiers arrive at a coal mine in Tula, Russian SFSR]

Mikhail Shchadov: Who's in charge here?

Andrei Glukhov: I'm the crew chief.

Shchadov: I am Shchadov, minister of coal industries.

Glukhov: We know who you are.

Shchadov: How many men do you have?

Glukhov: On this shift, 45 here, a hundred in total.

Shchadov: I need all one hundred men to gather their equipment and get on the trucks.

Glukhov: [smirking] Do you? To where?

Shchadov: That's classified.

Glukhov: Come on, then. Start shooting. You haven't got enough bullets for all of us. Kill as many as you can. Whoever's left, they'll beat the living piss out of each of you.

Soldier: You can't talk to us like that!

Glukhov: Shut the fuck up! This is Tula. This is our mine. We don't leave unless we know why.

Shchadov: You're going to Chernobyl. Do you know what's happened there?

Glukhov: We dig up coal, not bodies.

Shchadov: The reactor fuel is going to sink into the ground and poison the water from Kiev to the Black Sea. All of it. Forever, they say. They want you to stop that from happening.

Glukhov: And how are we supposed to do that?

Shchadov: They didn't tell me, because I don't need to know. Do you need to know, or have you heard enough?

[Glukhov stares at him for a moment, then walks up and pats him on the shoulder with his sooty hands before walking to the trucks. The other miners do likewise, dirtying up his clean suit and his face]

Miner: Now you look like the minister of coal.”
“[The Kremlin, Moscow: Legasov and Ulana Khomyuk explain the consequences of a nuclear meltdown with full water tanks]

Ulana Khomyuk: When the lava enters these tanks, it will instantly superheat and vaporize approximately 7,000 cubic meters of water, causing a significant thermal explosion.

Gorbachev: How significant?

Khomyuk: We estimate between two and four megatons. Everything within a thirty-kilometer radius will be completely destroyed, including the three remaining reactors at Chernobyl. The entirety of the radioactive material in all of the cores will be ejected at force and dispersed by a massive shock wave, which will extend approximately two hundred kilometers and likely be fatal to the entire population of Kiev, as well as a portion of Minsk. The release of radiation will be severe, and will impact all of Soviet Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania, Byelorussia, as well as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and most of East Germany.

Gorbachev: What do you mean, ‘impact’?

Legasov: For much of the area, a nearly permanent disruption of the food and water supply, a steep increase in the rates of cancer and birth defects. I don't know how many deaths there will be, but many. For Byelorussia and the Ukraine, ‘impact’ means completely uninhabitable for a minimum of one hundred years.

Gorbachev: [visibly shaken] There are more than fifty million people living in Byelorussia and Ukraine.

Legasov: Sixty, yes.

Gorbachev: And how long before this happens?

Legasov: Approximately 48 to 72 hours. But we may have a solution. We can pump the water from the tanks. Unfortunately, the tanks are sealed shut by a sluice gate, and the gate can only be opened manually from within the duct system itself. So we need to find three plant workers who know the facility well enough to enter the basement here, find their way through all these duct ways, get to the sluice gate valve here, and give us the access we need to pump out the tanks. Of course, we will need your permission.

Gorbachev: My permission for what?

Legasov: Um, the water in these tanks... the level of radioactive contamination—

Khomyuk: They'll likely be dead in a week.

Legasov: We're asking for your permission to... kill three men.

Gorbachev: Comrade Legasov... all victories inevitably come at a cost.”
[Inside a military jeep, as Fomin and Bryukhanov prepare to meet Shcherbina...]

Fomin: It's overkill. Pikalov's showing off to make us look bad.

Bryukhanov: It doesn't matter how it looks. Shcherbina is a pure bureaucrat, as stupid as he is pigheaded. We'll tell him the truth in the simplest terms possible. We'll be fine. [Both exit the jeep] Pikalov!

[Pikalov joins in with Fomin and Bryukhanov to welcome Scherbina. Legasov is standing at a distance as Shcherbina, alone, is saluted by Pikalov]

Bryukhanov: Comrade Shcherbina, Chief Engineer Fomin, Colonel General Pikalov, and I are honored at your arrival.

Fomin: Deeply, deeply honored.

Bryukhanov: Naturally, we regret the circumstances of your visit, but as you can see, we are making excellent progress in containing the damage. [Pulls out his notepad] We have begun our own inquiry into the cause of the accident, and I have a list of individuals who we believe are accountable.

[Shcherbina reads through the note and gestures Legasov to join them]

Bryukhanov: Professor Legasov, I understand you've been saying dangerous things.

Fomin: Very dangerous things. Apparently, our reactor core exploded. Please, tell me how an RBMK reactor core explodes.

Legasov: I'm not prepared to explain it at this time.

Fomin: As I presumed, he has no answer.

Bryukhanov: It's disgraceful, really. To spread disinformation at a time like this.

[Legasov, in a tense situation, says nothing and looks to Shcherbina]

Shcherbina: [Notices Legasov and turns to Bryukhanov] Why did I see graphite on the roof? Graphite is only found in the core, where it's used as a—neutron flux moderator. Correct?

Bryukhanov: [beat] Fomin, why did the Deputy Chairman see graphite on the roof?

Fomin: Well, that—that can't be. Comrade Shcherbina, my apologies, but graphite...that's not possible. Perhaps y—you saw burnt concrete.

Shcherbina: Now there you made a mistake, because I may not know much about nuclear reactors, but I know a lot about concrete.

Fomin: Comrade, I—I assure you—

Shcherbina: I understand. [Points to Legasov] You think Legasov is wrong. How shall we prove it?

Vladimir Pikalov: Our high-range dosimeter just arrived. We could cover one of our trucks with lead shielding, mount the dosimeter on the front.

Legasov: Have one of your men get as close to the fire as he can. Give him every bit of protection you have. But understand that even with lead shielding, it may not be enough.

Pikalov: [grimly] Then I'll do it myself.

Shcherbina: Good.”
[Colonel General Pikalov returns from the testing to give his report]

Pikalov: It's not three roentgen. It's 15,000.

Bryukhanov: Comrade Shcherbina—

Shcherbina: [Turns to Legasov] What does that number mean?

Legasov: It means the core is open. It means the fire we're watching with our own eyes is giving off nearly twice the radiation released by the bomb in Hiroshima. And that's every single hour. Hour after hour, [looks at his watch] 20 hours since the explosion, so 40 bombs worth by now. Forty-eight more tomorrow. And it will not stop. Not in a week, not in a month. It will burn and spread its poison until the entire continent is dead.

Shcherbina: [Turns to the soldiers] Please escort Comrades Bryukhanov and Fomin to the local party headquarters. [Turns to Bryukhanov] Thank you for your service.

Bryukhanov: Comrade—

Shcherbina: You're excused.

Fomin: [As he's being taken away] Dyatlov was in charge. It was Dyatlov!

Shcherbina: Tell me how to put it out.

Pikalov: We'll use helicopters. We'll drop water on it like a forest fire—

Legasov: No, no, no. You don't understand. This isn't a fire. This is a fissioning reactor core burning at over 2,000 degrees. The heat will instantly vaporize the water or worse—

Shcherbina: How do we put it out?

Legasov: [Sighs] You are dealing with something that has never occurred on this planet before. [Shcherbina begins to speak] Boron. Boron and sand. Well, that'll create problems of its own, but I—I don't see any other way. Of course, it's going to take thousands of drops, because you can't fly the helicopters directly over the core, so most of it is going to miss.

Shcherbina: How much sand and boron?

Legasov: [Scoffs] Well, I can't be—

Shcherbina: For God's sake, roughly!

Legasov: Five thousand tons. And obviously, we're going to need to evacuate an enormous area—

Shcherbina: Never mind that. Focus on the fire.

Legasov: I am focusing on the fire. The wind, it's carrying all that smoke, all that radiation. At least evacuate Pripyat. It's three kilometers away.

Shcherbina: That's my decision to make.

Legasov: Then make it.

Shcherbina: I've been told not to.

Legasov: Is it or is not your decision—

Shcherbina: I'm in charge here! This will go much easier if you talk to me about the things you do understand and not about the things you do not understand. [Walks back to the tent]

Legasov: Where are you going?

Shcherbina: I'm going to get you 5,000 tons of sand and boron.”
[As Valery Legasov and Boris Shcherbina make their way to Chernobyl in a helicopter...]

Boris Shcherbina: How does a nuclear reactor work?

Valery Legasov: What?

Shcherbina: It's a simple question.

Legasov: It's hardly a simple answer.

Shcherbina: Of course, you presume I'm too stupid to understand. So I'll restate: Tell me how a nuclear reactor works, or I'll have one of these soldiers throw you out of the helicopter.

Legasov: A nuclear reactor makes electricity with steam. The steam turns a turbine which generates electricity. Where a typical power plant makes steam by burning coal, a nuclear plant...

[Legasov tries to find a pen in his pocket to draw a diagram. Scherbina hands his pen and a scratch paper to Legasov]

Legasov: [Draws diagram] In a nuclear plant, we use something called fission. We take an unstable element like Uranium-235, which has too many neutrons. A neutron is, uh—

Shcherbina: The bullet.

Legasov: [Impressed] Yes, the bullet. So, bullets are flying off of the uranium. Now...if we put enough uranium atoms close together, the bullets from one atom will eventually strike another atom. The force of this impact splits that atom apart, releasing a tremendous amount of energy, fission.

Shcherbina: And the graphite?

Legasov: [Exhales] Ah, yes. The neutrons are actually traveling so fast we call this ‘flux’—it's relatively unlikely that the uranium atoms will ever hit one another. In RBMK reactors, we surround the fuel rods with graphite to moderate—slow down—the neutron flux.

Shcherbina: Good. [Takes his pen back] I know how a nuclear reactor works. Now I don't need you.”
[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.”
[April 26, 1988: Alone in his apartment in Moscow, Professor Valery Legasov replays his voice on a tape recorder]
What is the cost of lies? It's not that we'll mistake them for the truth. The real danger is that if we hear enough lies, then we no longer recognize the truth at all. What can we do then? What else is left to abandon even the hope of truth and content ourselves instead with stories? In these stories, it doesn't matter who the heroes are. All we want to know is: 'Who is to blame?' In this story, it was Anatoly Dyatlov. He was the best choice. An arrogant, unpleasant man, he ran the room that night, he gave the orders... and no friends. Or at least, not important ones. And now Dyatlov will spend the next ten years in a prison labor camp. Of course, that sentence is doubly unfair. There were far greater criminals than him at work. And as for what Dyatlov did do, the man doesn't deserve prison. He deserves death. [Legasov stops the tape, sips a glass of water, and then starts recording where he left off] But instead, ten years for "criminal mismanagement". What does that mean? No one knows. It doesn't matter. What does matter is that, to them, justice was done. Because, you see, to them, a just world is a sane world. There was nothing sane about Chernobyl. What happened there, what happened after, even the good we did, all of it... all of it, madness. Well, I've given you everything I know. They'll deny it, of course. They always do. I know you'll try your best.”
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