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Quotes tagged “Chernobyl”
Anatoly Dyatlov: We have the situation under control.
Fomin: Under control? It doesn't look like it's under control.
Bryukhanov: Shut up, Fomin. I have to tell the Central Committee about this. Do you realize that? I have to get on the phone and tell Maryin, or God forbid Frolyshev, that my power plant is on fire.
Anatoly Dyatlov: No one can blame you for this, Director Bryukanov.
Bryukhanov: Of course no one can blame me for this. How can I be responsible? I was sleeping.”
To be a scientist is to be naive. We are so focused on our search for truth, we fail to consider how few actually want us to find it. But it is always there, whether we see it or not, whether we choose to or not. The truth doesn't care about our needs or wants. It doesn't care about our governments, our ideologies, our religions. It will lie in wait for all time. And this, at last, is the gift of Chernobyl. Where I once would fear the cost of truth, now I only ask: ‘What is the cost of lies?’”
Charkov: [reads file] Valery Alexeyevich Legasov, son of Alexei Legasov, Head of Ideological Compliance, Central Committee. Do you know what your father did there?
Charkov: As a student, you had a leadership position in Komsomol. Communist Youth, correct?
Legasov: You already know.
Charkov: Answer the question.
Charkov: At the Kuchartov Institute, you were the Communist Party secretary. In the position, you limited the promotion of Jewish scientists.
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.”
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.”
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.”
You'll do it because nobody else can. And if you don't, millions will die. If you tell me that's not enough I won't believe you. This is what has always set our people apart. A thousand years of sacrifice in our veins. And every generation must know its own suffering.”
Shcherbina: It's been smooth. Twenty drops. [notices Legasov's expression] What?
Legasov: There are fifty thousand people in this city.
Shcherbina: Professor Ilyin, who's also on the commission, says the radiation isn't high enough to evacuate.
Legasov: Ilyin isn't a physicist.
Shcherbina: Well, he's a medical doctor. If he says it's safe, it's safe.
Legasov: Not if they stay here.
Shcherbina: We're staying here.
Legasov: [impatiently] Yes, we are, and we'll be dead in five years! [Shcherbina looks shocked] I'm sorry, I'm... I'm sorry.
Shcherbina: [sits in stunned silence as the phone starts to ring; after several seconds, he answers it] Shcherbina. [listens] Thank you. [hangs up] A nuclear plant in Sweden has detected radiation and identified it as a byproduct of our fuel. The Americans took satellite photos. The reactor building, the smoke, the fire. The whole world knows. The wind has been blowing toward Germany. They're not letting children play outside... in Frankfurt. [glances outside at the children playing]”
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.
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.
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.”
Legasov: [Sees the reactor, horrified] What have they done?
Shcherbina: Can you see inside?
Legasov: I don't have to. Look. That's graphite on the roof. The whole building's been blown open. The core's exposed!
Shcherbina: I can't see how you can tell that from here.
Legasov: Oh, for God's sakes! Look at that glow! That's radiation ionizing the air!
Shcherbina: Well, if we can't see, we don't know. [to the pilot] Get us directly over the building!
Legasov: Boris, if we fly...
Shcherbina: Don't you use my name!
Legasov: ...directly over an open reactor, we'll be dead within a week! Dead!
Shcherbina: Get us over that building, or I'll have you shot!
Legasov: [to the pilot] If you fly directly over that core, I promise you, by tomorrow morning, you'll be begging for that bullet! [the pilot considers this, and changes course]”
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.”
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?
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?
Gorbachev: No. Well, then how will you know what you're looking at? Meeting adjourned.”
Zharkov: I wonder how many of you know the name of this place. We all call it ‘Chernobyl’, of course. What is its real name?
Viktor Bryukhanov: The Vladimir I. Lenin Nuclear Power Station.
Zharkov: Exactly. Vladimir I. Lenin. [points to the image of Lenin on the nearby wall] And how proud he would be of you all tonight. Especially you, young man, the passion you have for the people. For is that not the sole purpose of the appartus of the State? Sometimes we forget. Sometimes we fall prey to fear. But our faith in Soviet socialism will always be rewarded. Now the State tells us the situation here is not dangerous. Have faith, comrades. The State tells us it wants to prevent a panic. Listen well! It's true, when the people see the police, they will be afraid. But it is my experience that when the people ask questions that are not in their own best interest, they should simply be told to keep their minds on their labor and leave matters of the State to the State. We seal off the city. No one leaves. And cut the phone lines. Contain the spread of misinformation. That is how we keep the people from undermining the fruits of their own labor. Yes, comrades... we will all be rewarded for what we do here tonight. This is our moment to shine.”
Dyatlov: What's wrong with you? How'd you get that number from feedwater leaking from a blown tank?
Anatoly Sitnikov: You don't.
Dyatlov: Then what the fuck are you talking about?
Sitnikov: I... [clears throat] I walked around the exterior of building 4. I think there's graphite on the ground in the rubble.
Dyatlov: You didn't see graphite.
Sitnikov: I did.
Dyatlov: You didn't. YOU DIDN'T! Because it's NOT THERE!
Nikolai Fomin: What, are you suggesting the core... what? Exploded?
Sitnikov: [almost a whisper] Yes.
Fomin: Sitnikov, you're a nuclear engineer. So am I. So please tell me how an RBMK reactor core explodes. Not a meltdown, an explosion. I'd love to know.
Sitnikov: I can't.
Fomin: Are you stupid?
Fomin: Then why can't you?
Sitnikov: I... [stammers] I don't see how it could explode. [Fomin looks satisfied] But it did.
Dyatlov: [pounds the table] Enough! I'll go up to the vent block roof. From there, you can look right down into reactor building 4. I'll see it with my own... with my own eyes. [vomits on the table] I apologize. [collapses]”
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?
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]”
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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