People talk about the “bridge of death,” about the idea that a load of residents of Pripyat went out to stand on this railway bridge, which stood at the top of Lenina Prospekt, the main boulevard into the city, and watched the burning reactor from that standpoint. And that, in the subsequent years, every person who stood on that bridge died. I could find no evidence of that. Indeed, I spoke to a guy who was seven or eight at the time, who did indeed cycle over to the bridge to see what he could see at the reactor, which was only three kilometers away. But he’s not dead. He’s apparently perfectly healthy...
. A thing I was asked about the other day was, “I was disappointed to see that you didn’t report about the helicopter that crashed during the bombing operation.” You’ve seen the film on YouTube. Well, that film was shot of a helicopter crashing beside a reactor on October 6, 1986, months after the fire had gone out, months after this operation had finished.
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.
Of all the ministers and all the deputies—the entire congregation of obedient fools—they mistakenly sent us the one good man. For god's sake, Boris, you were the one who mattered the most.
Similarly repetitive and ridiculous are the many scenes of heroic scientists confronting intransigent bureaucrats by explicitly criticizing the Soviet system of decision-making. In Episode 3, for example, Legasov asks, rhetorically, “Forgive me—maybe I’ve just spent too much time in my lab, or maybe I’m just stupid. Is this really the way it all works? An uninformed, arbitrary decision that will cost who knows how many lives that is made by some apparatchik, some career Party man?” Yes, of course this is the way it works, and, no, he hasn’t been in his lab so long that he didn’t realize that this is how it works. The fact of the matter is, if he didn’t know how it worked, he would never have had a lab.
...Legasov had finally recognized the true scope of the decay at the heart of the nuclear state: the culture of secrecy and complacency, the arrogance and negligence, and the shoddy standards of design and construction. He saw that both the RBMK reactor and its pressurized water counterpart, the VVR, were inherently dangerous. He began to investigate the problems in more detail and advocated at Sredmash for a new generation of reactor, cooled with molten salt. But his suggestions were met with fury and indignation...
inspired by the rising winds of perestroika, Legasov now went to work on a series of proposals to modernize the monolithic structures of Soviet science... [he] challenged the hegemony of some of the most powerful forces of the state, and to anyone else would have appeared an obvious political risk. He proposed that the Ministry of Medium Machine Building should be broken up into smaller units that would compete with one another in an internal market; that the research of the Kurchatov Institute should be funded with a new rigor, focused on practical results; and that the old men who now controlled the budgets and made all the appointments to its many jobs-for-life should be replaced with younger and more vital scientists. Legasov had good reason to believe the report would be well received...
Yet Legasov’s proposals were ignored. He failed to realize that he and his ideas would alienate not just the old guard, whose comfortable positions in the status quo he threatened, but also his more reform-minded colleagues- who saw Legasov as a creature of the Era of Stagnation, with a privileged background that had eased a frictionless rise to the top.
He gave an interview to the liberal literary journal Novy Mir in which he warned that-contrary to everything he had said before-another Chernobyl catastrophe could occur at any one of the other RBMK stations in the USSR, at any time; he told the reporter that many scientists were aware of the danger, but no one would act to stop it. In a separate interview with Yunost, another Soviet journal where the shackles of censorship were being loosened by glasnost, Legasov went further still.
Turning his back on every political orthodoxy he had believed in since he was a teenager, the academician said that Soviet science had lost its way. The men and women behind the great triumphs of Soviet technology who had created the first nuclear power plant and launched Yuri Gagarin into space had been striving for a new and better society and acted with a morality and strength of purpose inherited from Pushkin and Tolstoy. But the thread of virtuous purpose had run through their fingers, leaving behind a generation of young people who were technologically sophisticated but morally untethered. It was this profound failure of the Soviet social experiment. and not merely a handful of reckless reactor operators that Legasov believed was to blame for the catastrophe that had bloomed from Reactor Number Four.
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