Chernobyl plot (2019 serie)

Read the complete plot of the 2019 HBO series Chernobyl.

Poster showing Chernobyl the five part miniseries for HBO

Episode 1 plot: "1:23:45"

The series starts on April 26, 1988, when Valery Legasov, First Deputy Director of the Kurchatov Institute of Atomic Energy and member of the government commission investigating the Chernobyl disaster, is recording tapes blaming chief engineer Anatoly Dyatlov and other high ranking officials for what happened at the nuclear power plant. After recording the tapes, Legasov goes outside to hide them, while being watched by a KGB surveillance team. He successfully hides the tapes in a back alley and goes back inside to hang himself.

Exactly two years earlier, in the city of Pripyat, firefighter Vasily Ignatenko's pregnant wife Lyudmilla witnesses a huge fire at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, with a strange radiating glow shining into the sky. In the plant's control room of reactor nr 4, leading engineer Dyatlov is performing a safety test with engineers Toptunov and Akimov. When the reactor power rises suddenly tot 30.000MW after manually retracting the control rods to avoid reactor poisoning, an explosion is heard. Dyatlov dismisses evidence that the core has exploded, stating that this is impossible. He thinks the explosion was caused by a hydrogen tank and calls in firefighters and workers, and orders his subordinates to manually lower control rods and restore cooling to prevent a meltdown, after which he leaves to report the accident to his superiors. At the fire, Vasily and other firefighters suffer radiation burns and taste metal, a symptom of acute radiation syndrome (ARS).

During the crisismeeting, plant Manager Viktor Bryukhanov, Chief Engineer Nikolai Fomin and Dyatlov conclude that it was a hydrogen explosion causing a leak of contaminated vessel water. The Executive Committee decides to cover up the incident and blocks evacuation. Dyatlov starts to throw up due to radiation sickness. After Dyatlov is carried away, Fomin ordered Sitnikov, his replacement who saw graphite on the ground, to climb to the roof of unit C and survey the reactor; Sitnikov obeyed and received a fatal radiation dose there. He returned and reported to Fomin and Bryukhanov that the reactor was destroyed. The managers refused to believe him and ordered continued feeding of water into the reactor.

Legasov is informed of an accident at Chernobyl which is under control, and ordered to provide technical advice to the committee managing the response.

Episode 2 plot: "Please Remain Calm"

Seven hours after the explosion, nuclear scientist Ulana Khomyuk detects a spike in radiation levels at Minsk. When her concerns are dismissed by local authorities, she sets out for Chernobyl, the likely source as no one is answering the phone.

At Pripyat's overloaded hospital, Lyudmilla finds that Vasily and the other victims have been transported to Moscow with helicopters. She gets permission from a high ranking officer to follow him over there. The hospital staff slowly realizes their patients suffer from radiation rather then fire burns and throw all their heavily contaminated equipment in the basement.

In Moscow, Legasov explains to Soviet party secretary Gorbachev that the situation is more serious than reported and is sent to Chernobyl together with Boris Shcherbina, the vice-chairman of the Council of Ministers who is skeptical about the whole situation. Circling around the destroyed reactor in a helicopter, Legasov points out nuclear graphite debris and the typical blue glow from ionizing radiation, indicating the core is exposed. Shcherbina then confronts Bryukhanov and Fomin, who accuse Legasov of misinformation, but General Vladimir Pikalov has high-range dosimeter readings that prove Legasov is correct.

Legasov instructs the military to suppress the fire with sand and boron dropped by helicopters, which proves risky as the radiation directly above the core causes helicopters to crash because the electronic circuits are fried. As news of the incident spreads to western Europe, Pripyat is finally evacuated. Khomyuk arrives and warns Legasov and Shcherbina that the fire may be contained, but the reactor fuel will continue to melt down the concrete reactor foundations. If the molten core reaches the water in the basement below, there will be a destructive steam explosion equivalent to an atomic bomb. Legasov asks Gorbachev to authorize a lethal mission to drain the water blow the reactor building and is allowed to do so. Alexei Ananenko, Valeri Bezpalov, and Boris Baranov volunteer and enter the water in protective suits. When they are deep underneath the building, the radiation causes their lights to fail.

Episode 3 plot: "Open Wide, O Earth"

The 3 divers manage to drain the water by openening valves and get back out of the basement. This doesn't stop the nuclear meltdown who has now begun and threatens to contaminate the groundwater. Shcherbina and Legasov convince Gorbachev that a heat exchanger is needed under the plant, for which minister of coal, Mikhail Shchadov, recruits coal miners from Tula, led by foreman Glukhov. The miners have to excavate a tunnel below the reactor building in extremely hot conditions. As there can be no vibrations to further damage the plant, they have to dig by hand.

Shcherbina warns Legasov that they are watched on by the KGB about their handling of the incident. The Soviet state wants to control every communication about the incident. Legasov sends Khomyuk to the Moscow hospital, where Dyatlov, Toptunov and Akimov are being treated. Dyatlov doesn't want to talk, but Toptunov and Akimov, who are dying, state that the plant exploded after Akimov pressed the AZ-5 button and initiated an emergency shutdown, a scenario thought impossible.

Bribing her way into the hospital and lying about her pregnancy, Lyudmilla is allowed to visit Vasily but disobeys orders, staying longer and touching her husband. Following Vasily's death, Khomyuk finds Lyudmilla; aware of Lyudmilla's pregnancy, she threatens to report everything to the committee and is arrested by KGB agents, but is released afterwards on Legasov's insistence. As Shcherbina and Legasov report to the Central Executive Committee their decontamination plans requiring the mass mobilization of men and material, Lyudmilla stands among relatives of other deceased victims as Vasily, sealed in a lead casket, is buried in concrete at a mass grave.

Episode 4 plot: "The Happiness of All Mankind"

People are evacuated from the wider Chernobyl Exclusion Zone while mass decontamination operations are starting up. Civilian draftee Pavel is paired with Afghan War veteran Bacho to patrol the Zone to shoot and dispose of abandoned animals due to radioactive contamination.

As a concrete shelter has to be built over the open reactor to avoid further contamination, Chernobyl liquidator commander General Nikolai Tarakanov deploys Soviet moon rovers to clear the plant's roofs. They perform well on two roofs, but the final and biggest one has too much radiation to keep them functioning. After a West German police robot also instantly fails on the most irradiated level, Tarakanov is forced to cycle 3,828 human liquidators to clear it by hand. Packied in heavy protective gear, they are allowed only 90 seconds each to shovel off radioactive debris from the core.

Khomyuk investigates the Moscow archives and confronts Dyatlov, who knows the government is not interested in the truth. Meeting away from KGB bugs, Shcherbina and Legasov inform Khomyuk they must testify as experts in the trial of Dyatlov, Bryukhanov, and Fomin. Also Legasov will address the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna about the incident. Khomyuk reveals an article about an identical incident at the Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant in 1975, suppressed by the KGB, and tells them Lyudmilla gave birth to a girl who soon died from radiation poisoning. Khomyuk urges Legasov to tell the complete truth in Vienna to force the government to take action on similar reactors with the same flaw, while Shcherbina urges caution to avoid government retaliation.

Episode 5 plot: "Vichnaya Pamyat"

Following Legasov's testimony in Vienna, in which he lies, Dyatlov, Bryukhanov, and Fomin are put on trial in the abandoned city of Chernobyl. Shcherbina is called first to give testimony, explaining the general workings of a nuclear power plant, while suffering from the first signs of cancer, caused by extended exposure to radiation.

Khomyuk and Legasov testify on the events leading up to the accident, based on interviews with people in the control room. Flashbacks show that due to a ten-hour delay in the safety test and Dyatlov's impatience to carry it out, the reactor stalled and was nearly completely poisoned. In an attempt to bring the power back up to normal levels, and with all safety systems out of use or bypassed, they then experienced a power spike. Akimov activated the emergency shutdown, but a design flaw in the control rods spiked the power to ten times the reactor's limit before it exploded.

Legasov reveals the suppressed information about the Leningrad plant, admitting he lied in his previous testimony in Vienna. He is detained by the KGB and informed that his testimony will be suppressed in the state media; furthermore, he is forbidden to speak to anyone about Chernobyl, he will receive no credit for his role in containing the disaster, and he will never work again. The ending shows pictures and video of the real Legasov and other major players, revealing their fates, as well as the ongoing aftermath of the accident.