April 26, 1986, Ukrainian SSR. Plant workers and firefighters put their lives on the line to control a catastrophic 1986 explosion at a Soviet nuclear power plant. Peter Sagal and Craig Mazin discuss these events and more behind the series premiere of Chernobyl. They talk about what drew Mazin to this story, and dig into when and why he deviated from what really happened.

The Chernobyl Podcast is produced by HBO in conjunction with Pineapple Street Media. Original music by Kaan Erbay. 

United States


00:00:03What is the cost of Lies?
00:00:07Small Patronus take them for the truth. The real danger is that if we here and not flies and we no longer recognize the truth the tool.
00:00:18What can we do then?
00:00:27Hi, this is Peter Sagal and I'm Craig Mazin and I'm sitting with Craig's have recorded the first episode of the Chernobyl podcast of podcast about the HBO miniseries Chernobyl which was written and created by Craig Mazin. The intent here is to talk with Craig about where the show came from why he created it the experience of making it and how closely the docudrama would you call the docudrama? I guess so dramatic how closely it tracks Real History where it differs and why and ultimately white was made at this time and place and of those many wonderful reasons to do this. The one that was most important to me from the jump was a chance to set the record straight about what we do that is very accurate to history what we do that is a little bit sideways to it and what we do to compress or change in no small part because the show is essentially about the cost of lies, right the danger of naira.
00:01:27And I didn't want us to I guess I miss a chance or transparency if we had one so I never actually heard this kind of thing before in relation to dramatic retellings of History. So I'm kind of curious to see how it all works at. People are horrified by this or enlightened. I don't know. I think they'll definitely be horrified speaking is as someone who just recently saw the miniseries what else happens I think is up to them this episode of the Chernobyl podcast concerns episode 1 of the Chernobyl mini series titled 12345, which of course was the reading on the clock when the explosion at Chernobyl happened. Let's start then with the beginning you were I'm guessing around 20 or so in 1986 when this all happened maybe a little younger I was younger. I was fifteen 15 Yak. I was 15 years old. I remember it. I don't remember it quite as starkly as I remember the incident that occurred about 3 months ago.
00:02:27Sure, which was the The Challenger disaster, but I definitely remember that it happened. I remember that the entire world seemed concerned it what I'm simply a local thing and beyond that it's sort of Duval's fairly quickly into a very simple notion. Chernobyl was a nuclear power plant and it blew up. That's it. Right. I was a little older then and what do I remember? I remember that Chernobyl it was bad, but it ended up being okay in the Soviets lied about it. That's exactly right and it's a bit of a shame that so much of the take away from that is that the Soviets lied and the Soviets created the system that would have let that all which is true and all of which is a large part of the story that we tell because it's an important part what we did not get on our side in the news was how I like to say only this could have only happened in the Soviet Union only the Soviet Union could have solved this problem what the Soviets citizenry did to
00:03:27Sacrifice and solve was nothing short of remarkable and we in the west I don't think had any sense of how multi-layered this disaster was. And how many ways the explosion was really just the beginning of a series of events that are increasingly hard to believe. Well, yes a lot of this podcast just as a spoiler alert is going to be me saying to Craig really and he'll say yes and it was even weirder presumably in a number of cases but let's start here. So this is what we knew about, you know both what you know, what happened in your childhood. It happened to my young adulthood. We remember this. It happened it went away. Then the Soviet Union fell a few years later and we just forgot about it. If you would ask me before I started watching this series what I know about Chernobyl I said, yeah, okay that happened and I know that there's a big concrete sarcophagus over it and nobody can go near it and it's kind of cool. I might have said because people have been removed from the area around it. So there's been
00:04:27Weird kind of Renaissance of nature which is kind of nifty and I've seen you in a film of like deer leaping about rice. It's kind of nice. So I would have it before this began. I would have said that was a problem that happened 30 years ago and it's all over and there's really no problem. When we kind of have this cool abandoned city, which is fun. Yeah, assuming that that's where you were before you started your exploration of the project. What started you on this exploration? I knew the Chernobyl exploded but I didn't know why and it struck me as such an odd laps because if you say to people what happened to the Titanic Bill tell you it sank and if you say how they'll tell you Iceberg everybody knows it hit an iceberg.
00:05:11Nobody seemed to know offhand why and how trinoble blew up so I just began to read, you know, one of those lovely evenings at home where you just start internet in yourself into a coma and start reading into things jumped out and both of those things emerge in episode one one of which emerges immediately. The first thing is that the night of the explosion they were running a safety test. That's the kind of fact that any writer will stop and say, oh, okay that is deeply ironic in the in the most disturbing of ways. Why? Well, if you're running a safety test and the results of the safety test is the least safe thing that could ever possibly happened you start to wonder what gap between intention and results existed here. How is that even possible I can understand?
00:06:11If your you know what every submarine movie there's the hull Crush depth seen know the whole point is to take this thing down and see how much it can take. All right. Well if it collapses in that scene I get it, but if you're trying to just see if you're taking your car out for a spin and you got into the section where it's not acceleration, it's braking distance. How does that make the car explode what what is going on there? So I found it shocking and the second fact that grabbed me was that the man that was in many respects put in charge of the cleanup and the general I would not call it a war against the atom. Post-explosion was an academician impallaria the gossip and Valeri League. Asif commits suicide two years to the day after the explosion and that of course, I immediately gets me wondering why
00:07:02So when you were pitching this idea to HBO and Sky, how are you presenting it as something that people would want to and even need to watch the way I like to think of it is. What is the relevance to everyone? Ultimately we can tell any particular story but there needs to be some sort of the universal relevance or it just becomes a story in and of itself about the event which that point I refer to those things as homework. I'm not interested in making homework for people. The reason that I was compelled to write about Chernobyl was I mean in part because it was just filling in these large gaps of a story that we all knew and yet to know but primarily it's because it is a story about the cost of Lies. This is the first line of the whole show and this is the theme that we are going to continue with as people watch these episodes that when people choose to lie
00:08:01And when people choose to believe the lie and when everyone engages in a very kind of passive conspiracy to promote the LIE over the truth we can get away with it for very long time. But the truth just doesn't care and it will get you in the end and the people that suffer ultimately are not the people they're telling the LIE right? It's everyone else and that is where we start to see real truth in the behavior of human beings who are motivated to save their fellow man, their fellow woman their loved ones. That's where truth is. And so for me this in this by the way was before our entire planet seemed to become engulfed in a war on truth.
00:08:48It for me. This is an important kind of story to tell about the value of Truth Versus narrative writing which because we are I think as humans we are so susceptible to storytelling. It's why we tell stories right you like them stories are sometimes very good ways of conveying interesting truth and fact, but just as simple as can be weaponized against just to teach us and tell us anything so course, I choose narrative tell an anti narrative story, but that's why I think this is relevant now maybe more relevant. In fact, yes, definitely more relevant now than it was when I started writing it which was I and I think we should just point this out before the 2016 election. Yes, it was so I think I started in 2015 on the right and yeah, cuz I will say speaking for myself. It's impossible to watch this mini-series with its tail of government malfeasance and lies and bureaucratic.
00:09:49Let's just say incentives taking the place of shall we say other motives without thinking about what's going on in America and across the world today about production which covers the whole series but becomes into play quite vividly in this episode with in terms of its realism and departures from realism first thing no Russian accents, right? Yeah big decision that we meet early on and what propelled that decision and when did you make it in the end? And what was the thinking? Well, we had an initial thought that maybe what we would do if we didn't want to do the you know, the Boris and Natasha is the Russian accent can turn comic with very little effort. So at first we thought maybe we would just have people do these sort of vaguely Eastern European sort of you know, so if I'm talking like this, it's really doing a strong accent but it's a little and what we found very quickly what's that actor's will act accents? Yes, they will not act accents and
00:10:49We were losing everything about these people that we kind of loved. Honestly. I think maybe after one or two auditions. We just said okay new room for not doing that anymore. And I remembered there's a I don't know if you ever saw this movie is on HBO film actually called citizen X does many years ago Steven Ray and Donald Sutherland, true story of a serial killer in Soviet Ukraine and I were called that their accents all over the place. They had the South African accent an English accent in American accent. Some people are sort of trying some people weren't Max von Sydow shows up and just talks like a Swedish sell this works because they're not speaking Russian. So I get it now that meant no Americans because I think for an American audience the one thing that will pull you out of that is an American accent, right that just sounds silly but beyond that. Yeah, we just in case we have people to any take the edge off a little bit, you know, like in Game of Thrones anyone from Manchester will be asked to push that a bit right is it?
00:11:49The northerner there right there leaving are there so we would serve a little bit but in here and there we were just let somebody be Irish or Scottish because they sounded great in their character was good. Right and and of course, there's people are speaking to each other. There's no consciousness that they're speaking in Russian. They're just talking to each other and so we're hearing them as they would have heard them self. And that's really what we went for my hope is that the accent thing just Fades away within seconds. You just stop caring about it because that's ultimately completely irrelevant to what was going on, which is essentially what goes on in all situations regardless of language Panic fear love excitement you no worry all these things just emotions right one thing that struck me as a guy who grew up with a Boris and Natasha cartoons that they'll call each other comrade all the time right almost wrecked me is like, you know a parody of the Soviet Union. Yeah, it struck me as part of the Soviet Union as well to the extent that I didn't really include.
00:12:49That frequently in the in the initial draft, but I did have some people who'd grown up in the Soviet Union in Eutawville, Ukraine look for the scripts woman in particular went through everything and one of the things she told me they're couple interesting things. I remember in the beginning of episode 1 when will gossip put food out for his cat. I just you know him pouring cat food into the Bulge is it wouldn't have pet food at food in the Soviet Union you gave them the food you didn't want so that was fast me but the other thing she said was comrade was essentially the thing you would use to refer to people it was the all-purpose reference. You wouldn't call people by their last names only. Generally if you wanted to be somewhat formal in it in a businesslike manner, you would call them brass by their first name of their middle name, which is a patronymic which is a whole complicated full of the thing. The whole other thing is the whole megillah. It is a whole megillah as as some and some people say and I didn't want to get into because the truth is well that
00:13:49Bobby is the most accurate an authentic way to do it is unwieldy for English listeners, but comrade or tavarish was a very common just reference and people would use it all the time. And so she would occasionally flag things and say that should become red should be to not sure being a friend and so I started putting them in right second question is production design and realism. I've now seen some photographs after seeing it and it is pretty accurate what you presented in terms of both the exterior the interior of the power plant in pripyat itself the city around it now, I'm assuming you didn't actually filmed in Chernobyl and forgot. So, how did briefly how did the production crew go about recreating all this? Well, first of all, I would have I would have shot at Chernobyl pripyat except the problem is turned over to not at all look like they did in 1986. They look like the result of 30 years of neglect end and exclusion Zone.
00:14:46It was an obsession press honestly our production designer Luke Hall work very closely with our costume designer odile Dick's Marrero. We just became obsessed with showing things as they were I think for me for your Hunter Rank or director the Soviet missile things in the Soviet specificity of things was half of what is fascinating about this. I mean, we're seeing an event that as we say being on the show, it's some point is never occurred on this planet before we're also seeing it in a place that most of us have never been to before which is the inside behind the Iron Curtain in 1986 not from an American perspective, but actually as it was right. We were shooting primarily in Lithuania a little bit in Ukraine. So our cruise they were alive when with the way he was part of the Soviet Union and Ukraine was part of the Soviet Union many of the places that we
00:15:45Constructed the most of them are constructed during the Soviet era these it's real and we were able to get the real clothing and the firefighters. These are the outfits that we put together were down to the rivet odile did an incredible job of making them realistic. Exactly. Correct? We were help sometimes by the fact that in the Soviet Union if they made Prince and some minor hell, yeah, there was one minor how much do you figure out like, okay, which miners were this brand of operant there was one who was gold miner helmet and that's the consumer Choice correct? But Luke and I and Johan spent a long long time poring over as many photographs as we could blueprints in terms of pripyat. We found neighborhood in Vilnius Lithuania that been constructed in a similar time in a similar fashion again, one of the the upsides of former Soviet Republic is that they were building things they are.
00:16:45Boost very similar to the way they were building in the you-know-what thousand miles away one blueprint pretty much. I mean it was it was brutalist, you know blocked hours. So we got anymore of that was very close and basically made our pripyat out of that and then of course with the help of some piano pretty remarkable visual effects from Dee neggs fantastic company that's been doing all of our fax we're able to properly bring that white but again, all that based on extensive research why I mean, it's not going to be dramatically important to a viewer if the control room looks exactly like the control room number for two does I was always aware that I was telling a story that meant an enormous amount to the people that lived there people alive today thousands tens of thousands people alive today who have lost people they love because of Chernobyl whose lives have been torn because of Chernobyl there people walking a lot
00:17:45People walking around without a thyroid because of Chernobyl and it was important for me to tell that story accurately. I think about the stories that we have routinely told in the west stories about the Holocaust stories about World War II where we try very hard to be accurate because it's a sign of respect and for me, I wanted people who lived through that including some people in that control room that night were still alive to watch this and say they cared they care they got it, right? All right, let's focus on episode 1 which is dramatically challenging we meet lagasa of he immediately killed himself, right and we won't see him again. He has a very end of the episode. That is correct. So as we all know screenwriting 101 introduce your hero kill him and ignore that you could tell that I've I've grown weary of Mexico driving Norfolk you need him. He's recording those tapes.
00:18:43What is the cost of Lies?
00:18:46And that's not a device that you used to get his voice in the film. He actually recorded tapes he did. So there's a number of things here that are absolutely accurate to history and then some things that I filled with a little bit just to be able to tell the story. So here's a good write-up about let's talk about what's real and what's not lagasa does in fact hang himself two years to the day after the explosion does he hang himself it exactly that time which will come to understand why the time is so important. No one can say that was really my way of just imparting that I believe. This must have been intentional the. Couldn't have been an accident. He did record his Memoirs on audio tapes. They were not quite as a flowery and thematic as the dark like the given are the reason that you people like you were put in this earth is to make other people sound better in retrospect, I hope I did him proudly.
00:19:37In these stories. It doesn't matter who the heroes are. All we want to know is who is to blame?
00:19:46He did spell out a lot of his concerns about about the Soviet nuclear industry in the way things have gone and in terms of how those tapes got disseminated. I couldn't really find any good answers. So I just sort of went with some Confederate picked them up and took them and spread them about one thing that I've left out lagasa story and it's and it's left out right off. The bat is his family. He had a wife he had children and I made a choice early on to not include them in the story mostly because so much of the story was going to be about his efforts in Chernobyl and his relationships with the people that he was fighting this war with and I just didn't want to have those scenes of come home, you know, it's because the family was left behind and he sort of wartime movies in Dudley descends into a kind of whining SNP. I don't want to do that to them. But I do want to acknowledge of course that they
00:20:46That you just did right? We then go to Chernobyl on the day of the accident and I thought this was interesting and we will revisit this moment again in the series but we see the accident not from the perspective of their it's not a huge special effects shot, right? It is in the distance and it is silent from the window of another character who doesn't even notice it precisely I wanted people to know first of all, this is not going to be told the way you expected to be told if something says to me like I'm making a series about Chernobyl I think okay, we're going to start with the day then there's many things and explode men's many calls. We won't get done. I just didn't want to do it like that at all. I want to just start with the explosion. I wouldn't start and also do my hide the fact that we got some commit suicide right? Anybody who watches the show who then Google said 10 minutes after watching will go. Okay. He's going to commit suicide. Well not to wait for episodes or no. No, no. No, I'm just curious that's it and the explosion which you know is going to happen. You're not going to
00:21:46Either right? There it is. What's fascinating to me is not that Chernobyl exploded. Its how close people were and how unaware they were and how that night Justin. In a way that I had no idea it enfold it and would have never predicted in a million years I should ask because this happened to the Soviet Union because of the secrecy in the cover-up which begins almost immediately. How do we know what happened? But you know what question and the answer to it is we sort of know a lot. We definitely know a little there are a ton of competing narratives out there and I've been counted this as I did my research a lot of times the name of the game was which one of these accounts do I believe and I tried as best as I could to actually opt for the less traumatic account. We got a lot of information out of the Soviet Union or what was the former self.
00:22:46Once it collapsed a lot of information came out a lot of scientists who had been with lagasa of were able to then tell their stories they wrote books and then a lot of Western researchers and authors were able to go and talk to the people who have been there and collect their narratives. There's an incredible book called A voices of Chernobyl by Svetlana. Alexievich, which is a essentially collection of first-person accounts. So a lot of information did come out and in fact in that first seen in the control room a number of the things that are said, we're set run since I came up says they are quite they make me feel something when they happened in the show because I know we are essentially reproducing truth there and I know that's and some of those things I don't think I would have ever thought to write. In fact, I'm not sure I would believe
00:23:46Necessarily without knowing that it happened right want to go when I taught play writing. I used to tell my students the worst reason to put something on stage is that it really happened, right? Because I don't care if I'm watching it, right? I don't know. I don't care if your mother really said that to you show me how and why was relevant make it relevant to me. I'm guessing just that this was something that you had to Grapple with a lot of things happened in this first episode that are almost impossible to believe correct very challenging and and it really came out the most through the character that the real person on a toilet yet. Love is the guy in charge play by Paul Ritter. He's got the gray hair and the sort of grayish mustache. He's in charge and he was in charge of the room that night and Anatoly dyatlov make series.
00:24:42Of wealth when we eventually do see all the events leading up to this include which we will they won't they won't tell people when but we will we will see a number of borderline inexplicable choices by him, but with a hint of motivation in in this episode where we're watching aftermath what we're seeing repeatedly from The Outlaw does denial right that denial is real. It happened. It went down exactly like that within seconds. So just so people understand cuz the geography of the plant is a little bit of a a? For a lot of people this is a very large facility and it's very long. It takes maybe 20-30 minutes to walk from one end to the other and the general structure of the power plant was there for nuclear reactors. Each one was in this large Square building and then in between those big squares, please long quarters where you had things like control rooms and so on and so forth when Chernobyl reactor 4 blows up to all the way at one end of the plant the guys in the control room they here and
00:25:42You'll a succession of thoughts one side and then a really big thud right most of the force of the explosion was vertical. So right off the bat I when I was researching it one of my questions, how are you even alive there? Will this is how I mean the the explosion rejects materials almost straight up almost a mile into the air but these guys in the controller what they can hear and feel is something blew up and almost immediately. Love concludes that what's happened is there is a tank a control system tank that is collected hydrogen and ignited and exploded like a little Hindenburg hydrogen bonds little mini Hindenburg. And so what he's contemplating here is essentially a serious industrial accident, but by no means a nuclear Holocaust
00:26:32And for the longest time I wrestled with this just as I think the out love must have internally been wrestling somewhat. I think that what I forget and have to remind myself all the time is the word Chernobyl means a million things to us all in an instant, but right before it blew up it meant nothing that nuclear reactor and in fact, no nuclear reactor had ever been thought to be capable of exploding. Yes. And so I try to integrate that it's my understanding of the denial. There's another moment and I can't remember right now. It's a bit of dialogue or stage Direction. Where a character am going to get into these people running around the controllers mad. If I don't have enough where it's like he's been told to go over and look down into the reactor which he knows if you look down into an open nuclear reactor your debt, but there's a there's a moment. I think you're describing his his thought processes. He says when he's going to go over and look over it.
00:27:32And if he doesn't see what he thinks he's going to see the open reactor then he needs to know that and if he is going to see what he thinks is going to see it doesn't matter because he's already dead correct. And so there does seem to be this aspect of these guys saying the reason we can't believe the worst happened is because of the worst happened we're all dead now. And so that seems to be just as a human thing. I'm not going to believe that I'm already that there must be some other explanation and there were gradations of that across the various people depending on where they were and what they saw also all the people in the in the control room that we depict where they are. Those are their names. There were few other people that we left out. They weren't quite as relevant to the story that were telling so they were a bit insulated but two men immediately running the first is a guy named Broadneck who's working in the turbine Hall and he says the turbine Halls on fire. It's exactly what happened. He did run in he did say that
00:28:29Which you could say could be a result of a control system tank explosion. Anco. Anco. We will see later on where he was working permit shanko. Saw way more than one person go arrives in that control room. He tells them in this is true that essentially the core exploded and they basically say to him know that's not correct. He precedes on everything he does not point for this is the real man in and we looks like it's somewhat him what we show
00:29:07He did with the full understanding that he was likely a dead man walking. There were number of people who did things like that that night. We couldn't tell all the stories but they were remarkable. One of the workers the plant who became aware of the full scope of the accident fairly early on did what he could to make things better. He went home. He took a nap he woke up and then he went back there was the sense that if you had broken through the denial and gotten on the other side of it, which was an understanding of reality you had an obligation right to do what you could to prevent it from getting worse.
00:29:48Conversely you have guys like Hakeem up until to love who are the two guys that are working the control board that night. They're the ones who towards the end of this episode are opening the valve by hand, right, even though they know on some level that it is utterly pointless the other basically spring water into the air because that that is such an extraordinary moment. When you. Love says you need to go do this and they know it's pointless because the Outlaws whole picture of the situation I even need to get water in the court is ridiculous because there is no core it's gone. It's blown up into a huge pile, but they go years ago. I read John Keegan the book about World War 1 and he writes about trench warfare and he writes about how these guys in the trenches British soldiers went over the top and were immediately killed.
00:30:39And she writes about why they did that and I I met him once I needed a book reading and I said, okay you explain why the first guys went over. What about the second? What about the second ride, right? They just saw everybody. They knew follow their orders do it according to the book and immediately be killed by Machine Gun fire and then they went I thought of that very vividly it specifically thinking about those specific to characters. They knew this was pointless. They knew if they went out there they were dead and they were right about that. How much did you have to think about those men and their minds at that moment a lot so much of writing a moment like that is asking what do I want people to feel hear? What is the emotional truth that I want them to believe?
00:31:28And I have to make certain choices. I have to decide in some ways states of mind that I don't have access to but behind all this is this almost heartbreaking social circumstance that these people grew up in the Soviet Union where community and communism these words have connected Roots. It was understood that you were part of a collective and that you were there to support your fellow man and your fellow Woman these kind of pro-social messages were promoted by people that I don't think we're very poor social at all the leadership of the Soviet Union, but the people often did believe it and feel it and you can see this in all of the history of 20th century Russia and the surrounding areas that the Soviet Union and compass
00:32:24so I think some of this was a sense of
00:32:29I don't know what else to call but Soviet civic duty. It is it is very Noble and admirable and beautiful and then of course profoundly sad underneath it, but it's why I see if this it happen in the United States, I think friends into Three Mile Island had exploded in this regard. I think what would happen is that we would have evacuated the area very quickly and then just I don't know put a rope around a large section of the Middle Atlantic and said no can go there anymore. And and because we can't send people in because they'll die. Right and that would have been it. Yeah it in this will come up again in later episodes exactly how this either insane self-sacrifice this brainwashing this extraordinary nobility there a hundred ways of looking at it played an extremely important role.
00:33:16What's turn right now though to the opposite which are the of the managers of the planter? Buchana Fricano's McDonough and faulmann and some yes. I mean, I mean I can learn all these pronuncia. Yes, and we'll work on these guys unlike some of the other characters been talkin bout so far and he seemed familiar the Soviet apparatchik the guys who care nothing about anything except their stature the fear of what's coming from above and their contempt for the people who are below them. Yeah, there's a little bit of that going on for sure. I suppose there's a lot of it going on. I'm a little background on those guys some things that I did not include but are interesting facts in the less Victorville kind of did not really come from a nuclear power background. He was in the power industry.
00:34:04Of course who was put in charge of these things wasn't generally a question of Merit and just so that people don't think that I can get into kind of unnecessary Soviet bashing. We had this problem everywhere make a brute kind of was it was certainly a kind of a classic Soviet bureaucrat some mean was a more interesting character in many ways for me and was there working as essentially the head nuclear physicist supervising the entire thing and then you met individual a deputy's like Diablo for the sky sit in a Kung Fu show up later. But for me, it's kind of a head scientist of Chernobyl some mean got his degree in nuclear physics through essentially a mail-order School sofa mean was not trained as a nuclear physicist that all he got that mail order degree essentially to check a box so that he can get this job once again a certain kind of patronage and loyalty.
00:35:04In place for me was very sad character. He'd been in a car accident that would really I guess it affected him deeply he dumped along depressed state. He had finally come out of it and I think he saw an opportunity to grab do better for himself at Chernobyl which again to none of the connotation but it does now it's just a place a place at the place but one thing that is true and we'll get a little bit more into ricotta in particular. I also think in many ways was in a very difficult spot cuz I try and understand. Yeah, we'll get more into those guys later episode but in this episode, I think the important thing to understand what those two guys is
00:35:47They were told something by the olive right? They were told that this was not a nuclear core explosion that the core was fine. They were also told that the radiation was 3.6. Roncan per hour. I think they probably knew that that number was weird. Yeah Pacific maximum reading on those low limit of senators and they chose immediately to believe it and I think in a very Soviet way once they bought into that and reported that up the chain,
00:36:22The inherent cost to reversing and saying I'm sorry, we got that wrong was massive almost Unthinkable. And if there's a Moen Rican of says, I've got a call and tell my boss about this and you believe I'm not going to I don't want to do that. And there is that moment of almost relieved when we have access to them. Oh, no, it's fine right there. Like well, if you're saying it's fine, then I can report that it's fine and it will be on you correct, which is interesting and terrifying because it no point do they ever seem concerned with the actual truth? They just want to know that they're not going to be in trouble. Yes, I think once they had
00:37:00A sense that it was not the impossible but rather the possible in the mundane bad by the way, ya at that point everything becomes about managing the outcomes for yourself in the outcome for the world. So. Love has to call his Superior. They have to call their superiors and you know that point where it explains to the local executive committee the chain of phone calls. That is curd. That's real. That's what happened. There was a series of phone calls over the course of the night that eventually make their way to Gorbachev. Really that's how it worked. I call you you call him. He calls him he calls him and he calls Gorbachev right one by one by one they each one of them decides. How can I kick this upstairs? And each one of them eats a lie that they do not get no is a lie that essentially was conceived seconds after the explosion by a desperate man who was incapable ever.
00:38:00Human way of entertaining the thought right that the impossible had occurred, right?
00:38:07There's a scene in the episode where the local committee as you say comes into the plant that are in the plant affected. You'll be safe here guys. Don't worry now and there's almost a moment where younger member of the committee says, wait a minute, right? I've seen things outside. I've seen the fires. I've seen the rubble. There's been a major explosion you're lying.
00:38:28My first question did that really happen sort of so the executive committee does come to that bunker. They do assemble there and what we know from the record is an excellent book that just came out called Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham, which I wish you'd been around. My dick is a lot of interesting details from that that kind of eliminate some of these things what we know about that executive committee was that there were essentially two competing thoughts. One of them was being kind of what I could be. So beat up session with alarmism. So anything that came close to approaching bad news was just dismiss this alarm ism is literally put into it's like me so be version of fake news. I don't want to believe what you just said. They're from putting in the category philosophical mistake, right? Then there were people within the executive committee who were very concerned and believe that this was much worse than it was so
00:39:28High century did was personify those two positions between a younger member of this group and an older member. I thought it was important to remind people particularly in the west that in 1986. There were still members functioning members of the Communist Party who had been alive during the revolution. They were believers. They knew they had seen him right? This was not some kind of strange cult that had been separated from its religious founder by thousands of years. This was fresh and I wanted to show how that function because it was still very much a part of their lives, right? So there's the characters Ark of the older can be oldest committee members sitting in the corner Game of Thrones fans, May recognize him at Winterfell maester Luwin and he gets up and he makes a speech he points out that the real name of the Chernobyl power plant is Lennon power plant that makes a speech about the Soviet ideals and how this is how we do things in the Soviet Union.
00:40:28What was interesting was the point of his speech was not we will now fight for the Fatherland. We will not sacrifice ourselves. But the point of speech is we are going to keep this secret. That is the correct Soviet response. We seen off the city.
00:40:44I want one of these.
00:40:46Got the phone lines.
00:40:49Contain the spread of misinformation.
00:40:53That is how we keep the people from undermining the fruits of our labor.
00:41:08This is a moment.
00:41:16that is in fact what they did and there were people as in the I guess would you call pripyat leadership who felt strongly that the first thing you do in any situation like this is cut the phone lines is literally their first move cut the phone lines and don't let anyone in or out the most important thing was to avoid the spread of a penic right? So when I read that it occurred to me that on some level if you are part of a power structure that you understand is suppressive in a way and that you are limiting people's freedoms. Anyway, you must be aware that there could be a spark that could lead to the truth spreading and people realizing and finally shaking off their shackles and saying we're not going to be part of this anymore. That is essentially how the Berlin Wall came down on some level. They must have all been aware that the Soviet Union was being glued together by
00:42:16A kind of magic and they were not wrong because it was not long for the world. So the union would be gone in five years. So when something like this happened they said cut the phone lines and no one comes in or goes because if this spreads who knows that there was an there's an interesting contradiction which Orwell explained really with doublethink in which they've decided symbol taneously that there's nothing wrong and no reason to worry and also no one is ever going to know about this correct and they were capable of of preceding it seems as if both were true and that is extraordinary. The I think had a sort of a default position that anything that was counter to the story. They have told their own people and the rest of the world simply could not be publicised. No one can I think they knew probably that the rest of the world laughed at them. I think that the Soviets had a deep inside
00:43:16Dirty, there's a great line in the later episode which will give away now. We're somebody says to somebody who wants to tell the truth about Chernobyl. He says you want to humiliate a nation that is obsessed with not being humiliated and that I thought captured this whole attitude quite well inside the Soviet Union. I think it was there was probably more of a sense that people needed to believe those things. And yes, there were the citizens were not stupid. They understood that tree and limitations to the system but many of them more of them. I think that people understand what kind of believers they believed that the West Was That Couldn't they believe that their system was something worth saving I want to go through a couple of things at four episode one before we leave it behind and and they're basically all part of my really list. Let's do it really the firefighters walk right up to the burning pile and sprayed and open nuclear reactor with water really and there are
00:44:16It's details that I did not include some of them didn't have their jackets. And so they were just there in a t-shirt a couple of them didn't have helmets. There are number of stores at night that are shocking that we just didn't have time for but that's exactly what happened. They were told essentially there's a roof fire and in the first episode you hear that little you know, whatever the it's not a nine-one-one call. I don't know if the 911 that's the actual audio. Yes from that night and you can hear them saying yeah, you got to get down there. There's a roof the roof is on fire. That's it. They just thought it was a roof fire and they showed up without any protection with by the way. They didn't have any way right and they thought that fire all night and they did get incredibly close and one of the firemen did pick up a piece of graphite in his hand.
00:45:04This is graphite from the core of a nuclear reactor and most of the deaths that occurred directly because of the radiation of that night were experienced by those men. And I think there's at least one reported one firefighter who said he reported saying I said, everybody will be amazing. If any of us are alive my morning is sometimes it's hard to tell if that's a little bit of a kind of revisionist history on people's Parts. But we do know that a number of them reported tasting metal. Yeah, which is I'm assuming a real thing that happens around intense radiation has a real thing apparently that happens around the 10th and there's a lot of experience with this a couple of incidents. This was the worst of them by far. Yeah, but that that really happened and they really didn't tell anybody they didn't Evacuate the town. They didn't notify anybody the episode ends with everybody waking up the morning after the explosion and going off to school and work. Yeah, that's that's so backing up.
00:46:04It was about as close to what the Soviets had promised people as you can get. It was fairly utopian. These cities were called Adam cities. They were constructed to support jobs lead to supply employment at the power plants, but also to need and then support those people around them. They were considered very very desirable places to live unlike other regions where you would have shortages of food and supplies the the markets were stocked. They were there was no waiting in line. It was a reward to live in a place like this. So the accident occurs at 1:23 in the morning by Sunrise you begin to the day of April 26th. Not only were they not told throughout that entire day. There was a wedding.
00:46:53People would just walk around the streets. It was a lovely day one man. These are stories that I didn't include just for time one resident appropriate shows to get on the roof of this building to do some sunny.
00:47:07She got pretty sick and there's I don't know if you made it or not didn't keep great records as you might imagine. But yes that is a fact they were walking around under a cloud of smoke billowing from an open nuclear reactor all day long right at the end of episode 1. Does anybody know how bad this is other than the people inside the plant who actually seen the openkore know nobody no, no and yet we know we've seen the burns we've seen the core we've seen and maybe the last thing I asked about an episode 1 is that beam of light heading upwards that that's turn uncover. I'm terrible Russian agent. We found out that your rank of a FedEx rank of it turns out it wasn't the trunk of effect. And that's another one of those little moments where dyatlov engages in a strange kind of denial. I don't I don't think specifically said that light was that although that was something that
00:48:06A lot of these scientists in the early hours for sale that light is can happen with minimal radiation of what that light was that blue light which is described. A lot of people and describe is quite beautiful was essentially the ionization of the are the radiation was so intense. It was breaking the NBA, you know, the oxygen molecules apart and creating this color. It was probably one of the things that Drew a lot of the the citizens appropriate to that bridge that really happened. They did that they all stood there in this bridge in the old watched correct how far away were about a kilometer and that goes directly to another thing that I really struggled with which was how little people knew about radiation. They simply didn't know if if you or I were somewhere and someone said, oh there's a fire in a nuclear power plants. But it's not the course is fire. You want to go see we would say. No. Are you insane? I'm going to dry.
00:49:06Erection, but they didn't know there's a building prypiat that has a a slogan on it that basically refers to the friendly Adam and they also believed that if there was anything that you need one of the characters mentioned something about vodka. That's true. They believe that vodka essentially would decontaminate you of any kind of ill effects of radiation. If only it is odd that the tone of the episode weirdly
00:49:36is almost out of a horror movie in that people are going about their business in the way that people in horror movies do and there's a horrible monster that is hunting them and killing them and they don't even know it and it it seems almost as if we is the viewers are put in their place that there's something terrible going on. You can't see it but it's getting you there's so many moments in this episode over two equivalent to watching a horror movie, like don't go through that door and get that goes to the door and those moments are all true and on that note.
00:50:12Will find out what happened both in terms of what led to this accident and what happened to the people who we've now just met and subsequent episodes episode 2 of Chernobyl are next Monday 9 p.m. Eastern on HBO. This is Peter Sagal have a talk with Craig Mazin the Creator producer and writer of Chernobyl. You can always listen to this podcast review and rate it via Apple podcast SoundCloud Stitcher wherever else you might choose to get your podcast. Hey, how about the NPR one app? They're out there. You can also listen to it for you YouTube or the HBO Go and HBO now apps once used for TV now use for podcasts. I think it's evolving Craig. Thank you so much. This is been the fascinating and not a little terrifying. Thank you Peter. I can assure you it gets worse tune in next week for even more depressing stories of real-life disasters.

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