Chernobyl: The Final Warning

In 1991 a dramatised version of the Chernobyl disaster was made called “Chernobyl: The Final Warning” that had a cast of well established stars such as Jon Voight and Jason Robards (Robards was also the lead character in the 1983 nuclear war film The Day After).

The film centres itself primarily on the effects of the disaster on the Ukrainian housewife Yelena Mashenko (Sammi Davis) and her firefighter husband, Alexandr (Steven Hartley) and the rest of the Chernobyl firefighters – six died from the immediate effects of the accident. The other part of the story if the involvement of Dr. Robert Gale, a specialist in leukemia from California and the philanthropist Dr. Armand Hammer.

What sets this drama apart is that it tells the story of Chernobyl from an intimate perspective of those trying to cope in the aftermath; there have been many documentaries and films that speculate on the causes and wider aftermath such as The Battle of Chernobyl or the BBC “Horizon” documentary Inside Chernobyl’s Sarcophagus broadcast the same year as The Final Warning.

I found the film really quite good – the production is a bit dated but in telling the story of how devastating the world’s worst nuclear accident played out in the lives of individuals is a powerful and haunting experience. It demonstrated how this silent killer haunted the lives of utter innocents, from firemen, old people, children; people who had no responsibility for causing the accident were the primary victims of its effects.

The repeated message in the is the one from which it’s title is derived: that Chernobyl could be our final warning; that the accident was by no means unique or could not happen again.

Nuclear Madness | Gwynne Dyer.

“15 other people subsequently died of thyroid cancer in the Chernobyl holocaust”

via Nuclear Madness | Gwynne Dyer.

As much as I admire Gwynne Dyer as a great military historian, I genuinely also believe that repeating the 15 cancer deaths as a direct effect of Chernobyl is fundamentally wrong. The truth is that no one really knows how many people died as a result of the Chernobyl accident. 

The World Health Organisation estimated (PDF) there were 600,000 “liquidators” who worked at Chernobyl after the accident. In that same report, the WHO come to the conclusion there were many more deaths than just 15 and there is sufficient evidence to support the argument that the long term health effects of these many thousands of workers was never tracked in detail.

Your own common sense tells you the likelihood of “just” 15 deaths from the world’s worst nuclear accident is far too low and that arguments to minimise the apparent numbers of victims does the cause of nuclear safety no favours at all.