On April 25, 1986, one of the reactors at the the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant malfunctioned. Plumes of radioactive smoke rose in the town of Pripyat, Ukraine, signaling the start of the worst nuclear disaster in history. The meltdown released the equivalent of 500 Hiroshima bombs into the atmosphere. In the opening days of the accident, 32 people died, and more suffered from radiation burns; anywhere between 4,000 and 60,000 later died of cancer and radiation-caused illnesses. Pripyat was declared uninhabitable for at least 3,000 years.
Those are the broad strokes of the Chernobyl disaster, the things you can recite from history class. But the HBO show Chernobyl, out Monday, May 6, reveals the lesser-known details about the accident — like how much worse it could have been.
Most of the mini-series characters are based on real people. However, the actors are not from the region, and don't pretend to be."We had a long discussion about the Russian accents," Emily Watson, who plays intrepid nuclear scientist Ulana Khomyuk, told Refinery29 at a press junket in New York. "I think I would've been ridiculous." Watson said her costar, Stellan Skarsgard, perfected a response to people who questioned why Chernobyl wasn't made in the Russian language: "Hamlet wasn't written in Danish."
Here's the extraordinary history behind each of the characters.