The Battle of Chernobyl

93 minutes 9.4/10 based on 28 votes

On April 26, 1986, a reactor at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian city of Pripyat exploded and began spewing radioactive smoke and gas. Firemen discovered that no amount of water could extinguish the blaze. More than 40,000 residents in the immediate area were exposed to fallout 100 times greater than that from the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan. But the most serious nuclear accident in history had only begun.

Based on top-secret government documents that came to light only in the Nineties, during the collapse of the Soviet Union, The Battle of Chernobyl reveals a systematic cover-up of the true scope of the disaster, including the possibility of a secondary explosion of the still-smoldering magma, whose radioactive clouds would have rendered Europe uninhabitable. The government effort to prevent such a catastrophe lasted for more than seven months and sacrificed the lives of thousands of soldiers, miners and other workers.

The Battle of Chernobyl dramatically chronicles the series of harrowing efforts to stop the nuclear chain reaction and prevent a second explosion, to “liquidate” the radioactivity, and to seal off the ruined reactor under a mammoth “sarcophagus.” These nerve-racking events are recounted through newly available films, videos and photos taken in and around the plant, computer animation, and interviews with participants and eyewitnesses, many of whom were exposed to radiation, including government and military leaders, scientists, workers, journalists, doctors, and Pripyat refugees.

The consequences of this catastrophe continue today, with thousands of disabled survivors suffering from the “Chernobyl syndrome” of radiation-related illnesses, and the urgent need to replace the hastily-constructed and now crumbling sarcophagus over the still-contaminated reactor. As this remarkable film makes clear, The Battle of Chernobyl is far from over.

Released in 2006. Director: Thomas Johnson. Documentary film.

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  • A very insightful and interesting documentary.
    April this year marks the 25th anniversary of this disaster.
    As a photographer based in Australia I will be travelling to Ukraine in April to photograph within the exclusion zone in Chernobyl and Pripyat. I also plan to speak with some of the “re-settlers” that are living there.


    • Dondurz

      I would love to see some of those pictures and interviews you’ll take! Is there a website I can check for updates about this?

  • Hib

    fascinating and extremely frightening in the light of the present circumstances at fukushima dai chi nuclear power plant in Japan…

  • Hib

    @boxx: Will you be publishing photos / interviews on the web from your chernobyl visit?

  • Tim Carter

    I would love to give you my email address or contact information. I’ts been a goal of mine to get to Chernobyl as I’ve been fascinated since I was a boy. What I’m wondering is how difficult it is to get there if you don’t speak English. Also i hear bribery is almost necessary travelling Russia.

    • Tim I’d be happy to keep you updated if you send me your email address.
      I also have been fascinated with Chernobyl since I learnt about it in school.
      I lived in Russia for about a year and studied at a language school to learn Russian, It isn’t hard to get there if you don’t speak it but it certainly is more difficult getting around. Especially outside of the tourist areas.
      Once I learnt the language, the whole country opened up and I had an amazing time, I plan to go back very soon.
      The most valuable thing I learnt while living there is that the Western perception of Russia is almost entirely wrong.

  • If you click on my name, it should take you to a facebook page with much of my current work, including a few teaser shots.
    I am planning to set up an independent website soon that I will be able to update while I am there…
    If the link doesn’t work, email me: and I’ll keep you updated.

  • Stain

    6 jack-o-lanterns. I have seen this at least 5 times. It is comprised of high-profile interviews and incredible footage. I wish we could have watched this doc in history class at school. This is an amazing story. I’m so glad that these peoples’ story is finally being told; I can’t help but feel like there is still a lot more to know.

  • KJ

    Can anyone of you in here try to describe the physics behind the reactor meltdown. Maybe outline them in a brief punctual account? I’m having a hard time understanding what exactly happened in the core.  

    Thank You!

    • freakgrl

      the RBMK is a PWR but used with graphite as a way of controlling the activity. This made the reactor ‘Positive Void Co-efficient. In plain english this means it easily starts forming bubbles when the reactor is running at a low temperature. For the test/experiment, instead of running it at 700mw like they were supposed to, they wanted it ran to 200mw (they as in management). This made the reactor core feel ‘sick’. On top of that, most of the control rods were lifted out due to a blunder they made earlier. The graphite causes the tip of the control rods to get worse before it starts to calm the activity first. So imagine lighting a match. The tip burns fast before it calms down. You light one match, imagine lighting hundreds of matches at the same time. It’s hotter than lighting only one match right? There are masses more things they did that caused it but it was the power surge that finally caused the reactor to go karputsky.

      • Chris Nelson

        When a dude talks like that, he is a nerd. When a chick talks like that, she is hot.

  • disqus_znTohz52QD

    There is a big mistake at 1:04:50:

    “I was holding the camera like this, and it was coming up from the ground, like that”.

    In the camera, the image on the film is always INVERTED top-bottom and left-right. If the radiation was coming from the ground, then on the film and on the printed photo the traces would be in the sky area of the photo, not in the ground.

    Such a big mistake annihilate he authenticity of the whole video.

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