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Basic Terminology Guide for HBO’s Chernobyl Series

Everything you need to know about the complex words like RBMK reactor...and more

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Chernobyl proved to be a saving face for HBO. That’s what the Game of Thrones Season 8 haters must be thinking. We, on the other hand, loved Game of Thrones finale. And these days we are pretty much enjoying Chernobyl. However, there were some complex terms used during the show which were hard to understand. (Things you have to face when you scored a C in Physics and D in Chemistry). Therefore, here are some basic definitions of the complex AF terms. Hope this helps:

RBMK Reactor | The Culprit

RBMK is basically a Russian term pronounced as Reaktor Bolshoy Moshchnosti Kanalnyy. In reality, it is translated as High Power Channel-type Reactor. For Chernobyl, it was more like Radioactive-Biohazard-Man-Killer. The RBMK reactor is nuclear power-plant, moderated by graphite. It is designed and built by the Soviet Union, and only Soviet Union. RBMK is the oldest commercial reactor design which is still widely operated. After the Chernobyl disaster, the world wanted these reactors to be decommissioned. However, Russia still depends on these reactors for power generation.

Now this raises the question that is it really safe to keep these reactors operational. The answer is simple. It is. After the Chernobyl disaster, the imperfections in the RBMK designs were removed and a dozen were still operative for more than two decades. However, there were nine more RBMK blocks under construction and these were canceled post-Chernobyl. The remaining three blocks of Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant were shut down in 2000. In 2018, the number of operative RBMK reactors was reduced to 10 after shutting down the oldest RBMK reactor at Leningrad Nuclear Power Plant.

The RBMK reactors discussed above are of Type RBMK-1000.

Graphite | The Carrier

Graphite can be classified as natural and crystallized carbon. The natural graphite is soft and used in batteries, pencils, steel making, brake linings, lubricants etc. However, it is not the graphite found in nuclear reactors. That graphite is nuclear graphite, which is basically a synthetic graphite. It is specifically manufactured to be used as a moderator in nuclear reactors.

The massive energy released during the Chernobyl explosion superheated the moderator; graphite. The explosion and destroyed building exposed the superheated graphite which came into contact with atmospheric oxygen. As a result, graphite caught fire and released highly radioactive elements into the atmosphere.

Other Important Terms

AZ-5 | Reminded Me of Dee Dee (Dexter’s Laboratory)

Don’t push that button. AZ is the emergency power reduction system. Akimov pressed the red button known as the AZ. This button was the reason for the explosion. The show has not explained why as of yet.

Dosimeter | The Annoying Sounding Device

Other than giving us a small headache with its clicking sound, a dosimeter is a device specialized in measuring the dose uptake of external ionized radiation. The person being monitored wears it and the reading defines radiation dose received by the person. It warns the wearer with a buzzing alarm if the wearer encounters high radiation.

Iodine-131 | Radioactive Much

Iodine-131 or the unstable/radioactive iodine (as referred to, in the series) is a biologically hazardous with a half-life of 8 days. It is absorbed through the bowel wall and migrates into the thyroid gland through blood. It can cause thyroid cancer.

Roentgen | Tougher Than You Thought

Roentgen is a unit of measurement for the exposure of Gamma rays and X-rays. Let’s just skip the scientific formula of calculation for it. We don’t need that.

Strontium-90 | Stay Away From It

Has a half-life of 29 years. It can lead to leukemia.

Caesium-137 | Stay Away From This Too

Has a half-life of 30 years. It can lead to liver and spleen failure. It is the element that travelled the farthest after Chernobyl Explosion and lasted the longest.

Half-life | Only Thing That Sounds Good

It is the time required by a quantity/element to reduce to half of its initial value. It is the value which defines how quickly an unstable atom undergoes a radioactive decay or how long a stable atom survives a radioactive decay.

Uranium-235 | Run For Your Life

It is a chemical element, best known for its use as nuclear reactor fuel. It can cause liver and bone cancer if a human takes in high concentrations.

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