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UCLA doctor slams HBO’s ‘Chernobyl’ as ‘inaccurate’ and ‘dangerous’

A world-renowned physician from UCLA has blasted the popular HBO show “Chernobyl” as being factually inaccurate and  “dangerous” when it comes to its depictions of radiation sickness and even the accident itself.

As reported by Forbes, Dr. Robert Gale writes that the show “portray[s] the victims as being dangerously radioactive,” but most of the accident’s radioactive contamination “was superficial and relatively easily managed by routine procedures.”

Gale is an expert on radiation sickness-treating bone marrow transplants who, at Mikhail Gorbachev’s request, traveled to the Soviet Union following the 1986 nuclear disaster. He discussed the HBO series in the newsletter The Cancer Letter.

One particular scene in the series, where a baby dies from radiation given off by his firefighting father, is wildly misleading, according to Gale.

“[T]here is the dangerous representation that, because one of the victims was radioactive, his pregnant wife endangered her unborn child by entering his hospital room,” he says. “[R]isk to a fetus from an exposure like this is infinitesimally small.”

From the story:

Even high levels of radiation result in few birth defects, Gale notes. “For example, amongst the several hundred pregnant women exposed to high-dose radiation from the A-bombs, there were only 29 children with attributable developmental defects. All were exposed in the second trimester, when cells are migrating to the brain from the neural crest.”

In HBO’s “Chernobyl,” the radiation victims look terrifying — more like monsters, or zombies, than human. Gale writes, “the effects are portrayed as something horrendous, unimaginable. This is inaccurate. …

[…] “Chernobyl” misrepresents radiation exposure as the main or only factor behind the deaths of 29 firefighters. In reality, writes Gale, there were “synchronous injuries” that “make people more susceptible to radiation damage [and] can kill people even if you successfully reverse the radiation-induced damage.”

Fear-mongering, Gale noted, resulted in many women unnecessarily terminating their pregnancies.

“We estimate incorrect advice from physicians regarding the relationship between maternal radiation exposure from Chernobyl and birth defects,” writes Gale, “resulted in more than one million unnecessary abortions in the Soviet Union and Europe. Ignorance is dangerous.”

Gale points out that Greenpeace and an historian from MIT made use of incorrect information from these same physicians to allege that many more died from Chernobyl radiation than the figures noted by experts. He also says it’s bogus that Soviet authorities were hesitant to seek outside assistance during the accident, as portrayed in the show.

“I’m amazed the producers didn’t get technical advice from a health physicist or radiobiologist rather than basing much of their screenplay on a novel (Voices of Chernobyl),” he said.

Read the Forbes and Cancer Letter articles.

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