Doctor Who Treated Chernobyl Patients Slams TV Series As 'Dangerous' And 'Inaccurate'
A U.S. doctor who treated radiation victims after Chernobyl has condemned the record-breaking HBO series about the tragedy as a "dangerous representation".
Dr Robert Gale, a leading expert on bone marrow transplantation, condemned the television series in an article in the subscription-based newsletter "The Cancer Letter".
Gale was asked by Soviet Union President Mikhail Gorbachev to come "immediately" to the Soviet Union to treat the victims of the 1986 nuclear plant disaster Pripyat.
“I spent the next two years mostly in the Soviet Union working with my colleagues at the Institute for Biophysics and Clinical Hospital 6 dealing with a bit more than 200 persons with acute radiation exposures,” he said in the article.
“In the subsequent 30 years, I have been involved in several studies of the long-term medical consequences of the accident—initially in the ex-Soviet Union and later in the Russian Federation, Ukraine and Belorussia.”
The HBO series about the disaster has become the highest rated televsion show ever, but Gale has dismissed many of the events as "dangerous" and "inaccurate".
The first plot line Gale takes aim at, is the portrayal of firefighters who suffered from Acute Radiation Syndrome were contagious.
"Most radiation contamination was superficial and relatively easily managed by routine procedures," he said.
"This is entirely different than the  Goiania [Brazil] accident, where the victims ate 137-cesium [from an old teletherapy machine] and we had to isolate them from most medical personnel.”
The television series, which is based on the book 'Voices from Chernobyl', also tells the story of a mother whose baby "absorbs" the radiation and saves the woman from dying.
“The radiation would have killed the mother, but the baby absorbed it instead,” the show's scientist character Ulana Khomyuk said.
Gale slams the storyline as a "dangerous representation" of facts and says there is no record of this ever happening.
“Lastly, there 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 said.
“None of the victims were radioactive; their exposures were almost exclusively external, not internal.
"More importantly, risk to a fetus from an exposure like this is infinitesimally small.”
Gale says the misinformation implies producers based much of the information on the novel rather than contacting medical experts.
“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.
But the show is the result of two-and-a-half years of research from by the executive producer, Craig Mazin.
"I used as many sources as I could find. I was looking at research articles in scientific journals; I was looking at governmental reports; I was looking at books written by former Soviet scientists who were at Chernobyl," he told VICE.
I was reading books by Western historians who had looked at Chernobyl. I watched documentaries; I read first-person documents."
The view over the Pripyat - the ghost town abandoned following the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. Photo: GettyMazin has previously defended the storylines portrayed in the show, saying there were a number of "conflicting accounts" about what happened during the disaster and afterwards.
“I always went for the less crazy one, I always defaulted to the less dramatic because the things that we know for sure happened are so inherently dramatic," he told Variety's 'TV Take' podcast in May.
“When you are taking an event that has unfolded over two years and compressing it into five hours, you are going to make some changes, but our rule was always this: If we’re going to make a change, it has to be for that reason, to be able to narratively convey this at all, but never to enhance drama.”
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