Tim Tan Huynh

Chernobyl nuclear disaster

26 Apr 2016 — On this day, 30 years ago, a nuclear reactor at the power plant in Chernobyl, Ukraine infamously exploded.

I’m not old enough to remember the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. My earliest memory about Chernobyl is a joke on the sitcom Married…With Children. In Episode 507, “Married…With Aliens,” Peggy Bundy says to her husband Al, “If we were in Russia, I’d say Chernobyl.” This apparent pun of “You’re noble” first aired in 1990, but even as a kid, I understood that Chernobyl was some important event.

About a decade later, I played Metal Gear Solid for the first time. One member of Solid Snake’s support team is Nastasha Romanenko, an expert in nuclear weapons and an advocate for nuclear disarmament. The Briefing mode and a Codec discussion reveal that, as a child, she had been evacuated from Prypiat, the now-deserted city near the Chernobyl nuclear plant in present-day Ukraine.

Nastasha in MGS
In Metal Gear Solid, Nastasha describes her childhood experience with the nuclear and civil fallout from Chernobyl.

Pripyat is the setting of “All Ghillied Up,” a Campaign mission in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. The player controls John Price, a British soldier, as he and his commanding officer sneak into the abandoned city to kill a Russian warlord. This digital rendering of Pripyat also appears, as part of different scenarios, in Call of Duty: Modern Wafare 2 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3.

Pripyat in MW3
In the Modern Warfare series, Pripyat is depicted, in various fictional scenarios, 10 years after the Chernobyl meltdown.

I believe that these pop-culture references have created awareness among generations of youngsters who would be ignorant otherwise. I’ve been curious about the incident for a long time and not only because today’s the 30th anniversary. National Geographic’s Seconds From Disaster is the best examination of the nuclear-reactor meltdown and the Soviet government’s response. Essentially, human errors led to the reactor core overheating.

Other media outlets like ABC News, The Guardian, NPR, and PBS Newshour, are covering the disaster and its anniversary in ways that have merit. As long as people avoid worthless content, then appreciation for this man-made tragedy will continue.