The debt to the truth & the fatal lesson we didn’t seem to learn

The last episode of Chernobyl was aired on Monday and yet it has still been on my mind since. The quality of the episode is unbelievable and bettered only by the message it carries. The importance of the truth. The cost we pay for lies.

Here is a clip in which how a nuclear core works and how negligence, coupled with greed, set up the cause for one of the most tragic incidents in humans’ history.

This speech from Legasov explains that it is not incompetence that caused the reactor core explosion. It’s the lies we tell each other.

“When the truth offends, we lie and lie until we can no longer remember it’s even there. But it is still there. Every lie we tell incurs a debt to the truth. Sooner or later, the debt is paid. That is how an RBMK reactor core explodes. Lies”

What is even more shocking is that we as humans don’t seem to learn from our lesson. Technology Review reported on the egregious behavior of KHNP, a nuclear affiliate of Korea Nuclear Power Corporation.

“On September 21, 2012, officials at KHNP had received an outside tip about illegal activity among the company’s parts suppliers. By the time President Park had taken office, an internal probe had become a full-blown criminal investigation. Prosecutors discovered that thousands of counterfeit parts had made their way into nuclear reactors across the country, backed up with forged safety documents. KHNP insisted the reactors were still safe, but the question remained: was corner-cutting the real reason they were so cheap?

After the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, most reactor builders had tacked on a slew of new safety features. KHNP followed suit but later realized that the astronomical cost of these features would make the APR1400 much too expensive to attract foreign clients.

“They eventually removed most of them,” says Park, who now teaches nuclear engineering at Dongguk University. “Only about 10% to 20% of the original safety additions were kept.”

Most significant was the decision to abandon adding an extra wall in the reactor containment building—a feature designed to increase protection against radiation in the event of an accident. “They packaged the APR1400 as ‘new’ and safer, but the so-called optimization was essentially a regression to older standards,” says Park. “Because there were so few design changes compared to previous models, [KHNP] was able to build so many of them so quickly.”

Having shed most of the costly additional safety features, Kepco was able to dramatically undercut its competition in the UAE bid, a strategy that hadn’t gone unnoticed. After losing Barakah to Kepco, Areva CEO Anne Lauvergeon likened the Korean unit to a car without airbags and seat belts. When I told Park this, he snorted in agreement. “Objectively speaking, if it’s twice as expensive, it’s going to be about twice as safe,” he said. At the time, however, Lauvergeon’s comments were dismissed as sour words from a struggling rival.On September 21, 2012, officials at KHNP had received an outside tip about illegal activity among the company’s parts suppliers. By the time President Park had taken office, an internal probe had become a full-blown criminal investigation. Prosecutors discovered that thousands of counterfeit parts had made their way into nuclear reactors across the country, backed up with forged safety documents. KHNP insisted the reactors were still safe, but the question remained: was corner-cutting the real reason they were so cheap?”

It’s not just other countries. The US is reportedly not very careful with nuclear warheads in the country, as Last Week Tonight reported

Chernobyl Miniseries – The lesson on failure to look the truth in the face

If you have some time to spare and an active HBO account, I’d recommend the miniseries Chernobyl, whose trailer is below

The series is based on a real historical event – a nuclear catastrophe some 30 years ago in Chernobyl, Ukraine, which at the time still belonged to the USSR. There have been 4 episodes released out of the possible 6 so far. Admittedly, it’s pretty heavy, gripping, astonishing and gut-wrenching. Deaths by radiation portrayed in the miniseries are very shocking and horrific. Nonetheless, it’s even less shocking than the efforts to sugarcoat and cover up the situation at the authority at the time. Had there been more courage to face the truth, there would have been fewer deaths, I believe, based on what I have seen so far in the series.

This Twitter user, who was born and raised in the Soviet Union at the time, can attest to the authenticity and attention to detail of the show

As I watch the series, I am drawn towards a belief that the more serious a situation is, perhaps the more we should tell the truth as soon as possible. Most likely, anyone of us has been there before – not courageous enough to face the truth once or twice. I have. With dire consequences. I wish I could have done differently in those situations and told it like it was, no matter what.

Just like Sansa Stark in Game of Thrones said, “look the truth in the face”.