Bhopal vs. Chernobyl — Just How Cataclysmic Does Tragedy Have To Be To Matter?

Born halfway between two of the biggest industrial disasters of the 20th century, yet only one of them is famous…

Attila Vágó
5 min readNov 25, 2023

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It’s very rare that I truly feel like my Netflix subscription is worth something. Sure, there’s The Crown, the occasional Korean romantic series I’ll gobble up, but that doesn’t quite make it great value for money. That, until I watch something like “The Railway Men” that doesn’t just make up for the platform’s overall questionable value proposition but single-handedly proves that there is still so much to learn about the world, our history and all we need is great story-tellers and curiosity. The untold story of Bhopal 1984 is one of a tragedy.

But I’m not here to analyse the 4-part miniseries, nor am I intending to draw a parallel between it and Chernobyl, the 2019 miniseries. I am much more interested in the real story because I feel like one has gotten a lot more attention over the years than the other, when in fact both of these industrial disasters happened within just two years apart.

I am often assumed to be a Chernobyl kid when people realise I was born with a cleft lip and palate. As annoying as it is hearing the assumption being made, it’s valid. Anyone born in Eastern Europe after 1986 had at least some chance of becoming collateral damage of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant explosion. I, however, was born in 1985, just 4 months before the Ukrainian catastrophe. My birth defect was nothing but the result of a bunch of bad luck.

That’s not the case though for many poor souls born in 1985 in India, around the Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh area, where in December 1984 a pesticide plant leaked massive quantities of highly toxic methyl isocyanate (MIC) into the air, killing 16,000 people and injuring over half a million, with the effects of the tragedy still being monitored and confirmed to this day.

Let the numbers tell the story

While there should be no intention of downplaying the catastrophe of Chernobyl 1986, it’s worth putting it into contrast with the Bhopal tragedy. Both fatal industrial accidents with very long-term effects on humans and habitat. Yet…

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Attila Vágó

Staff software engineer, tech writer, author and opinionated human. LEGO and Apple fan. Accessibility advocate. Life enthusiast. Living in Dublin, Ireland. ☘️