“There was nothing sane about Chernobyl,” a character gravely intones during the trailer for Chernobyl, a new HBO series that premieres May 6. And for those who’ve forgotten the details of the infamous nuclear calamity—or who weren’t alive when it happened—the preview is a jarring reminder of the events of the spring of 1986, when a reactor exploded in a nuclear facility situated in Soviet-controlled Ukraine.
As the Chernobyl trailer illustrates in oft-excruciating detail, the fallout led to illness, death, and uncertainty in the small Ukraine city of Pripyat and beyond, as Soviet officials scrambled to contain the damages—and to downplay the meltdown’s effects. (“In terms of radiation,” notes one of Chernobyl‘s politicos, “I’m told it’s the equivalent of a chest X-ray.”)
Chernobyl stars Oscar nominee Emily Watson (Breaking the Waves, Punch-Drunk Love) as a physicist attempting to find the cause of the disaster; Mad Men‘s Jared Harris as a first-responder reckoning with the scope of the fallout; and Stellan Skarsgård as real-life deputy prime minister Boris Shcherbina.
The series isn’t the only notable re-examination of the catastrophe making the rounds in 2019. Earlier this year, journalist Adam Higginbotham published Midnight in Chernobyl, a reported account of the disaster. This month saw the release of Kate Brown’s Manual for Survival: A Chernobyl Guide to the Future, about the aftermath of the meltdown.