Chernobyl is the hit HBO series examining the events surrounding the nuclear disaster in 1986. The show has been praised for its historically accurate details. Viewers are keen to find out the stories behind some of these aspects, including why those affected by the immediate disaster could taste metal in the air. Here’s all you need to know about why this was. 

Why could they taste metal in the air? 

Chernobyl on HBO shows in great detail the effects of radiation on the body. 

In episode one of Chernobyl, viewers saw the firefighters who were immediately on the scene speak of how they could taste metal in the air. 

When the explosion occurred on 26 April 1986 in the number four nuclear reactor, these firefighters were some of the first to arrive. 

When they got there they sprayed the open nuclear reactor with water and a number of them turned up without protective equipment. 

As a result, they were exposed to a great deal of radiation during the night. 


In a podcast featuring show creator Craig Mazin and host Peter Sagal, the pair discuss the show and the historical moments behind it. 

According to Mazin, the fact they could taste metal is something he took from real reports of those there. 

He goes on to say that this is apparently a real symptom of intense radiation. 

He said: “There’s not a lot of experience with this, there have been a couple of incidences of this. This was the worst of them by far.” 

This symptom is believed to be a direct result to intense ionizing radiation.


Nuclear waste scientist Dr Claire Corkhill live tweeted the first episode and made mention of this. 

She said: “First hand reports of the workers and firefighters all said the same thing, that the air tasted metallic. 

“This was caused by hot particles of nuclear fuel that were thrown into the air by the explosions and fire.” 

It is also found that radiation therapy can sometimes cause people to have a metallic taste in their mouth.

The NHS website says that this symptom can be caused very moderately as a consequence of radiation therapy during cancer treatment.

Part of the reason that the firefighters has such an intense reaction as there was a lot of misinformation about what the explosion was caused by. 


Later in the podcast, Mazin said of the residents of Pripyat that the next day they were not aware of what had happened. 

He said: “They were walking around under a cloud of smoke from a billowing nuclear reactor all day long.” 

Chernobyl is currently the highest rated show on IMDB, with many viewers gripped by the recreation of what happened at the plant. 

Chernobyl is available to watch on NOW TV now. 

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