I know there is a lot of footage of the aftermath of the Chernobyl accident, but is there any footage of the explosion itself?

In a documentary about the Chernobyl disaster it was stated that there were in fact a couple of persons close to the power plant at the time of the explosion, but did anyone actually capture it?

I'm also aware that back in 1986 not everyone was walking around with a camera in their pocket.

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    Have you tried searching youtube for chernobyl footage? It seems there is some footage from shortly after the explosion. Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 9:52
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    The explosion happened during the night, so even if it was filmed it's likely we wouldn't see anything on the film.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 13:28
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    Seems that "…86…camera in their pocket" distracts a lot of answers. They were doing an experiment. On top of the possibility of an engineer bringing his camera to the office it is also – theoretically– perfectly reasonable to assume the possibility that for such an occasion especially an official camera was around, filming everythin eg. for educational purposes and what not. That "given the spread of smart phones we should have pix of aliens by now" argument is nice, but not sufficient to dismiss the premise of this Q. We might not get better than circumstantial, but that's not final. Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 1:41
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    The experiment would not lead to any visible reaults at the reactor, so no camera would be brought in for that. I suspect the reactor room already had recording capabilities, but not in video format: they'd be running graph recorders on the sensor output so the format would be graphs on paper. Much more efficient than trying to read gauges on a low-res VHS tape playback.
    – Hobbes
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 14:52

4 Answers 4


IIRC the station operators weren't sure what happened initially because they had no cameras looking at the reactor. The first sign of how bad the explosion had been, was someone opening a door and staring into a crater.

From this timeline:

01:21 – Caps to fuel channels on charge face seen jumping in their sockets.

Valeriy Ivanovich Perevozchenko, the reactor section foreman, was present on the open platform at Level +50 shortly before the explosion. He witnessed the 350 kg blocks atop the fuel channels of the Upper Biological Shield jumping up and down and felt the shock waves through the building structure; the rupture of the pressure channels was in progress. He started to run down the spiral staircase to Level +10, through the deaerator gallery and the corridor heading to the control room, to report his observations.

At 01:23, the reactor blew up.

at 01:26, it was unclear to the operators that the reactor had blown up:

Dyatlov ordered reactor cooling with emergency speed, assuming the reactor was intact and the explosion had been caused by hydrogen accumulating in the emergency tank of the safety control system. Other employees went to the control room, reporting damage. Dyatlov went to the backup control room, pressing the AZ-5 button there and disconnecting power to the control rod servo drives; despite seeing the graphite blocks scattered on the ground outside the plant, he still believed the reactor was intact.

...They went through a narrow corridor towards the central hall, entered the reactor hall, and found it blocked with rubble and fragments; dangling fire hoses were pouring water into the remains of the reactor core, the firemen not there anymore.

This timeline suggests the reactor crew relied on eyewitnesses in the reactor room, which means they had no camera view. That makes it unlikely the explosion itself was recorded.

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    This answer would greatly benefit from sources.
    – Polygnome
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 11:19
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    yes, and I'm looking for them.
    – Hobbes
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 11:22
  • I don't think the Zenith camcorder linked was Russian.
    – user18968
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 14:34
  • My bad, I was thinking of Zenit, but it seems they only produced still cameras.
    – Hobbes
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 14:48
  • @Hobbes No, they produced crap to make still photos.
    – Jos
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 2:16

I'm also aware that back in 1986 not everyone was walking around with a camera in their pocket.

Are you really?

It goes a bit further than that, my friend. Of course lots of people did carry cameras but usually for a reason. One didn't walk around with a camera 'just in case' or 'for the fun of it'. You don't do that with 'wet' cameras. Almost nobody had a mobile phone back then, and the few mobiles that existed didn't have cameras. A mobile in those days was huge. You needed a backpack to carry one. Literally.

However, the above is about the Western world, where people had the money and the freedom to walk around with cameras. Do mind that walking around with a camera near a nuclear facility in the west was and still is severely restricted.

Now we have a look at the USSR. A lot less people carrying cameras there. For two good reasons: USSR citizens had much less spendable income and the state wasn't particularly keen on people taking photo's without a good reason.

Next, we're talking about a nuclear facility in the USSR. That's a strategic asset of national importance. Photography there was absolutely forbidden. Merely walking around with a camera would get you arrested on the spot. Immediately. Even if you worked there, you had to have a bloody good reason to bring a camera to work. "Igor has his birthday party" was not a good reason.

Technical video camera's did exist, but they were both large and very expensive compared with modern equipment. So it is extremely unlikely the actual event has been or could have been taped.

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    in fact you'd not take your camera to work even if you needed one for work. You'd put in a request to the responsible department and they'd provide you with one, maybe.
    – jwenting
    Commented Jun 14, 2018 at 4:26
  • -1 This answer is needlessly insulting and speculative. In particular, there is no indication from the original question that they presume footage had to be from a citizen's personal camera.
    – Brady Gilg
    Commented Feb 10, 2022 at 17:23

This is so unlikely, I think its fair to even discount the possibility unless you hear otherwise.

Even in the USA in 1986 consumer video recording devices were a new luxury, and recording media had little capacity and was relatively expensive. As a result, very few people even in the richest country on Earth would just walk around randomly recording things. In the USSR consumer luxuries like this were pretty much unheard of.

Also, the Soviets were paranoid about attacks from the outside. As a result, they were super fussy about allowing any kind of pictures or recording devices of any kind around likely infrastructure targets like power plants. These weren't people amenable to innocent explanations. All the incentives set up in their system were to lock people up now, and ask questions never. So no person with a Wisdom score over about 6 would ever think to even bring a video recording device to that city.

There's pretty much no way someone would have had a video camera pointed in the right direction and recording at the exact moment the explosion happened.

  • Anecdotally, my recollection of 1986 was that recording devices were all over the place. As in every dad had one and was filming their kids with them. They certainly didn't fit in a pocket like today, nor were they as convenient. And I admittedly was a kid living in a well off area around then, so presumably there's heavy bias involved. But my parents have boxes full of (unfortunately unreadable) video footage from around then. Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 19:45
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    @DenisdeBernardy - Yes, you likely didn't grow up very poor then. My own dad had one, but the families of my friends in the projects most certainly did not. And of course even those guys were fairly well off by the standards of Soviet Russia.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 12, 2018 at 21:48
  • @DevSolar - The USA was also at that time the world's leading oil and (I think) steel producer. A lot can change in 3 decades...
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Jun 13, 2018 at 16:26

I heavily doubt it because all the footage of Chernobyl is aerial so for it to be a video if it there would have to have been a helicopter flying over it before, and if there were footage of it we would know and probably have seen it.

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