Pandora’s Promise is a documentary that follows four influential environmentalists as they campaign for nuclear power. Bravely tackling atomic energy misconceptions, they try to get their fellow brothers and sisters of the Earth to believe them
Director/Producer: Robert Stone Released: 18 January 2013 (Sundance Film Festival); now on general release. Running Time: 87 mins Official website: pandoraspromise.com Rating:
Pandora’s Promise is a documentary of uncomfortable truths. Directed and written by Oscar nominee Robert Stone, it follows the attempts of high profile environmental activists who have abandoned anti-atomic campaigning to become the world’s most outspoken advocates for a nuclear-powered future. It’s seemingly a self-contradiction: how can people who care about the Earth support an energy source that has the potential of wiping cities out? Modern environmentalists rail against nuclear power like it’s the bane of humanity; Pandora’s Promise suggests it’s high time they re-evaluate. The documentary follows four environmentalists as they explore popular preconceptions about nuclear power, why it is considered dangerous and – importantly – why it is one of the only energy options left open to us. Interviewees Stewart Brand, Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas and Micheal Shellen Berger each explain how they became pro-nuclear, all four having had a drastic change of mind when confronted with the cold, hard facts. The makers of Pandora’s Promise don’t leave it solely to these activists to challenge the ideas that have been cemented into our psyche since the bombing of Hiroshima. The documentary takes us on a journey through time to explore why nuclear power has gained so many negative connotations. Our fears stem from our first encounter with nuclear power during the Second World War, when the Japanese cities, Nagasaki and Hiroshima, were destroyed in a day. Later, disasters such as Chernobyl, which saw a nuclear reactor meltdown in 1986, resulted in a chain reaction of worldwide public hysteria.
Pandora’s Promise powerfully highlights how the media has used our ignorance as a weapon to mislead and frighten. Did you know that nuclear power is statistically a safer energy option than the use of solar panels (thanks to the incredibly toxic process used to make them)? Furthermore, coal is the most dangerous and harmful energy source used to date, having caused more fatalities per unit of energy produced than any other source. By contrast, nuclear power is the second safest source of energy (only being pipped to the top spot by wind power). Surprisingly, all the nuclear waste generated to date would only be enough to fill an American football field to a height of 3m, which is a relatively small amount – especially when compared to fossil fuels. The length of time that nuclear waste stays radioactive concerns many of us, but the apologists argue that this threat it is easily contained. My stereotypical response to nuclear power is ‘it must be bad’ – a misconception that this documentary spends an hour and thirty minutes systematically dismantling. Remarkably, some nuclear power stations can reuse nuclear waste to produce even more energy, making it a remarkably clean source of energy. Like many of us who are wary of atomic energy, I approached this movie as a sceptic; I didn’t believe I would ever support an energy source that has the power to wipe cities from the face of the Earth. But
Pandora’s Promise forcefully challenged my misgivings; to make any serious positive impact on climate change, modern environmentalism will need to incorporate nuclear power into its agenda. Robert Stone’s film makes the case that solar and wind power won’t be
enough to power our society – particularly when we’re constantly finding more ways to consume energy. The pace of the movie allows you to learn the ins-and-outs of atomic energy terminology without being bored to your teeth. Information is presented in an easily understandable and entertaining – even exciting – way. It feels like you’re being given a tour of forbidden knowledge. Cutting between interviews with nuclear engineers to anti-nuclear rallies, and from visits to nuclear power stations to nuclear disaster sites, the pace of the movie is fast. Stone also uses a Geiger counter, held in front of the camera in different cities across the world; the digital readout highlights the level of background radiation in each – and the results aren’t what you might expect. (Just don’t ask what the radiation levels are on an airplane.) You’ll learn that everywhere is affected by radiation and that nuclear power has very little bearing on worldwide levels at present. The clicking, screen-sized Geiger counter is a powerful cinematic device that left me wondering why I believed the cynical ‘facts’ about ‘nuclear radiation’. Who is this documentary for? Well, it’s for all of us. Environmentalists, sceptics and anyone concerned with the future of the world should also consider taking a look. The pace of the documentary does start to wane by the end, almost as if the environmentalists had resigned themselves to the difficulties facing them. But ultimately a documentary should be judged on the point it gets across. On this basis, Pandora’s
Promise is a brilliant documentary; it threatens to challenge all but the most closed-minded viewer’s view of nuclear power. If you’re still unconvinced, watch the documentary.
Matt Powell is a graduate from Oxford, obsessed with all things space orientated. Besides being the meanest ukulele player to grace the English countryside, Matt spends his time reading, writing and walking. He’s also the intern…