PAN­DORA’S PROM­ISE

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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…

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