We had a full house last night for the screening of Pandora’s Promise at USC’s School of Cinematic Arts – and a lively question and answer session afterwards with the director, Robert Stone, on what is a very controversial subject.
Stone set out to make a documentary that showed why a number of leading environmentalists, including Stewart Brand, the environmentalist and publisher of the Whole Earth Catalog, and Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Making of the Atomic Bomb”, have recently reversed their life-long opposition to nuclear power and have now become advocates of what they claim is the cleanest and safest way to generate power. The film goes through the main objections that people have to nuclear power – it is dangerous, it causes cancer, it creates huge amounts of long-lasting nuclear waste, it encourages research into nuclear weapons – and systematically shows how so many of these objections appear to be at odds with scientific reality. There has not been a single death from commercial nuclear power plants in the US. Only 31 people died in the 1986 Chernobyl disaster – and the huge increase in cancers in the surrounding area that was predicted has not happened. In France, where 78% of their power comes from nuclear plants, the combined nuclear waste from 30 years of operations fits in one room – indeed the nuclear waste that came from powering Paris for 30 years all fits into four tubes. With the world’s population expected to continue to increase to at least 9 billion, and with economic growth in China and India likely to at least double the global demand for power, Stone’s documentary says that relying on fossil fuels is not tenable as global warming worsens.
A nuclear physicist in the audience who had visited both Chernobyl and Fukushima after their respective disasters pointed out that the root of both their problems was not the design of the plants, but human error – something that another attendee also brought up. However good the plans, the execution is liable to human mistakes. There was a question as to why we should now believe these converted environmentalists when they advocate nuclear power, after we had listened to them for decades attacking nuclear power. Stone – himself a life-long environmentalist whose first documentary was an anti-nuclear film about the nuclear tests on the Bikini atoll - grounded his responses in available data from UN reports and academic research. He said that many other environmentalists have told him how glad they are that he has made this film to challenge the official “green” orthodoxy on nuclear power, as many of them thought the same thing but were too scared to say so in public.
Pandora’s Promise, which was a hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, is now going on theatrical release starting June 15th (in LA it will be at the Nuart Theater on Santa Monica Blvd), and in the fall it will be shown in its entirety on CNN.