Robert Stone and “Pandora’s Promise”

Robert  Stone and “Pandora’s Promise”

The film’s Australian premiere was shown in Melbourne on October 8th, with director Robert Stone answering questions afterwards.

I found myself  liking Robert Stone , for his enthusiasm, and sincere concern about climate change.

I found myself disliking the film, for its sins of omission, and manipulative way of discrediting anti nuclear  people.

“Pandora’s Promise” presents as a documentary about climate change and nuclear power.  It is very stylishly made and interesting, story on the theme that climate change is an urgent danger, and that nuclear power is the major solution to this. It is a very, very good soft sell for the nuclear industry

“Pandora’s Promise” uses the voices of people, mainly from the nuclear power lobby,The Breakthrough Institute, to present its argument.  Mark Lynas, Michael Shellenberger, Gwyneth Craven, Stewart Brand, Richard Rhodes all portray themselves as former anti nuclear activists who have now seen the light, and are pro nuclear.

The film certainly highlights  the reality of climate change, the health hazards of the coal industry, and the need for action on climate change.  Indeed, that’s the background and stated reason for its main premise – that premise being –  the world should now urgently adopt nuclear power.

Here’s where the subtle, and not always so subtle, manipulation comes in. A large part of the film goes over the bad things about nuclear power, the poor safety design of early reactors, the Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima disasters.  We are led to sympathise with the anti nuclear movement and its idealism.

But then – hey presto, we learn, almost magically, that our speakers, having talked with experts, now realise that new nuclear reactors are safe and good. Today’s  environmental and anti nuclear movement , we are told, consists of well-meaning, but ignorant and uninformed  people who are denying science.

They are shown to have an irrational fear of ionising radiation.  In this they are shown as the same as climate change denialists, denying the scientific consensus. But the scientific consensus, including the World Health Organisation, is that ionising radiation is dangerous to health, even at low levels.

On the radiation question, the film is simply dishonest.  It misrepresents the World Health Organisation’s position on low dose radiation, and on Fukushima. (WHO has in fact, predicted a later increase in cancer among women exposed to Fukushima radiation).

It trots out the absurd argument about bananas being more radioactively harmful than nuclear radiation.  ( Bananas  do contain radioactive potassium-40. However, our bodies have a constant amount of potassium-40, and it does not increase through eating bananas. Any excess is quickly eliminated.  However,  man made radioactive isotopes like cesium -137 accumulate in the body, and are very dangerous)

There is not one voice in this film to provide an opposing point of view – the assumption is made that no scientifically qualified person is against nuclear power.

Having demolished the anti nuclear movement, the film goes on to demolish the clean energy movement, though it does allow renewable energy to be “part of the energy mix”. Advocates of renewable energy are described as having a “hallucinatory delusion”. Nuclear power is safer than solar or wind energy, and, after the initial set up, cost is stated to be much more economical than solar or wind.

The film then goes on to the questions of safety and of nuclear waste. It explains the “generations” of nuclear reactors. Generation 111 (current reactors) are much safer, and Generation 1V , ‘recycling’ reactors , safer still. The Integral Fast Rector (IFR) uses nuclear waste as fuel, and leaves a smaller volume of nuclear waste. However, it’s still radioactive waste, so the IFRs still have that eventual problem.

But anyway, the glory of Generation 1V nuclear reactors (none actually built and operating yet) is that with them, the world’s existing nuclear waste becomes a valuable resource, as fuel.

The film concludes on an optimistic note, enthusing about  the “renaissance in reactor design”. Small Modular Reactors (SMRs), thorium reactors, Bill Gates’s Travelling Wave Reactor are especially praised. They would need to be mass produced  (and ordered en masse) . Gen 1V reactors might take  a while – 25 years to come on line, but in the meantime, Gen 111 can go ahead, as their nuclear waste can be safely stored in above ground cylinders, awaiting their new role as fuel.

This film was well received by the premiere audience. It is clear and understandable. It is quite amusing, (often at the expense of nuclear opponents, such as Amory Lovins, Ralph Nader, Jane Fonda, and of course, Australia’s own Dr Helen Caldicott.) The banana story got a good laugh.

The music is good – dramatic where needed, rather sweet and sentimental, where showing healthy people who still live near Chernobyl.

The sins of omission?  No mention was made of the terrorism risk, of nuclear reactors, nuclear waste, nuclear transport as terrorist targets. The risk of nuclear weapons proliferation was glossed over. Discussion of renewable energy ignored recent developments in wind and solar technology, their increasing use globally, and falling costs. There was no mention of the high water requirements of the uranium and nuclear industries. Nor was mentioned the vulnerability of nuclear reactors to climate extremes.

The most glaring omission was in not discussing the economics of nuclear energy, which is currently the industry’s biggest stumbling block.

Still, for Australia, the film does carry an important message about the seriousness of climate change. One questioner did wonder whether all the nuclear reactors would be up and running in time to have any effect. Robert Stone thinks that they will.

15 thoughts on “Robert Stone and “Pandora’s Promise”

  1. I have just spent 24 hours hosting Robert in Adelaide.

    It’s great to have even this one point of agreement. He is indeed a sincere, energetic, hardworking person with a deep concern for the future of our planet.

    Many thanks for acknowledging him in this way. As his friend, I do appreciate it.

  2. For one accusing others of sins of omission, you are quite good at it yourself.

    What you omit from, say, WHO’s position on low level radiation is that doses typically received from nuclear accidents are so low that the additional risk, while possibly not zero (and note that the scientific evidence is not robust enough even to conclusively rule out hormesis effects at low levels) are nevertheless extremely low. In terms of health impacts from energy generation, nuclear compares favorably even with renewables, let alone fossil fuels. That’s when accidents are included but CO2 emissions omitted. See e.g. Markandya & Wilkinson 2007 in the Lancet.

    Even considering radiation releases alone, at least where I live (Finland), just about every form of energy generation based on burning stuff – be it fossil or biomass – would be forced to shut down, if we simply upheld the same standards for radiation releases across the board. Conventional power plants simply cannot cope with radiation release and waste management standards demanded from and achieved by nuclear plants.

    If you insist on demanding one set of standards for nuclear – for example, insist it to be perfectly safe with zero harm to anyone and anything – while accepting another for other energy sources and societal options, that’s of course your prerogative. But in this case, you might want to consider a career on, say, theology, not on anything resembling science.

    As far as renewable alternatives are concerned, what’s your opinion on cherry-picking? The high-end estimates of renewable energy deployment are precisely that: for example, in the IPCC SRREN study, out of 164 scenarios, mere 1.2% predicted renewable deployments anywhere close to even 80% of world’s current energy needs – in 2050. The 99.8% majority was nowhere nearly so optimistic. It follows that unless we can seriously curb energy use (and I’d like to see how that’s done across the world), we’re going to have accept one of two choices: fossil fuels, or nuclear.

    See here the crucial Figure 10.2 from SRREN:

    1. If you see Pandora’s Promise you will see that Dr Helen Caldicott is not presented in a respectful way, Her brief appearances are taken out of context, so that she is made to look like an ignorant fanatic

      1. Well, that’s a sad little comment, revealing both your priorities and your own ignorance of Dr Caldicott’s extensive writing and public speaking.
        If George Monbiot is also disrespectful does that make it OK?
        I Suggest that you hear Dr Caldicott for yourself:
        November 4: Address to the American Public Health Association in Boston on the Medical Consequences of the Nuclear Age (USA)
        November 9: Address to the New Hampshire Peace Action Organisation (USA)
        November 13: Opening the film in Hollywood titled Fallout for Karen Kramer, wife of Stanley Kramer (USA)
        November 14: Grad Rounds at Cedar Sinai Hospital in LA (USA)

    2. In this very dishonest film “Pandora’s Promise” – footage of film about Dr Caldicott is carefully cut into segments that, out of context make her look ridiculous. Dr Caldicott is ahown in this film with the sole purpose of denigrating her.

  3. Are Climate Objectives being used as just another Sales Pitch for using RISKY Nuclear?

    Fukushima will now generate an enormous amount of carbon intensity that cannot be overlooked in any comparison which lists nuclear. Until each nuclear reactor is fully decommissioned, which will take many decades, its carbon footprint is UNKNOWN.

    It is no longer appropriate for the nuclear industry to cherry pick numbers to make itself look fiscally and/or environmentally viable!


    Because the global nuclear industry has the money it needs to fund all the peer reviewed studies it wants, they all end up saying whatever they want them to, or they simply will not publish them…

    We also know that about three years ago today, all the Japanese nuclear Experts (along with most other nuclear Experts in the World) that said that “modern” nuclear power plants were safe and had so many safety features that they would not meltdown because they were so well designed, were proven terribly wrong by Fukushima’s triple meltdowns and that it will take decades if not about 100 years to deal with its on-going pollution of the Pacific Ocean, that is, if nothing BIG goes BAD before then.
    Also in all fairness, mankind will have to employ NEW types of equipment that have never ever been built, in order to deal with the new problems Fukushima has created. Also, until fully decommissioned, the Japanese will continue to contaminate massive amounts of sea water with radioactivity daily, that will all end up in the Pacific Ocean unless the UN sanctions the Japanese with penalties which should be used to finance Solar (of all flavors) R&D and it’s installation in developing Countries, if they will agree to not use nuclear. This will enable mankind to begin the transition to Solar while at the same time reduce the need for our Earth’s limited resources.

I also will be the first to point out that the Coal Industry has many health problems associated with it, which the Nuclear industry is all too eager to point out; but the SAME THING COULD BE SAID ABOUT THE NUCLEAR INDUSTRY; since it also mines radioactive Uranium ore which is then processed into highly radioactive fuel rods of several different types. Once this radioactive fuel is used in a reactor, it then produces huge amounts of additional radioactive waste that will have as yet unknown effects on mankind over the enormous timespan that it will take to render all of it harmless! Because this radioactive timespan dwarfs anything currently affecting mankind, it is completely unscientific to say today, what the harmful effect of our using nuclear power plants in the twentieth and twenty-first century will be generations, from now!

For example, should highly radioactive “dirty” material from Fukushima be used in a terrorist weapon at some point in the future, its affect on man must be placed directly upon the nuclear industry that created it, because without building the nuclear power plants it would have never existed to cause harm to man’s health. This is yet another potential “future” health problem that cannot be discounted since there is so much radioactive waste material unaccounted for at Fukushima and many other locations globally!

It is no longer fair for the nuclear industries spokespersons, the IAEA and/or Regulators like the NRC to try to limit Energy discussions to only the positive points that favor using nuclear while at the same time shrugging off all other negative points as not being relevant!

    Excerpts from:

  4. Australia has the land mass to go Solar in a big way and not only power it’s own counter but use any excess to create wear from seawater and/or disassociate seawater to create Hydrogen which can then be liquified and used instead of natural gas to supply energy when and where it is needed.

    The ONLY reason that Australia will consider using nuclear is that its Leaders want to cash in!

    For the Utilities that run them, nuclear power plants are a cash cow that guarantees them an income stream for about 100 years when building, running and decommissioning are all included!  Note: That this does not include all the rate increases and BIG replacement projects needed along the way, that will add many billions more to what these Utility generates (pun intended) for themselves and their shareholders!

    Knowing what we know now about “just” rooftop solar, it is a good bet that in 30 to 40 years if any new nuclear power plants ever do get built, they will become a hugely expensive boondoggle that the people cannot afford!

    Excerpts from:

    1. It’s worse than that. Australia is already part of USA’s nuclear military encirclement of China, with USA’s secret base Pine Gap, in Central Australia, military base in Darwin etc. The nuke lobby, meaning largely USA arms manufacturers, and the Pentagon, want South Australia to become a nuclear military hub. As far as I can tell, Australia’s political leaders are just happy to be TOPP, which means being puppets of USA. I think that current PM Abbott doesn’t even care that much about personal wealth – he just MUST be TOPP.

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