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.