Nuclear energy is safe! – Pandora’s Promise **1/2

By Dennis Hartley

(Originally posted on Digby’s Hullabaloo on June 15, 2013)

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“Dogs flew spaceships! The Aztecs invented the vacation! Men and women are the same sex! Our forefathers took drugs! Your brain is not the boss! Yes! That’s right! Everything you know is wrong!”

 –From the Firesign Theatre’s album Everything You Know is Wrong.

Wow. My world’s been turned upside down. My mind is blown. For most of my adult life, I’ve apparently been walking around in a spoon-fed daze: Everything I thought I knew about nuclear energy is wrong!

I’m shocked. Shocked no one previously took the time to grab me by the lapel to sit me down and set me straight about this whole “nuclear energy is inherently unsafe” meme that my environmentalist brothers and sisters have been shoving down my throat ever since I was knee-high to a recycled glass hopper. That is, until I saw Robert Stone’s new documentary, Pandora’s Promise. Now, I’m free! Free to ride…without getting hassled by the Man!

Stone, a self-described “passionate environmentalist for as long as [he] could remember” goes on to write in his Director’s Statement that he sensed “…a deep pessimism that has infused today’s environmental movement, and to recognize the depth of its failure to address climate change.” Ouch.

Then, “…through getting to know (Whole Earth Catalog founder) Stewart Brand“, he was “introduced to a new and more optimistic view of our environmental challenges that was pro-development and pro-technology” (I should note at this juncture that Paul Allen and Richard Branson are a couple of the, shall we call them, “pro-development and pro-technology tycoons” with possible vested interest listed among the producers).

As he further notes,  Stone has enlisted members of the “small but growing cadre of people” willing to challenge “the rigid orthodoxy of modern environmentalism” as talking heads for his decidedly pro-nuclear energy film.

I’ll admit that I hadn’t read the synopsis very carefully, and was anticipating yet one more film along the lines of last year’s cautionary eco-doc The Atomic States of America, preaching to the choir and telling me what I already knew (or thought I knew?) about the health effects on populations living in proximity of nuclear plant mishaps like Chernobyl and Fukushima.

Initially, as it began to dawn on me that Stone’s film was taking an unabashed debunker’s stance toward what has become the accepted “green think” on such matters, I must say I found it quite compelling, if for no other reason than the fact that it was breaking the typical eco-doc mold.

Besides, his interviewees take pains to identify themselves as environmentally-conscious, politically progressive folks who at one time were stridently anti-nuke (yet have come to see the light). But haven’t  thousands of Russians died of health issues related to Chernobyl? Pshaw! According to the film, the “official” number is…56? They cite a World Health Organization report that appears to support that number. France is held up as a prime example of one country that has happily embraced nuclear energy. And so on.

Still, by the time it ended, I couldn’t help but feel that what I’d just been handed was a one-sided debate, and the more I thought about it, the more it played like a 90-minute infomercial for the nuclear energy lobby. I began to wonder about the purported “green cred” of the interviewees. And what exactly is this “Breakthrough Institute”, the nebulous benefactor thanked in the end credits (sounds like one of those secret labs that get blown up at the end of a Bond movie)?

Don’t get me wrong…I’m all for weighing both sides of an issue, but apparently, I’m not the only movie-going rube with such an inquiring mind regarding a possible hidden agenda; it took all of 10 seconds on Mr. Google to find a 9-page investigative probe about the film’s cast and backers, posted by the activist group Beyond Nuclear. That said, I’ll grant Stone his chutzpah, and he gives food for thought. Should you see it? Hmm. Approach it as you would a reactor room…Enter with Caution.

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