p a n d o r a ' s  p r o m i s e

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15th November 2013

Robert Stone

Nuclear Power

89 Minutes



2nd November 2013

UK Release







Nuclear power is an emotive subject, it’s difficult to get a debate up and running without environmental groups weighing in with a flat no and even traditional energy companies have something to lose if the technology is adopted. Hence, the number of documentaries on the subject that can be described as objective are probably few in number. Director Robert Stone has set out to try and address this.

Stone’s latest documentary, Pandora’s Promise is an attempt to win over wavering minds and gather support for the pro-nuclear movement. Using talking heads from a variety of sources, Stone’s movie’s central hypothesis is this: whilst ‘green’ technology is a nice idea, it is nowhere near capable of filling the gap that will be left once fossil fuels have been used up. To aid his argument, he lines up a number of environmentalists who have converted to the nuclear cause as well as industry insiders who have worked with the technology over the years.

Stone begins by visiting the Fukushima exclusion zone to take readings that he then compares to various other places on the planet where natural radiation occurs. Turns out that the exclusion zone isn’t as hot as some naturally irradiated areas. I say ‘naturally’ but I’m not entirely convinced that the movie properly addresses this angle. At one point, a reading over the Atlantic is taken that is way above normal and above some of the readings taken in the exclusion zone. This is to triumphantly reveal to us the amount of radiation we get from flying. It doesn’t attempt to address where that radiation is coming from. Just because it’s above the Atlantic doesn’t mean that it’s naturally occurring but this is not investigated.

We are left to assume that many of the facts presented in the movie are true as this lack of challenge continues throughout. The talking heads are predominantly authors, journalists or technicians from nuclear programmes. Whilst I don’t doubt their expertise, it would have been interesting to hear more from say, a medical doctor who had studied the effects of radiation. I don’t doubt that many of the tactics employed by environmental groups head down the ‘scare’ path but I’m inclined to think that the effects of exposure to radiation is more severe than those acknowledged here.

Stone assess the fallout from Chernobyl by looking at the plethora of reports issued at the time and more recently that indicate the relatively minimal effects of the radiation. He talks to Ukrainians who returned to their houses within months of the reactor meltdown and highlights the lack of pervasive illness within their communities. He does not acknowledge that although the meltdown was twenty five years ago, it’s impossible to tell if that is a sufficient amount of time to judge the health of those affected and their families.

The only significant dissenting voice in the movie comes in the form of Dr. Helen Caldecott,  an anti-nuclear campaigner who supports a rather different view of Chernobyl. Against the 100 or so officially accepted deaths, she weighs in with over a million. It’s an odd claim given the sheer size of that number and it’s easy to dismiss, especially given the on the hoof interviewing of Caldecott. I don’t know if she refused to be interviewed properly but presenting her, shrieking about millions of deaths at an anti-nuclear rally as the only dissenting voice does not do this movie any favours. It gives the impression that the pro-nuclear argument is Right and look, you must be this crazy to disagree. I want more balance from a documentary about such an important subject.

Pandora’s Promise is not without merit, it’s a timely reminder of a debate that has not had sufficient objectivity in recent years. It highlights well the convergence of nuclear weapons and nuclear power to the point that people cannot see past the weapons and on to the peaceful power creation but it really should have done more. I want more information about Breeder Reactors, I particularly want more financial cost information - the recent debate in the UK over the country’s first new nuclear power station in years has quite rightly asked questions about the price the UK government is guaranteeing the operators for the power in the future. The colossal cost of building nuclear reactors can’t be as easily dealt with as this movie presumes. I also want, and any documentary must have, the other side of the argument. Not just presented in passing by one yelling protestor but as confidently laid out as the other side. At the same time as sparking a debate, this movie risks alienating the anti-nuclear lobby because it so obviously doesn’t give them screen time. This may be their fault for not coming to the table but it’s not clear if this is the case.

The cinema is in need of a balanced, thought provoking documentary on how we move forward on nuclear power, Pandora’s Promise is not that film. It is worth watching as it will get you thinking about the currently lapsed nuclear debate but it’s well worth seeking out films such as Thomas Johnson’s The Battle for Chernobyl in order to give the facts presented here a more balanced view.

Check out the trailer here.

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