Pandora’s Promise is a documentary from the very talented film maker, Robert Stone, which posits that the future of baseload energy production should come from nuclear energy. Stone and the five prominent environmentalists featured in the film are converts to the nuclear energy cause. They see the overwhelming environmental benefit in the use of uranium metal as an energy source.
The doc was shown at the local Roxy Theatre last week, and my company* was able to purchase a block of tickets for those of us wanting to go.
So, go I did.
I was impressed by the film’s production value. It was shot at several locations worldwide. The graphics illustrating various concepts were presented beautifully and seamlessly within the shot footage. I also loved the photography, and the post-production clearly had some money behind it. This is to say, this was no PowerPoint presentation caught on video. From a pure cinematic experience, I enjoyed the show.
Another positive was the depiction of the benefits of nuclear energy, which to my knowledge, has never been presented so clearly on the big screen before. There was a terrific illustration of how a single pound of uranium contained energy equivalent of about 6000 barrels of crude oil. The film was also very clear about the massive amount of coal currently used to generate electricity relative to other sources. In addition, we were shown an estimate (take that as you will) of how many deaths can be attributable to burning coal, gas, nuclear, etc., with the implication that the extremely low number of deaths in the nuclear industry was favourable to the number of deaths from carbon sources. Death = bad, after all.
With that, the film provided some accurate statistics regarding the actual impacts of the three major nuclear energy disasters — Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima — and compared their current conditions to different locations around the world. A handheld radiation detector was shown on screen from all locales visited, including those three infamous nuclear power plants, to show that present-day levels are comparable to non-nuclear-impacted sites.
(This comparison could have been done better because the audience couldn’t compare the readings with generally accepted and regulated safe levels. I assume the readings were also displayed in units “rem,” which is used primarily in the United States, while milliSieverts are the unit of choice for most of the rest of the world, including Japan and Canada. I know this confused me, and I know the difference between rems and mSv.)
The film also made a stinging rebuke to those who think that somehow wind and solar are the energies of the future despite the fact that the technology simply doesn’t exist to capture, transmit or store this type of energy to any economical advantage. Perhaps in time, this will change, and we should all be glad when it does, but we still have to live in the present. The film’s argument is that nuclear is simply the best way for society to transform away from carbon-polluting energy, and that this is especially so since all solar and wind energy plants must be backed up by a more reliable source, i.e, natural gas.
Despite what its naysayers claim, the film isn’t really industry propaganda. For one, our industry has a poor track record in developing culturally significant awareness media to promote the industry. For another, the money for the film came solely from deep-pocketed do-gooders, among them Sir Richard Branson and Paul Allen. These are hardly pro-nuclear stooges.
The film definitely takes a pro-nuke side, I’ll give them that. But I find it hard to imagine critics of the film to have also had the same qualms about, say, An Inconvenient Truth or Fahrenheit 9/11.
I was ambivalent about the film’s position of the types of nuclear power we should pursue. The reactor of choice was clearly the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) which was derived from the Experimental Breeder Reactor (EBR). I’m not a nuclear physicist and as such I cannot take a qualified position on whether the IFR is superior to the current world-standard Light Water Reactor (LWR) design. (And don’t get me started on the whole Candu/heavy-water superiority thing.) It just seems an exercise akin to the VHS/Betamax wars, whereas a compelling case could be made for one version over another, but the choice has already been made by the market. By and large, the nuclear world has gone LWR. By arguing for a non-standardized and, as such, less economical design, the film undercuts its complaint about the economic viability of solar and wind. LWRs are here. Deal with it.
I reserve my biggest complaint to the branding of anti-nuclear activists akin to “climate deniers.” The argument is that anti-nukes “cherry-pick” data to suit their ideological bent in the same way that climate-change skeptics ignore so-called mainstream science.
While I don’t agree with this argument, my favourite part of the film was seeing Robert Stone confronting anti-nuke kook Helen Caldicott on why she trusts the United Nations on the dangers of climate change but thinks the same organization has somehow covered up a million deaths at Chernobyl. Not only is Caldicott’s viewpoint wrong, but irresponsibly so.
The dangers inherent in nuclear energy are well known based on well-documented research and study. Likewise, the Chernobyl Forum documents in great detail the resulting impact of the Chernobyl disaster. This information is derived from the empirical study of past events and, as such, provides strong evidence to the potential impact of future events.
Meanwhile, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a political organization which is focused on modelling the future impact of anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions on the earth’s climate, an incredibly complex system which we do not remotely understand. The IPCC hypothesis is an extrapolation of a very short duration of the earth’s climate history based on a single input — CO2 — and doesn’t take into account other variables, such as solar output, cloud formation or cosmic ray cycles, among others.
Further, where radiation science is based heavily on well-documented past events, the IPCC is a projection of the future. The only way the IPCC can be vindicated is if their models prove correct (i.e. are “falsifiable”) over a period of time. Until this vindication occurs, there will remain much more evidence supporting mainstream nuclear science than modern climate science.
The proof is in the results: nuclear science is now coming around to the view that low levels of radiation might actually be beneficial to humans, while the IPCC has gotten their most important warming predictions completely wrong (despite protestations otherwise). I would take the mainstream view of nuclear health physics any day over that of a member of the notoriously politicized IPCC.
I’m used to this type of criticism, however. It takes a long time for committed believers to change their views, as this film shows. I’m just glad they’ve smartened up to the benefits of nuclear, and we’ll just have to wait for the next talented apostate to deliver their own palatable version debunking the myths of climate change.
This was a great show that I recommend. Not only is it a great introduction to the nuclear industry, it also challenges the viewer to rethink their own premises. It lets us all know that a conversion is possible.
* Disclosure: I work for Cameco Corporation, a nuclear energy company. The opinions expressed here are solely mine own and not that of Cameco.