Not sure whether we have added to the chorus about the new documentary Fracknation that debuted this week, from the dynamic Irish film duo Philem McAleer and Ann McElhinney and co-director Magdalena Segieda. (We did have a brief squib featuring McElhinney in my highlight reel from CPAC last February.) It’s the perfect antidote to Matt Damon’s Promised Land, which, shall we say, isn’t exactly setting the box office on fire like gas-infused tap water.
Meanwhile, sit down for this: at the current Sundance Film Festival–Robert Redford’s baby–there is debuting a new documentary about environmentalists who have changed their mind and are now pro-nuclear power. Does Redford, who signs direct-mail letters for the anti-nuke NRDC, know about this? The film is called Pandora’s Promise, and here’s what one early critic at Sundance has to say about it:
When was the last time you saw a documentary that fundamentally changed the way you think? It’s no secret that just about every political and socially-minded documentary shown at Sundance is preaching to the liberal-left choir. The issue may be dairy farming, human rights abuses in Vladimir Putin’s Russia, the marketing of AIDS drugs, or Occupy Wall Street (to list the topics of four festival docs this year), but the point of view is almost always conventionally “progressive” and orthodox. So when Robert Stone, who may be the most under-celebrated great documentary filmmaker in America (watch Oswald’s Ghost if you want to touch the elusive truth of the JFK assassination), arrived at Sundance this year with Pandora’s Promise, a look at the myths and realities of nuclear power, he was walking into the lion’s den. For this isn’t a movie that preaches to the choir. It’s a movie that says: “Stop thinking what you’ve been thinking, because if you don’t, you’re going to collude in wrecking the world.” Pandora’s Promise is built around what should be the real liberal agenda: looking at an issue not with orthodoxy, but with open eyes.
In Pandora’s Promise, Stone interviews a major swath of environmentalists, scientists, and energy planners, all of whom spent years being anti-nuclear power — and then, as they began to look at the evidence, changed their minds. The film begins with a deep examination of the psychology of the anti-nuclear view: how it took hold and became dogma. It goes all the way back to 1945, of course, and the horror of the atomic bomb. From that moment, really, the very word nuclear was tainted. It meant something that was going to kill you, in the form of lethal radiation that you can’t see. By the time of the “No Nukes” protests of the ’70s, to be “anti-nuclear” was to conflate nuclear weapons and nuclear power into a single category of scientific evil, a point of view whipped up, over the years, into a doctrinaire frenzy of righteous fear and loathing by anti-nuclear activists like Dr. Helen Caldicott and reinforced by movies like The China Syndrome and even, in its benign satirical way, The Simpsons.
Stone, a lifelong environmental lefty himself, unravels that thinking. The film’s incredibly articulate — and deeply progressive — spokemen and women explain the nuts and bolts of why nuclear power, manufactured with the sophisticated breeder reactors that are available today, is fundamentally clean, efficient, and, yes, safe. As Richard Rhodes puts it in the movie: “To be anti-nuclear is basically to be in favor of burning fossil fuels.”
Let us not be too hard on slow learners. Besides, it’s fun watching these guys flail against each other. Not only does it appear that the enviro-nuts won’t be able to do to natural gas fracking what they did to nuclear power 30 years ago, but some of them may even help open the door to reviving nuclear power.
JOHN adds: Ever the contrarian, I am not a fan of nuclear power. I think nuclear reactors raise genuine safety issues that, while they are soluble, inherently raise the cost of nuclear energy. Fossil fuels, on the other hand, are fantastic: the simplest, most efficient, most portable, all-around best source of energy on this planet, with essentially no down-side. I say, let’s burn ‘em: we will be gone long before they are.