When I was a young nuclear engineer in the late 1970s there were protests and public debates on nuclear power. Antinuclear protestors even painted condemning remarks on the side of the nuclear reactor building at MIT where I was a graduate student. I participated in many of those debates on the pro nuclear side, of course. It was tough going but very eye opening. Then in 1979 there was Three Mile Island – America’s only nuclear power plant accident and meltdown. The nuclear industry did what it could to recover, but soon the nuclear industry was flat lining. It seemed as though the anti’s had won.
Fast-forward 40 years. Things have changed.
A couple of years ago two of my friends, Jim Swartz and Steve Kirsch, approached me to consider helping them seed the development of a documentary film about nuclear energy to be titled Pandora’s Promise. Always interested in things nuclear since a little boy, I met with Robert Stone, the director. Through his own education and research, Robert had concluded that nuclear power is the only real solution to address global climate change related to CO2 production. And, he had found many environmentalists young and old who had also come to the same conclusion through their own work. I was sold.
As a team we raised the money to produce Pandora’s Promise – a Robert Stone documentary about how the environmentalist, also known as the greens, are now supporting nuclear power. The film sets you back in your chair with an opening of the Fukushima disaster in 2011. It then lays out the arguments against nuclear energy conveying well the vigor and vile of the anti nuclear movement in the 1970s. Having lived through it, some of this was tough to watch.
You then watch a short bit of history, some great footage I might add, of how the decisions that determined today’s nuclear power designs were made, but also what could have been. You learn the scientific truth about the real impact to the environment and to human life caused by the disasters of Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. Only Chernobyl caused any deaths.
And then you take a tour of the planet to show you that we live in world of radiation. Stone measures radiation all over the planet, including at the sites of the three disasters, where people are coming back to live. The simple measuring of radiation, conveyed by a simple yellow device is the most prominent and in-your-face element of the story about the non-issue of radiation. Throughout the film you watch and listen as the greens change their mind about nuclear energy as they too learn the truth about nuclear power, its risks and its benefits so well conveyed by the movie.
I’ve never been to Sundance, but I’ve seen films that ultimately make it to the larger market. Knowing that about 8000 films are submitted I’m proud that Pandora’s Promise made all the cuts to be premiered. I only hope now that those who see it see it for what it is – a true story about nuclear energy, a case for nuclear energy in the 21st century and the key role it must play in the fight against climate change from CO2. But also, just how really safe nuclear power is.
A word on Climate Change
The world’s climate is changing; make no mistake about it. While the Sun is the largest factor on Earth’s climate, science tells us that CO2 is a major factor as well. And the biggest contributor to CO2 in our atmosphere is the burning of fossil fuels – coal and gas for electricity and petroleum for automobiles. I’m not a climate expert, but I can read and understand the science in the reports of these experts. So, how can we slow down or even stop the production of CO2? The biggest impact would be to switch our sources of fuel we use to make electricity from fossil to nuclear.
Lots of power plants are going to be built in the next several decades, even century. Developing countries are building electric plants as fast as they can to satisfy demand of their growing economies. China is reportedly starting up a coal plant every week. By mid 21st century the countries of the developed world, the United States, Russia, Europe, South Africa will have to replace their electric infrastructure just to keep their economies going and their way of life stable.
The world is demanding more and more electricity. Intelligent estimates put the increase in electricity production in the world to double by 2035. Double. Folks, we have choices to make.
Some people have put forth that alternative energy sources like solar and wind can provide the base load power the world demands. When smart people run the numbers on what is required, it simply does not pencil out. This is not fiction. Rather, this is science and engineering. The sun does not shine at night, and the wind does not blow all the time. Hydro, a significant contributor in the alternatives category is largely built-out in the developed world. China just completed the world’s largest hydro power plant with at Three Gorges – a massive facility. Demanding economies, new and old, need electricity 7×24 forever.
So we have a choice. We can continue to build fossil fueled plants and produce prodigious amounts of CO2 contributing to climate change and suffer the consequences thereof. Or, we can start to roll out nuclear power plants for our base load electricity and reduce CO2.
I hope you will see “my” movie and think about its message. Thanks, Robert, for making it. And many thanks to all those who contributed to its making.