Pandora’s Promise
Director Robert Stone
2013, 87 minutes

It doesn’t happen very often that longtime supporters of a scientific theory or social cause reconsider their stance and do a public one-eighty. Yet, this is exactly what the well-known and respected environmentalists in Pandora’s Promise have done. Whole Earth Catalog publisher Stewart Brand, Pulitzer Prize-winning A-bomb historian Richard Rhodes, New Yorker journalist Gwyneth Cravens, English eco-activist Mark Lynas, and environmental policy expert Michael Shellenberger all revised their firm opposition to nuclear power. They now argue that nuclear power might actually be safer, cleaner, and greener, than other energy sources.

The though-provoking documentary Pandora’s Promise is built around the narrative of these converts and makes the case for the use of nuclear energy as a better option than coal or oil.

The film starts off with a discussion of the alternatives to the unsustainable use of fossil fuels and concludes that solar and wind power are undependable and the technology neither financially feasible nor capable of delivering enough power for an increasingly energy hungry world. In addition, according to the film, wind turbines require natural gas as back up, solar panels are toxic to produce, and natural gas has unfortunate environmental consequences—for example the leakage of methane, a far more potent global warming gas than CO2. In an attempt to win viewers over, the film makes one particularly intriguing assertion: nuclear power is not as deadly as many opponents assume. In fact, it claims that nuclear power is second only to wind turbines in terms of safety. Apparently many more people are killed by burning coal or manufacturing solar panels.

The film insists that public perception of safety of nuclear power bears little relation to reality. Many misconceptions are perpetuated by people like physician and anti-nuclear activist Helen Caldicott, who is shown lecturing a crowd about the million people who died as a result of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. She is followed by the articulate and soft spoken Richard Rhodes who carefully reminds the viewer that Caldicott’s claims aren’t based on scientific evidence. Citing The Chernobyl Forum, a United Nations’ report, he notes that the damage caused to people by the fallout was remarkably limited. In total, 56 people died as a result of Chernobyl and an estimated 4000 people have shorter life expectancies, according to this report.

Pandora’s Promise also debunks a number of other myths about nuclear power, from the dangers of low levels of tritium in drinking water, to the correlation between congenital malformations and radiation.

Overall filmmaker Robert Stone, makes an compelling argument for the use of nuclear power, and even though Pandora’s Promise will not convince everyone, it is a welcome and above all refreshing contribution to the nuclear energy debate.