Pandora’s Promise, a documentary film by director Robert Stone that opened in US cities on June 12th, is the story of one-time anti-nuclear power activists who now advocate using nuclear energy.
The flaw in the film’s approach is its zealous advocacy of one solution — one silver bullet — to meet the tremendous challenges of providing for some nine billion people by 2050, while also protecting societies from the ravages of climate disruption. The kind of thinking that led some of these environmentalists to single-mindedly protest nuclear power plants during the 1970s and 1980s leads them to just-as-single-mindedly advocate a push toward nuclear power 40 years later.
Pandora’s Promise ticks off three major reasons for the sea change on nuclear power. First, activists recognize that poor people in developing countries deserve access to energy sources to advance their economies and raise their standards of living. The environmentalists in the film favor the rapid growth of nuclear power over the coal burning that is now common in emerging economies like China and India.
Second, the film’s subjects recognize that nothing else has worked as well as nuclear power to reduce dependence on carbon-emitting fossil fuels. Solar technologies are still too expensive, and wind power is supplying just a tiny fraction of current electricity despite large investments; only nuclear reactors, they claim, can supply the continuously available electrical power needed for large-scale commercial and household use.
Third, several movement leaders believe that the fight for a carbon tax to discourage the burning of fossil fuel has been lost in the United States, and that the likelihood US politicians will adopt policies to help slow climate change in the next 10 years is remote.
In short, it appears that these environmentalists have discovered poverty, the Keeling curve (a graph that depicts Earth’s rising temperature since the 1950s), and the brawling political process for the first time and are shocked, simply shocked, by what they’ve seen. They’re now out to rectify the situation in one fell swoop with the promise of nuclear power. By doing so, however, they have traded one brand of “solutionism” for another.