If “Greedy Lying Bastards” (2012) preached to the choir, “Pandora’s Promise” (2013) tries to deliver fantastical salvation to the desperate.
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Talking heads abound throughout director Richard Stone’s documentary, including “Whole Earth Catalogue” editor Stewart Brand, historian Richard Rhodes, neo-environmentalists Mark Lynas, Gwyneth Cravens, James Lovelock, and Breakthrough Institute co-foundersTed Nordhaus and Michael Shellenberger – recent nuclear energy converts better known for their environmentalist sympathies.
See trailer for “Pandora’s Promise” HERE.
If you expect to hear from lettered radiation biologists, nuclear physicists and civil engineers with advanced degrees, look elsewhere – except for a clip of Dr. Helen Caldecott at her most strident. The Physicians for Social Responsibility founder opens the film spouting the oft-repeated claim that at least one million Russians have perished due to the Chernobyl meltdown. Caldicott apparently got the number from a methodologically flawed 2007 study headed by Alexey Yablokov, a former Soviet environmental adviser and co-founder of Greenpeace in Russia.
The U.N.’s World Health Organization reports there have been fewer than 100 fatalities thus far, but “Pandora’s Promise” doesn’t address whether 25 years is enough to support a definitive conclusion.
An honest mistake is not enough to overturn years of scientific consensus, and a few anecdotal readings of background radiation equal neither a scientific study or even a well-conceived theory.
Inconvenient facts ignored
“Pandora’s Promise” ignores the U.S. Department of Energy’s NREL estimate that renewable, non-nuclear energy could eliminate 80% of greenhouse gases from the transportation sector by 2050.
The film also radically underestimates the potential of wind – which theoretically could flood the Earth with five times current energy consumed worldwide. Even after factoring in wind’s unpredictability, a 2005 Stanford study estimated wind could account for at least 20% of energy needs.
“The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists” suggest a network of solar, wind, tidal, geothermal and biofuel combined with increased efficiency and conservation could get the world off the fossil fuel addiction.
Not to say nuclear energy doesn’t posses some seductive attributes for an increasingly energy-starved civilization. One pound of uranium can generate as much energy as 2 million pounds of coal or 5000 barrels (210,000 gallons) of oil – and without the greenhouse gases that could soon make the Earth uninhabitable.
Also see “Carbon Nation takes effervescent look at climate change.”
According to “Pandora’s Promise,” groupthink paralyzed the anti-nuke crowd when nuclear energy became tied to weapons of war. Then Three-Mile Island hit on March 28, 1979. When “The China Syndrome” – long in the pipeline – was released a week later, negative branding synergy hit the nuke industry like a level-5 hurricane.
One talking head claims the oil-delivery industry even placed ads in support of solar, knowing it never had a chance of gaining traction. While it sounds plausible, Jimmy Carter was the greenest President since Teddy Roosevelt – he even installed solar panels in on the White House roof – and was considered likely to win the ’80 election. It would be a year later when Reagan surged at the end of the campaign and removed the panels soon after taking office.
“Pandora’s Promise” extols fast breeder reactors over light water nuclear reactors because they can be adjusted to either consume or generate plutonium that can then be used as fuel. So while fast breeders could solve the storage problems by destroying radioactive waste, we hear little discussion about their potential to wildly increase the supply of a key explosive ingredient for nuclear weapons.
China and India, likely to be the most voracious energy consumers in the 21st century, see few alternatives to nuclear, despite the Fukushima disaster. If ‘Pandora’s Promise’ does nothing else, it will reinvigorate the conversation about the most staggeringly monumental quandary of our time: How to fuel human civilization into the future? What are the costs vs. benefits of various combinations of petroleum, coal, hydroelectric, solar, wind, geothermal – and the most controversial energy source of all – nuclear?
There is such a gap between how one lives and how one should live that he who neglects what is being done for what should be done will learn his destruction rather than his preservation.” “The Prince,” Niccolò Machiavelli 1532.
Advanced power plant designs may well have a place in the world’s energy distribution systems of the future, but this isn’t the time to go all in with nuclear.
Go HERE and scroll down to see playdates and locations for “Pandora’s Promise.”
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