Impact of Pandora’s Promise

One of the benefits of being “out there” in the social media world – which includes old fashioned email lists – is the opportunity to meet like minded souls without being limited to people who happen to be in your neighborhood or your physical social circle.

I recently saw an exceptional commentary about Pandora’s Promise from a man who asked to be identified as “an angel working in the clean-safe-nuclear field”. He gave me permission to share this.

By the way, this movie Pandora’s Promise shows the path of prominent Green leaders towards the pro-nuclear position.

It is likely to be influential among people who respect these leaders. And useful to nuclear power advocates, green or otherwise.

It shows how the post WWII effort to beat swords into ploughshares, while poetic, was perhaps misguided in turning the actual machines of bomb production into energy producers. The real revolution in clean-safe-nuclear power was sacrificed in its cradle. Neither the environmentalists of the day, nor the nuclear contractors wanted to redesign nuclear power for safety. But our soon-to-be secretary of State, John Kerry was the man that took credit for killing one of the most promising and safe designs, IFR.

Today we know more about how we would design reactors that don’t make bomb materials. Today we have 40 extra years of public health statistics showing the effect of radiation. We know what radiation does to the body. Today we know more about climate change.

It’s time to look again at the risks and rewards.

A few thoughts of mine about the question.

The point I would make, that the movie fails to make strongly enough, is that what we really need is leadership.

We need an Eisenhower or John F. Kennedy to set the goal of clean safe cheap energy technology within 5 years, and appoint young engineers and scientists to accomplish it.

What we have instead is Congress covering the cost plus profit for their favorite old companies to think about energy, with no stretch goals or fixed deadlines. Congress is responding to the demands of lobbyists for “innovation free zones” where they can be assured profits for resurrecting 50 year old designs, left over from those days when innovation was mandatory.

Technology for clean safe energy is not as hard to come by as putting a man on the moon was. But it takes leadership and risk-tolerant funding. It takes the courage to put power in the hands of young engineers and scientists to make the right choices.

Robert Oppenheimer was 38 and had never run anything when he was handed responsibility for the Manhattan Project, with management assistance from General Groves and $2 billion. ($33 billion in today’s dollars). An effort of that scale would not fail. Why can we not mobilize against climate catastrophe the way we mobilized against the Axis and the Empire of the Rising Sun?

Our rhetoric certainly isn’t up to the standard of that era. Rhetoric is cheap- we can afford to do that with enough zeal. Let’s try to measure up to Roosevelt and Churchill. They weren’t always polite to appeasers of the enemy. They did say what they meant, and it was sensible, and most people accepted it.

(Emphasis in original.)

About Rod Adams

21 Responses to “Impact of Pandora’s Promise”

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  1. Peter Geany says:

    I can agree 100% that what is lacking is leadership. And those who say Congress is focused on their own pet projects are also correct. Its cronyism. It’s happened because too much money is at stake. Interesting fact, although I’m probably wrong not being an American, but I believe President Eisenhower is the only President not to take his country to war of any kind, leadership based on experience I guess. He also warned against corporatism in his farewell speech although he called it something else.

    There is a fundamental difference between the days of WWII and today. We were still in the age of reason that started in the UK and triggered the industrial revolution, and people were dying every day in their thousands so there was an imperative to stop the carnage, not to mention the political imperative to preserve freedom.

    Today we don’t have these drivers, and the key drivers are globalisation, centralisation and corporatism. These are the very drivers that destroy innovation. It’s called the “age of stupid” and it is destroying the western way of life and individual freedom. In the absence of people dying in droves there has to be another imperative before another leader of the Quality of Eisenhower appears. What you don’t need is another JFK who I feel was more lose canon and lucky up to the point he was shot. He was part of a political dynasty that rarely got it right.

    And just as an example to day the papers in the UK are full of the latest scare story, an apocalypse worse than climate change we are told. What could this be? Super bugs resistant to antibiotics! Now I happen to believe this is an issue, but I also believe we need cool heads and intelligent doctoring to resolve it. But the point is the public are sick and tired of the ever increasing volume of scare stories, treating us all as if we are stupid. Today’s story follows more than a week of apocalyptic stories about what would happen if the UK left the EU, all choreographed by the establishment.

    So Rod the key to nuclear power is education; build you foundation of knowledge amongst the young, and make sure the foundation is solid. Stick to facts, and don’t associate nuclear power with unproven benefits beyond its ability to produce sustainable clean power at the lowest cost.

  2. Daniel says:

    Churchill ?

    Now that was a stateman.

    Barrack Obama decided to remove the bust of Winston Churchill from the Oval Office upon entering the White House.

    Who listened to Churchill when he said in 1915 that the ‘cut and paste’ approach then taken to ‘mash up’ Iraq with the Kurds, Shiites etc was suicidal ? Welll enough said …

    • Joffan says:

      There is a bust of Winston Churchill in the White House, but I guess you feel that you need at least two to prove… well something, I don’t know what. Maybe there should be one in every room to prove leadership. And one of every other great leader, because you never know who’ll come along pretending that statuary is a key indicator of character.

      Churchill was the man for the time in World War 2, a great leader, but by no means always right or perfect in every way.

  3. Joffan says:

    I’m pretty sure it was IFR that Kerry took the lead in closing, rather than any molten salt reactor technology. So many acronyms…

    I strongly appreciate this contribution to the debate, and it is interesting to think about why explicit leadership on nuclear is required, rather than some market process. Nuclear power faces immense bureaucratic barriers to development and implementation that simply don’t exist for other power technologies. These go way beyond mere regulation and safety assurance, burdening any attempt to implement mass deployment of nuclear power with a millstone of excess requirements that do nothing to help safety but everything to hinder profitable operation.

    And of course there is the general nature of the electrical supply system in toto. This is not a market of fungible goods; it is a coordinated matching of supply and demand which itself needs policy decisions on what power to take and what to leave. Not a classic market at all but open to all sorts of political pressures.

    The track record of government in making arbitrary decisions to stifle nuclear power is a major threat to any company seeking to develop or support the nuclear power industry. That political leadership is not enough – it needs to be underwritten with strong contracts that do not lightly backtrack on commitments.

    • Steve Darden says:

      “…it is interesting to think about why explicit leadership on nuclear is required, rather than some market process.”

      Very nicely summarized, thanks. Do you see that the US President is in the best position to supply explicit leadership?

      I think the US political leadership has the power to make this happen. E.g., to rapidly build the IFR through to utility scale pilot (that’s the easy part).

      In addition to the electrical supply system as you wrote, I see the most important goal of such leadership is to bring together the US+EU+UK+Russia to work with China, India, Brazil etc. to ramp up mass production of clean nuclear fast enough to really slash the amount of GHG from the coal plants that will otherwise be built. It is a big political challenge. I agree with Atomikrabbit – the challenge is more political/institutional, less so technical.

      Keep firmly in mind – what matters is what the developing countries deploy at scale. That reality never seems to enter into elite conversation – even on the rare occasions when they stop talking about feel-good solar & wind.

  4. Atomikrabbit says:

    I agree, and have said ad nauseam, that the overarching obstacles to nuclear deployment are political and informational, not technical. And since this particular technology, because of its unique characteristics and origins, has created a powerful government oversight ogliarchy, insightful leadership from that quarter is, unfortunately, essential.

    Pandora’s Promise may help create enough buzz in the “creative community” to allow them to start skewing a little more pro-nuclear in their thinking without drawing the automatic approbation that normally comes from breaking with Green orthodoxy.

    Kerry was a key player in killing DOE funding for IFR. If you are looking for a government-employed “villain” for defunding LFTR, it would be Milton Shaw, who perhaps ironically (given what would happen to IFR a decade later), wanted those funds for fast reactor development. Moral of the story for me is that although apparently essential under the structures we have created, government makes for a very unreliable partner.

    • donb says:

      If nuclear energy were developed without the heavy restrictions which is has now, it would be provide abundant, inexpensive energy. Problem is, inexpensive energy would mean that the present cash torrent of the fossil fuel industry would slow to a trickle. The political system then would not have the vast cash flow to tap into that it has presently. Since money is the mother’s milk of politics, it would leave them starving.

      While the politicians deserve to be starved, they will not easily relinquish the tools of their power. Expect the current system of burdensome regulations to continue.

  5. Joel Riddle says:

    Here is a pretty great review of Pandora’s Promise, and it is from Entertainment Weekly, of all places:

    I am quite excited to see this movie.

  6. James Greenidge says:

    But it’s not leadership! It’s hawking your virtues via nuclear public education and PSAs and media storming to a skittish public that will convince enough of them and then politicians to back you without fear of public jitters Luddite blowback! Why should a politician stick his/her head out hawking nuclear when nuclear hasn’t made a strong enough reassuring public case to back him/her up? Just WHO are our overtly pro-nuclear pols anyway? On one hand? Last weekend I saw our fave CUNY Prof Kaku hosting THREE science shows on Discovery and Science channels with no kind words for nuclear and no opponent to take his assertions down. He’s sure a great back-up resource for any politician to mention to fortify their wind-vane stance on nuclear. Where’s OUR guy??

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

    • Rod Adams says:

      @James Greenidge

      If nominated and promoted, I will serve.

      • Daniel says:

        @ Rod,

        A while ago during the NRC chairman nomination I asked if you would serve on the NRC board as a commissionner if asked. You never answered back then (and it is your privilege)

        So I am asking you again if you would be up to taking such a role if not now maybe in the future ? You would have the credentials and the credibility. What say you ?

        • Rod Adams says:


          Sorry if I did not respond to an earlier question. Comments sometimes get lost in a pile or get overlooked because of other factors that make my life interesting and busy.

          I would be willing to serve on the NRC, but am pretty sure that I would never be nominated because I am actually employed by the industry. There are few, if any, examples of anyone who works in the regulated industry being appointed to the commission. Most commissioners were either government employees or academics at the time of their nomination.

      • Daddeldu says:


        have you ever considered writing a book?

        Because the mainstream media give way more attention to an author than to a blogger. They want to present someone as an “expert”, which is much easier if he is an author. Then they can print in the something like:
        “Rod Adams
        Author ‘Atomic Insights’“

        That simply looks better than:
        “Rod Adams

        And besides – with a book you can reach an audience beyond the internet crowd. The subject could be how it came about, that the best, most benign energy would suffer such a setback as it did.


        • George Carty says:

          If Rod could find the time to write a book, I suggest it be called “Smoking Gun: How Fossil Fuel Money Subverted Environmentalism”.

  7. Daniel says:

    Dr Burton Richter, 1976 Physics Nobel Laureate, pro nuclear advocate and adviser to Pandora’s Promise does not mince words on this article :

    A must read.

  8. Ricardo Marques says:

    I really don’t think nuclear fission energy is a good option. I haven’t seen the documentary but I am beginning to understand that it’s aim is to mislead people into nuclear power. For instance, on the official website it states that they visited the “small room” where almost all of France’s nuclear waste is stored, well that is a very big lie, it is known that France and many other countries dumped hundreds of thousands of tons of nuclear waste at sea. How can anyone call nuclear “clean energy” when it is constantly dependent on a heavy mining and transportation industry. I am really sad to hear that a mainstream movie is coming out promoting nuclear energy. I like a fair debate and have had the opportunity to debate nuclear energy several times, but this movie just doesn’t seem fair at all and it is obviously comissioned by the nuclear lobby.

  9. James Greenidge says:

    First off ocean dumping stopped long ago — with no measurable effects on marine life then or since — add in a couple of sunken sub reactors to boot. Not even Greenpeace goes there — especially when we dump infinitely more other real bad stuff into the air daily before and since. “Dumped hundreds of thousands of tons of nuclear waste” — pretty hard to do anyway since the hard plant waste inventory amounts to 65,000 tons, so unless you’re counting irradiated dental aprons and machine parts I’d like to know from what non-green reputable research sources you derived that figure. Why is it so hard for anti-nukes to believe just plain non-industry flunkie laypeople with beloved families and a love for the environment can be pro-nuclear? Why do you all believe the worst of nuclear energy when even your “worst nightmares” happened at Fukushima with three chances to happen occured with zit causalities and public damage — as ditto nuclear plants since their inception, yet you all turn a blind eye to millions of people hit with respiratory diseases and thousands maimed and killed by routine fossil fuel operations and accidents for generations over generations? Sorry, it sounds the height of public health and safety hypocrisy to me, and an injustice perpetuated by green idealists with anti-nuclear war issues and radiophobia lunched by monster-making “any radiation is bad-evil” B-movies. In time, even Japan and Germany will realize they were looking a nuclear energy gift-horse in the mouth when they see just how safe and health those energy alternatives really are. Any media with hatchets out for nuclear energy are doing people and the environment one royal disfavor just to assuage a philosophical beef.

    James Greenidge
    Queens NY

  10. JS, Jeong says:

    Thanks for this great article. I didn’t know about it before.. I am working at KAIST Department of Nuclear & Quantum Engineering. So we are always thinking about how to make people understand exactly about a safety of nuclear things.. If you don’t mind, can I share your article through our department’s website? Our students will be very impressed.. and we can also open this article to the other people(non-nuclear field). I’ll really be looking forward to hearing from you 🙂