Robert Stone’s Pandora’s Promise has been capturing attention and encouraging people to challenge their personal beliefs and tribal assumptions.
Stone’s documentary is a classic “journey of discovery” tale featuring five people who changed their minds about nuclear energy from opposition to support. It takes viewers along the path of knowledge discovery followed by Gwyneth Cravens, Stewart Brand, Mark Lynas, Michael Shellenberger and Richard Rhodes. Some of the stars were only mildly opposed to nuclear, some were strident enough to take part in antinuclear rallies and protests. Some are now unabashed supporters that believe that both existing and future technology are far better than other energy alternatives; others are more cautious and believe that it would be best to consider replacing existing plants with safer designs as quickly as possible.
The project has been fascinating me for several years; I had the opportunity to provide some minor advice and technical consultation during the film’s research and production.
I was hoping to attend a premier event, and even made tentative plans to participate in a sneak preview to be held tonight in Washington, DC, but then determined that a 9 hour round trip drive to see a 1.5 hour movie is a little excessive in the middle of a work week.
Instead, I decided that I would spend a little time and space providing links to reviews from others who have been able to watch the film before its theatrical release this weekend.
I’ll start the review roundup with a critical review from Manohla Dargis in the New York Times titled Asking Environmentalists Not to Fear the Reactor: ‘Pandora’s Promise’ Advocates Nuclear Energy. Here is a quote from that review:
Certainly there’s an environmental case to be made for nuclear energy as an alternative to fossil fuels, which is exactly what some activists and journalists have been exploring for years. But you need to make an argument. A parade of like-minded nuclear-power advocates who assure us that everything will be all right just doesn’t cut it.
When I visited, there were no comments or reader reviews, so I added the following:
Robert Stone is a documentary film maker in the same genre as Josh Fox. He has honed his skills in using documentary videography as an art form through which he expresses his world view. Like Fox, he has a message that he wants to share.
People who want to be fully informed on the nuclear energy debate are free to find counter examples, but why would they expect Stone to provide them? Every film has a tight time budget; Stone spends his focusing on information that he believes is important and relevant to his mission of sharing what he has learned about nuclear energy through a very person journey of discovery.
Disclosure: I was able to answer some technical questions that Stone had during his research. Unfortunately, I was not considered to be a candidate for an appearance because I was not a convert; I became fascinated with the incredible potential of nuclear energy to solve important problems about the time I turned 8 years old. That was 45 years ago.
Rod Adams, Publisher, Atomic Insights
Meredith Angwin at Yes Vermont Yankee has a different view of the film from that of the New York Times film critic. In her post titled Pandora’s Promise: Nationwide now Meredith explains that Stone’s film is not as much a “Road to Damascus” conversion story as it is a thoughtful piece of information sharing aimed at encouraging people to think more deeply about energy choices. Meredith was able to attend a screening of the film at Dartmouth and enjoyed the discussion that it encouraged afterward.
The predictable folks at Beyond Nuclear feel betrayed by the film and its director, so they have published a handout that they have people passing out at some of the premier events. At a recent showing in New York, Robert Stone apparently quipped that it was his first experience at being picketed. Linda Gunter, the author of the pamphlet, resides in the “nuclear-free” zone of Takoma Park, Maryland with her husband and colleague, Paul. Some of their neighbors in that enclave include other professional antinuclear activists like Arjun Makijani, Robert Alvarez, and Kitty Tucker
Nick Touran (who just recently earned his PhD in Nuclear Engineering) has published a full rebuttal to the Beyond Nuclear screed at What is Nuclear titled Pandora’s Revenge. Here is the introduction to a piece that is making the rounds in the pronuclear activism world.
On May 13th, anti-nuclear group BeyondNuclear published a 38-page pdf written by Linda Pentz Gunter called “Pandora’s False Promises” [beyondnuclear.org] which has been picked up by every anti-nuclear person on Earth and waved around as gospel. But, alas, rather than making some good, productive counter-points, it swings way the other way with unsubstantiated, inaccurate opinion. Granted, I’m a nuclear engineer but take a peek and see if it doesn’t sound a little out-there to you too. This is a very natural place for whatisnuclear.com to jump in and deal.
The Nuclear Energy Institute has been following events related to Pandora’s Promise closely, even though Robert Stone expressly refused any financial support that could be linked to the nuclear industry while he was trying to cobble together the resources required for a professionally produced documentary. NEI Nuclear Notes has been compiling what it finds at The Unofficial Guide to Pandora’s Promise, a Documentary Film About Nuclear Energy by Robert Stone Premiering in New York City on June 12 and Nationwide on June 14
NEI Nuclear Notes also published a piece titled Robert Stone and Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Clash After Screening of Pandora’s Promise, which is about a personal experience of watching Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. accuse Robert Stone and the protagonists in the movie of all kinds of nasty things. Amusingly enough, Kennedy apparently stated that Stewart Brand was not really an environmentalist. Apparently, RFK was offended by his portrayal in the movie as a wealthy, industrial scale alternative energy system developer and investor working a room full of oil and gas guys for financial support. I wonder where that idea originated?
ANS Nuclear Cafe published a review of the film from Lenka Kollar, another nuclear engineer who had a chance to watch the movie at the University of Chicago, the birthplace of atomic fission. Her thoughts are available at ‘Pandora’s Promise’ – A new documentary film on nuclear energy
I am sure there are more, and I hope more will appear in the next few days as the film gets shown to a growing number of people. If it is available in a theater near you, take some time and take some friends who might be open to learning something new about what I continue to believe is the most important technology discovered in the 20th century.
Aside: I’ve been a little quiet recently. It has been difficult to digest the potential consequences of losing 3500 MW of emission free, hydrocarbon free, electrical generating capacity that used to produce about 28 billion kilowatt hours of power each year. I’m worried about the more than 2,000 nuclear energy professionals who are going to lose their jobs and about the communities that will be affected by increasing pollution, rising energy prices, and rising unemployment.
I’m afraid that things can get worse without focused action, and I am gaining hope that Pandora’s Promise just might be a spark that enables productive conversation.