By John Anderson, Variety
June 13, 2013
Not quite an H-bomb dropped on the environmentalist zeitgeist, "Pandora's Promise" does provoke those who have long opposed nuclear power to at least reconsider it, presenting its arguments in a green light and asking the question: Can one be committed to the environment and still be against nuclear power? Most issue documentaries are propaganda, and Robert Stone's latest is a formidable sales pitch for nukes, yet the film's points are well-reasoned and urgent.
The film couldn't be more timely, given the fight over fossil fuels — fracking, the BP disaster, etc. — and it notes a growing disillusionment with renewable energy sources: The amount of power that can be generated isn't sufficient to meet the world's needs; China and India are building rather removing coal-burning power plants; and oil and gas companies would like nothing more than to spend public money on wind and solar projects that still require oil and gas.
Into this morass Stone marches a veritable parade of internationally renowned environmentalists, all confessing an earlier blindness to the virtues of nuclear power and evangelizing for it. A lot of what Stone puts on screen, via subjects such as Stewart Brand, Michael Shellenberger, Gwyneth Cravens and Richard Rhodes, is both serious and rueful; Stone himself has been an environmental activist through his movies, and "Pandora's Promise" is one large mea culpa.
Most convincing, perhaps, is British journalist/activist Mark Lynas, who is almost embarrassed by the way he now feels, which is that nuclear power is the only reasonable answer to global warming, and that the dangers associated with such noted disasters as Three Mile island and Chernobyl have been grossly exaggerated. (The film maintains that the dangers of Japan's Fukushima Daiichi tsunami-related reactor disaster have been overstated as well.)
Where Stone errs, even on behalf of his own argument, is in not including a single voice in opposition to nukes, even just for contrast, and in treating those who opposed nuclear power in the past as a bunch of brain-dead hippies. The juxtapositions created between his current-day subjects and people marching and singing against nukes in 1979, make the latter look like idiots, when all they were doing was acting in good conscience. It's not the best way to make a persuasive argument.
Regarding the science of the pro-nuclear debate, no one on screen is less than convincing, and nothing in the end seems more benign than a twin-stacked breeder reactor; the viewer might almost come away thinking that what he or she needs in the morning is a healthy dose of nuclear radiation. But this is a zealotry issue, and Stone is a convert.
'Pandora's Promise' -- 2 1/2 stars
No MPAA rating
Running time: 1:30
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