Film tackles the nuclear debate – Pandora’s Promise screens in Saskatoon
1 Oct 2013
Film tackles the nuclear debate
Oscar nominated director Robert Stone’s latest documentary is stirring up debate wherever it is shown. Stone’s controversial Pandora’s Promise tells the personal stories of some environmentalists and energy experts who have gone from being anti-nuclear to strongly in favour of pro-nuclear energy.
Pandora’s Promise debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and will be screened tonight at The Roxy Theatre.
A subsequent panel discussion will include Dr. Gordon Edwards of the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility, retired environmental and justice studies professor Jim Harding and Canadian Nuclear Association’s acting president Heather Kleb.
Stone answered questions about the film from his New York home.
StarPhoenix: You have made a number of films, a lot with an environmental bent to it. Why did you decide to make this film?
Robert Stone: This film was kind of an outgrowth of a previous documentary I made called Earth Day, which was a history of the rise of the environmental movement in the United States. Coming out of that, I came to see that so many of the assumptions that environmentalists have had about how to tackle climate change were just plain wrong and were never going to succeed. … I started to look into this and was surprised to find a number of people who were thinking deeply about this, who had completely come around on nuclear power and were looking at it again saying, “You know what? This source of energy that we’ve been against for so many years actually shows great promise and that most of the things that we assumed about it and most of the things we didn’t like about it turned out to be wrong.” To me nuclear power was the elephant in the room that no one was discussing.
SP: Is there a place for both alternative energy and nuclear power?
RS: I think we are going to need everything. There are places in the world where solar makes complete sense … there is places where wind power is going to be incredibly successful. But there is a lot of places where nuclear power is going to be the best option. If you really want to transition away from fossil fuels within the time frame the climate scientists say that we have to really tackle this problem before we really start to have serious consequences, we are going to have everything, including things we probably haven’t even thought of.
SP: Some critics have said you have been selective in what you offer in terms of data. How do you respond?
RS: Those critics have never been able to refute any of the data. On all of the points of safety, waste, proliferation, cost, there is nothing in the film that anybody has been able to say is factually incorrect. Other than pointing out outlier studies. If you look at the best consensus science on any of those topics, that is what we went with, even if it wasn’t favourable to us.
SP: Do you consider yourself an environmentalist?
RS: Yes. I always have been. I’m not an activist, I’m a filmmaker. The first time I ever picked up a camera was when I was in seventh grade and I made a little film about pollution around the time of the first Earth Day. And my first documentary that got me some notoriety was an anti-nuclear weapon film (Radio Bikini).
SP: There are those that say the risks of nuclear power outweigh the benefits. What do you say to that?
RS: It is simply not true. In the world right now we’ve got about 440 nuclear power plants. In the history of nuclear power there has been three significant incidents. Only one of whom, Chernobyl, has ever resulted in anyone even getting sick and dying. … And according to the best science we have that killed about 56 people. You compare that to, again the World Health Organization statistics, you have approximately three million people die every year from fossil fuel pollution. … There is just no comparison that nuclear power is way safer than fossil fuels. It is even safer per unit of energy than solar power because making solar panels is a very toxic process that produces very little energy.
SP: What has the response to the film been like?
RS: The blowback has come mainly from either professional anti-nuclear activists or journalists who have staked their career on this position, or the people who haven’t seen the film. The people who have seen the film, from all stripes and whatever their background or position, have come away largely favourable of the position of the film. And those that are not won over have applauded me for making it. It has opened their mind and they say it is a really important discussion that we need to have. I’ve even had protesters picketing the film who I have invited in and they have congratulated me on the movie, even if they continue to disagree with me.
SP: Are (our energy and environmental) problems solvable?
RS: Absolutely. We could lick this problem. We can certainly avoid the worst of it. It just can’t be done with renewables alone.
Stone will spend the next few months taking the film out around the world. The film will be shown Nov. 7 on CNN, be available on iTunes internationally on Dec. 3 and out on DVD next year.