Pandora's Broken Promise

SUBHEAD: Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen is a backer of this movie and TerraPower, which seeks to make 4th-generation "traveling wave" reactors.

By Leslie Anderson Maloyon 13 June 2013 for the the Hastings Group -

Image above: The world burns as pseudo-science "saves the day". From (

[IB Publisher's note: Those who fear the end of "civilization as we know it" have rightly concluded that the only way to fuel a highly technical energy intensive future is to go to nuclear power. The only problem is that "civilization as we know it" is THE problem, in that it requires industrialization and growth at the cost of natural resources and life. The only energy future certainty is that we will be using a lot less of it (by an order of magnitude) soon. The question is how we get there - smooth or nasty. As the Petroleum Age winds down we will have a devil of a time taking care of the 500 or so corroding, crumbling nuclear reactors already online. Can you imagine the insurmountable problem of dealing with another 5,000 needed to replace fossil fuels.]

New York Times movie review -
"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."

Variety movie review (via Chicago Tribune) -,0,3036438.story
"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." -
"'It's economics,' Ralph Cavanagh, senior attorney and co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council's energy program, told 'What [the filmmakers] say is that, while the plants are very expensive, they last a long time. What the film utterly fails to capture is that nuclear has got to pass a market test.' Utility companies play a large part in determining what source of energy gets used, based on its competitive market prices. Investing in nuclear power plants is risky for private companies.

The EIA's 2013 Annual Energy Outlook report says that building a new nuclear power plant can take over a decade to complete, require specialized high-wage workers, expensive materials and components and engineering construction expertise. 'In the current economic environment of low natural gas prices and flat demand for electricity, the overall market conditions for new nuclear plants are challenging,' the report says.

Cavanagh points out that France's nuclear energy model, which is touted in the film, is subsidized by the French government. In order for the United States to follow that model, it would require a socialized program that is funded by taxpayers."

The Nation -
"Myth: Pragmatic environmentalists are coming around on nuclear power. Fact: The public and the overwhelming majority of environmental groups continue to reject nuclear power.

Of the ten leading environmental organizations in the US-the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, The National Wildlife Federation, The Natural Resources Defense Council, Defenders of Wildlife, Environmental Defense, The National Audubon Society, The Nature Conservancy, The Wilderness Society, The World Wildlife Fund-not one supports nuclear power, despite the threat of climate change."

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists -
"To be sure, there is nothing wrong with changing your mind. In fact, there is much to admire in those who recognize altered circumstances, integrate fresh information, and come to a new judgment. What is disingenuous about Pandora's Promise is the way the new judgment is conveyed. The film mocks groups that continue to protest nuclear power, treating one-time colleagues as extremists and zealots.

An audience discussion after a preview at the University of Chicago made it clear I was not the only one who sensed the self-righteous tone of the newly converted in the film's narrative.

In the end, by dismissing the protestors and failing to engage them in significant debate about the pros and cons of nuclear energy, the film undermined its own message."

All Things Nuclear/Union of Concerned Scientists -
"The film also puts forth the Integral Fast Reactor, a metal-fueled fast breeder reactor, as a visionary nuclear reactor design that could solve all of nuclear power's problems by being meltdown-proof and consuming its own waste as fuel.

However, it glosses over the myriad safety and security problems associated with fast-breeder reactors. The film makes much of an experiment conducted at the EBR-II, a fast reactor prototype that purported to demonstrate the safety of the reactor. However, again engaging in cherry-picking, it did not discuss the fact that the tests only simulated some kinds of accidents, and that such reactors are inherently unstable under other conditions.

It also does not bother to explain the very real proliferation concern that led the Clinton administration to terminate development of the reactor: the fact that spent fuel reprocessing, needed for the fast reactor fuel cycle, produces large quantities of nuclear weapon-usable materials in forms that are vulnerable to theft. Contrary to its portrayal in the film, reprocessing increases, rather than decreases, the volume of nuclear waste requiring disposal."

St. Louis Post Dispatch movie review -
" ... renewables are shrugged off because the wind and sun are cyclical and must (for now) be augmented with natural-gas backups. But is that reason enough to invest in nuclear, which has provably killed many people? The movie has no discussions with Hiroshima survivors. Nor do we hear from medical professionals in Fukushima or Chernobyl, or closer to home, near the waste dump in Hanford, Wash., or the testing grounds in Las Vegas, places where radiation-caused cancers can take years to manifest.

And nowhere is it mentioned that 10 years ago, a president, vice president and secretary of state with backgrounds in the petroleum industry invaded an oil-rich region at a cost of $1 trillion to $2 trillion, money that could have perfected renewable energy for the entire planet. Any discussion of our energy future that doesn't confront past mistakes is a broken promise."

Beyond Nuclear -
"Nuclear power, no matter the reactor design, cannot address climate change in time. In order to displace a significant amount of carbon-emitting fossil-fuel generation, another 1,000 to 1,500 new 1,000+ Megawatt reactors would need to come on line worldwide by 2050, a completely prohibitive proposition ...

Myths about the French nuclear program abound. Only 4% of the country's high-level radioactive waste has been vitrified and stored. Given its 80% dependency on nuclear power, when droughts and heat waves force reactors to power down or close, France has no other options and is forced to import electricity.

France has an enormous, unsolved waste problem with no repository; a huge extra expense due to its misadventure with fast breeder reactors; and a radiological legacy from its 210 abandoned uranium mines which continue to pollute the environment today."

Seattle Weekly movie review -
"But the doc's bigger flaw is that no one is allowed to make a reasoned anti-nuclear argument. To the well-made film's many statistics, graphics, and common-sense assertions, the lack of a rebuttal is deafening. Some cheesy old archival footage reminds us how GE and other companies once hoped to profit from nuclear power.

But you have to study the credits and press notes to see how close Pandora's Promise is to its subject. Gates, Nathan Myhrvold, and other tech-world peers of Allen are backers of Bellevue-based TerraPower, which seeks to make fourth-generation "traveling wave" reactors that are supposedly cleaner, safer, and more efficient than the kind that gave our state the costly Hanford and WPPSS debacles." [Note: Paul Allen is the founder of Vulcan Productions, which produced Pandora's Promise.]

Village Voice movie review -
"Alas, [the movie's] argument against fear-driven orthodoxy is undercut by the fact that, as with so many of this subgenre's entrants, there are no substantial competing voices included in the mix ..."

Time Out New York movie review -
"To go nuclear or not to go nuclear? Robert Stone's documentary about the controversial energy source comes down definitively on the side of the latter, calling on former antinuclear environmentalists to defend the case for the perilous power source over a complete switch to renewable energy sources.

Why Stone also chooses to characterize those on his side as feeble-brained hippie protestors is a mystery, but in its attempts to debunk the feasibility of massive energy reduction, Pandora's Promise at least brings some measure of rhetorical skill to its arguments."

• For more information contact Leslie Anderson Maloy,, or (703) 276-3256. 

Video above: The official trailer for "Pandora's Promise". From (


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