Documentary Review: Pandora’s Promise

In the early twentieth century, a feud arose between the visionary inventors Thomas Edison and Nikolai Tesla. By discovering alternating current (AC), Tesla had found a way to drastically reduce the size of the electric cables that Edison was helping to stretch across America’s cities to light its homes. Edison, always the more cunning businessman of the two, responded with a smear campaign. Playing to people’s fears of this new technology, he held shows in which he would do things like electrocute elephants to death with AC, suggesting that it was somehow inherently more dangerous than DC. These smear campaigns worked, allowing Edison to steal many of Tesla’s economic opportunities. Edison then quietly went about implementing AC throughout his grids.

As with electricity itself in its early days, nuclear power, though decades old, is still not widely understood by the masses. Fearing the horrors of cancer and hating anything related to the force that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, environmental activists across the world have fought the advent of nuclear power since its inception. As Edison did, various private parties even intentionally fan the flames of fear for their own private gain. The documentary Pandora’s Promise addresses the major concerns raised by anti-nuclear activists and shows that, even as they accuse climate change deniers of holding flat-world ideologies and clinging to baseless conspiracy theories at the expense of science, they are guilty of that very sin when it comes to nuclear power. Indeed, they accuse the UN of conspiracy even while they ridicule climate change deniers for doing the same.

The following are some of the film’s main points:

  • “To be anti-nuclear is basically to be in favor of burning fossil fuels.”
    A significant portion of anti-nuclear activism is actually funded by fossil fuel producers. The propaganda that they publish even champions solar energy because they know that an energy grid based on solar energy will always require the burning of fossil fuels – if not in the form of natural gas from “backup” generators (that actually tend to produce most of the power), then at least in the form of fuel oil, as you simply cannot heat a house in North Dakota with solar panels. Another important point on this wise is that, despite the growth in renewable energy, the fastest-growing energy source in the world is actually coal – one of the dirtiest forms of energy we have.
  • There will be no great global treaty on climate change.
    Kyoto was a failure. It will not happen. Some have said that all we have to do is make governments raise the cost of fossil fuels, but governments will not do this – especially in developing countries, which is where all of these coal plants are being built – because, in order to do it on a level that would be effective, it would hurt too many people too much. Any environmentalists who think this is going to happen are living in a fantasy land. However, there is still hope. Governments and utilities would be happy to build clean nuclear plants because the fuel is so much cheaper than fossil fuel.
  • Statistically, nuclear power kills fewer people than solar does.
    There are two matters of note here. First, at least with current technology, the production of solar panels is actually a very toxic process, and a lot of it is happening in China, where manufacturers frequently ignore environmental laws. Second, the claims that Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and Fukushima together have killed hundreds of thousands or millions of people are patently false. (As is the claim that Chernobyl has rendered 40% of the European continent dangerously radioactive.)
  • Our nuclear plants are safe – and any built in the future can be much safer.
    The claim “Any of these nuclear plants could be a Chernobyl!” is completely false. Not only was the Chernobyl plant’s staff woefully inept, but it was an inherently unsafe reactor, with almost no infrastructure in place to handle or contain a meltdown. As for future reactors, the integral fast reactor (IFR) was able to handle a situation of overheating caused by a cooling failure automatically and in a completely safe manner without any action required on the part of the operators or any external systems. Basically, a meltdown in an IFR-type reactor is impossible. Also, an IFR produces far less radioactive waste because it can recycle fuel – and even use waste produced by other reactors as fuel. Unfortunately, environmentally conscious Democrats shut down the IFR program in the 90s. There were certainly problems that the IFR needed to overcome, such as safety issues with the liquids used, but these are small matters considering the potential benefits of the design.
  • Nuclear power is actually causing nuclear disarmament, not the other way around.
    10% of electricity currently produced in the United States comes from reprocessed radioactive material taken from nuclear warheads purchased from Russia.
  • People are not going to just stop using so much energy.
    Environmentalists, consider how ridiculous you think Christians are for asking and expecting teenagers to stop having sex. That’s how ridiculous you sound on this one. There will not be any great reduction in energy use. As the quality of life improves around the world, energy consumption will continue to increase. Our only hope is to make energy drastically cleaner and more efficient.

Those who seek true progress cannot be the slaves of fear. Why, then, do self-described progressives deal in blind fear when it comes to nuclear power? It is understandable that we are afraid of nuclear power, but we must come to understand its benefits before it is too late. There are not many points on which those primarily concerned with the environment and those primarily concerned with the economy can agree, but one such point should be the matter of developing nuclear energy. And yet, they instead tend to agree that nuclear energy is evil, and it is baffling. We can certainly use solar, wind, etc. to power our future, but there will always need to be a reliable, fuel-based power source, and that is nuclear. Those who believe in a looming ecological cataclysm due to carbon emissions should be the first to recognize this fact.

This was a great documentary. I would very much like to find at least one point of oversight or error, but I cannot. I highly recommend it.