Pandora’s Promise (Stone, 2013)


Freedom of the press means that, paradoxically, Americans are woefully misinformed about any number of issues. None of us has the time to research carefully each story on the evening news. Truths that get repeated the longest (and loudest) take on an air of accepted fact. We rely on expert opinions not just in our criminal trials but also in our trials of public opinion. Who has time to investigate the credentials, background, and funding of every expert? Isn’t it easier just to accept the notion that the majority consensus is the consensus because it is reasonable?

Pandora’s Promise takes a subject about which most people have strong opinions–nuclear power–and attempts to get viewers to reconsider their position by interviewing high profile environmentalists who have reconsidered their own. The result is a provocative and informative documentary, one that provokes with facts, arguments, and history rather than inflationary rhetoric…provided you have the patience to wait for it to warm up.

The first fifteen minutes of the documentary is the weakest, since it introduces the talking heads. ¬†Their testimony is remarkably similar–they used to be vehemently against nuclear power but are now in favor of it even though being so has cost them friends and professional respect. After a little too much of this, my suspicions were raised: was the film going to let its speakers explain why they had changed their minds or merely tell me that they did?

It does eventually shift gears, and the arguments are remarkably simple and easy to follow, even for non-experts. Safer, more efficient models for nuclear power plants exist, but we have chosen the less preferable designs for political and economic reasons. The amount of waste produced is less than what most people think. (Just to test my contention in the opening paragraph, ask your self how much nuclear waste to you think currently exists in the world. Then check out the second paragraph of this link. How close were you?) Newer plants can reprocess the waste created by older ones. In one of the more startling arguments, one commentator remarks that nuclear power is responsible for arms reduction since the United States has converted decommissioned warheads bought from Russia into fuel.

The core of the argument is comparative. The impact on the environment and human health is compared to the effects of burning fossil fuels and coal, which the film points out is the largest growing source of energy.

Any decent argument contains some anticipatory rebuttal, and the film is the stronger for coming out after the disaster at the Fukushima plant. If you are like me, you received plenty of Facebook links warning you not to eat seafood for the next million years, but did you read any of them? Do you know what happened? Pandora’s Promise doesn’t shy away from talking about Chernobyl or Three Mile Island either. If it accomplishes nothing else, it made me realize how little I actually know about these places and the events that happened there. They have a strong impact on our policy decisions, and they should. But I’ve read The Culture of Fear enough times to be aware that our perceptions of risk don’t always align with our actual danger.

I recommend Pandora’s Promise. It may not persuade viewers to change their position on nuclear power, but it gives air to an unpopular policy position, which is rare enough these days. The film is available for streaming from Cinedigm on¬†Amazon Instant, Vudu, XBOX, PlayStation, Google Play, and YouTube.


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