Pandora’s Promise Raises Good Questions for Environmentalists

November 6, 2013

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Both environmentalists and nuclear industry advocates are talking about a new and highly provocative film, Pandora’s Promise. What makes this conversation, and the film that inspires it, so interesting is that they are not in disagreement.

Director Robert Stone follows the journey of previously anti-nuclear environmentalists who have changed their views. Their conclusion is that nuclear is central to reducing fossil fuels as the source of electricity.

There are those who would consider it heresy to suggest that nuclear technology can lead us to a greener world, but more and more environmentalists are coming to see nuclear as an ally rather than the enemy. This is the result of a more comprehensive, evidence-based vision of the costs and impacts of each energy source, in the context of a sober realization that the demand for power will be met one way or another. Put simply, if we have to get energy from somewhere, we could do worse than get it from nuclear power – we could get it anywhere else. It is the unattractiveness of all the other options that has led the conversation right back to clean, affordable, inexpensive, and always-available nuclear power.

You simply cannot create such a film without hitting nerves and Pandora’s Promise shows a willingness to do so. Those who want to disagree with the conclusion will argue bias, but the participants, including the director, are all people who were once fervently anti-nuclear. As well, the filmmakers scrupulously avoided any nuclear industry support. And these are not the only converts; for example, George Monbiot, an environmentalist committed enough to personally swear off unnecessary air travel, has also embraced nuclear power. Yet, while being called a traitor by some former colleagues may be hard to take, it is liberating for any scientist to follow the facts wherever they lead.

For many policy makers and scientists there is little new in Pandora’s Promise, but the obstacle was never with them. Nuclear technology projects are large and politicians are sensitive to public opinion, even if that opinion is not always well-founded. Pandora’s Promise is an invitation to the public to reconsider, as did the participants in the film, their misconceptions about the costs, impact and safety of the technology.

It is natural that the science of climate change would find resistance when available options are poor and the cost of change is numbing. By putting the promise of nuclear back on the table, Pandora’s Promise may well restore hope that we can control our thirst for a limited supply of carbon.

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