Wednesday, 4 December 2013

"Pandora's Promise" Review

By Lizzie Murray

Well there we were crowded into the theatre, 150 nuclear energy specialists. The phrase ‘preaching to the converted’ couldn’t be more apt as - despite its suggestive title - 'Pandora’s Promise' is actually a film about nuclear power.

The film recounts the history of atomic energy, from the production of the atom bomb through to its present role as a vital contender for meeting the world’s escalating energy demands. Along the way it connects all of the major milestones, from decommissioning to the new design Gen-IV reactors via all the major nuclear accidents.

The story is told through interviews with men and women who have had incredibly varied experiences of nuclear energy. Two that stand out are Mark Lynas and Gwyneth Cravens; two ex-anti-nuclear activists who have done a complete U-turn from picketing nuclear power plants dressed as the grim reaper to singing the praises of nuclear energy.

The director, Robert Stone, explained afterwards that their stories reflected his own change of opinion; in his early career he produced an Oscar-nominated anti-nuclear documentary which is surprising considering how overtly pro-nuclear this film is.

At first I had my doubts; there were far too many jaunty-angle camera zooms and edgy artsy blurs for my liking. Also, there were an awful lot of shots of the interviewee staring meaningfully out to sea, as though they were waiting for a huge pro-nuclear sea monster to pop up. However, the interviews are broken up by interesting historical footage of various nuclear protests and post-accident analysis; even Margaret Thatcher popped up for good measure. However, all of this set to haunting music did sometimes make me feel I was watching an episode of Panorama.

Despite being aware of most of the long-standing misapprehensions around nuclear power that the film explores, I found the film contained plenty of interesting and emotive material. For example, it explains the decision to select PWR reactors for commercial production rather than the much more efficient and environmentally friendly breeder reactors. It is also touching to see how the residents of Chernobyl, with true Baltic spirit, refused to obey the evacuation procedure and lived on in their much-loved town. A bit of radiation? Pah!

Dosimeter on tour.... I'd be more concerned about how
foggy LA looks.
One of the highlights for me was the world tour of the radiation dosimeter. The reading on a dosimeter is shown on screen in various locations around the world, from 0.13 µSv/hour in Oxford to 15 µSv/hour on a Brazilian beach. You’ll just have to watch the film to find out the results for Chernobyl and Fukushima…you may be surprised! It must be said the director did receive criticism for this section afterwards, however, due to the excessive and unwarranted use of air travel.

To sum up, some aspects of the film were extremely enlightening and, at times, very emotive. I would vaguely recommend this if you’re an advocate of nuclear power and strongly if you’re not.