Robert Stone hasn’t made life easy for environmentalists. By eulogising something so destructive as our only hope for redemption, he’s booted a social hornet’s nest from the crumbling streets of Chernobyl to the suburban repose of Oxford. But how does one convince their own social movement that their entire philosophy is wrong? In Pandora’s Promise (2013), Stone delivers some harsh home truths on the importance of nuclear power for our energy-drunk future. While it does make for uncomfortable viewing, the proof seems very much in the plutonium: we must stop worrying and learn to love nuclear.
Nuclear energy’s popularity on international political agendas is booming making the timing of Pandora’s Promise paramount to its notoriety. The world’s ever-dimming lights will be directly focused on Stone as he attempts to manifest the ability to still be an environmentalist and be pro-nuclear. And, through the use of green gadgetry, charismatic talking heads and stoic journalism, the documentary maintains a solid argument for the power source that has left entire cities inhospitable. Equipped with his Geiger counter, Stone travels from country to country measuring the area’s emission of radiation. The unexpected results act as jagged nails in the coffin for any anti-nuclear argument. Yet this is where the riposte is founded.
By lauding all things nuclear, Stone and his panel of like-minded mutineers take it upon themselves to dismantle the benefits of any other energy source as a means of usable planetary power. Yes, renewable sources are key to our voracious demands, but Stone is unmovable on the assumed fact that it is not sustainable enough, readily available, or even possible without the aid of nuclear. There is no compromise here, no neutrality, and apparently no turning back. Despite this, Pandora’s Promise achieves strong argumentative grounding on what is possibly the most contentious war of opinions on nuclear.
The film sings with revelation as it addresses the relationship with cancer and radiation with contemporary medical research in tow. Scenes of families happily cohabiting in fictitiously ‘contaminated’ zones are equally marvellous as they are unsettling. But by utilising modern science as the film’s main discourse, Stone could be accused of ignoring his naysayers’ moral and ethical standpoint. After all, our governments are still squabbling over the use of a power so great that it has caused the deaths of thousands. Whether Pandora’s Promise will act as a catalyst in their decision remains to be seen.
Pandora’s Promise screens at the Ritzy Brixton on Saturday 16 November as part of DocHouse’s The Nuclear Question all-day programme. For more info, visit dochouse.org.