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‘Pandora’s Promise’ promotes nuclear power as a solution to fossil fuel crisis

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Impact Partners presents a documentary written and directed by Robert Stone. Running time: 87 minutes. Opening Friday at Landmark Century.

Updated: July 15, 2013 1:22PM

Nuclear power is the best energy fix on Earth, claims the documentary “Pandora’s Promise.” Evidence persuaded five authors to change from anti- to pro-nuke stances, and filmmaker Robert Stone presents their reasoning, although his timely documentary is less persuasive about translating logic into political and economic reality.

Burning coal, oil and gas keeps increasing around the world. The resulting carbon dioxide keeps warming the climate. Nuclear power plants can replace this carbon-based energy without adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. We can recycle radioactive waste as fuel.

That’s the argument made by experts Stone interviews: the authors of “Nuclear Renewal: Common Sense About Energy,” “Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy,” “Break Through: From the Death of Environmentalism to the Politics of Possibility” and “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet.”

In his press notes, Stone calls their “intellectual metamorphosis” and the “evolution of their apostasy” the “arc of the film.” Yet, by the time he started shooting, his five subjects had already switched allegiances to the pro-nuke side.

How we change our minds intrigues Stone. His film “Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst” (2004) asked what in the world the Symbionese Liberation Army was thinking. “Oswald’s Ghost” (2006) showed how authors of Kennedy assassination books rethought their conspiracy theories over time. Meanwhile, his “Farewell, Good Brothers” (1992) profiled UFO “contactees” who never changed their stories.

Stone travels to Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima with a Geiger counter to make the point that those nuclear crises were less critical than perceived. Wielding a UN/World Health Organization report, he confronts an anti-nuke ideologue. Chernobyl’s death toll was 56, not a million, he reminds him. Stone points to “the rigid orthodoxy of modern environmentalism” and its “almost theological adherence” to a doctrine that wrongly equates nuclear energy with nuclear weapons.

Stone’s first documentary, “Radio Bikini” (1987), exposed the horrific af­ter­­math of atomic bomb tests in the Pacific. His “Earth Days” (2009) saluted founders of America’s environmental movement. But “Pandora’s Promise” needs to ask who blocks the building of new-generation reactors. How can leaders implement a clean-energy policy? One that makes so much sense to the engineers Stone puts onscreen?

“I don’t see myself as an activist filmmaker,” Stone once told a Canadian interviewer. “Pandora’s Promise” changed that. He shared this turn-around in an interview with filmmaker Ondi Timoner, in her 2010 documentary “Cool It,” profiling a Danish contrarian who used cost-benefit analysis logic attacked by traditional environmentalists.

Stone sounds ready to take the heat head on: “This is much more than a movie for me. I want to start a movement.”

Bill Stamets is a free-lance writer and reviewer.

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