Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Nuclear Leaks 34: Fukushima Meets America's Pro-Nuclear Lobby

Image Source: OpEd News.

It has been nearly three years since Japan's nuclear disaster. Just at the moment when ocean-bound pollution from Fukushima is reaching the Pacific coast of North America, with potential but unconfirmed impacts on fisheries and crops, the pro-nuclear lobby has mobilized in the United States. A new documentary is out, Pandora's Promise (2013), which extols the 'green' virtues of nuclear power. Anyone concerned about climate change, the film insists, should promote nuclear energy. Or, to put it another way, if you are anti-carbon, you have to be pro-nuclear. This campaign reveals the ugliness of political plays around the energy business, as it plays down any dangers from Fukushima's fallout.

Robert Stone, producer and director of film, measured energy safety in terms of "deaths per terawatt," that is, how many people die per unit of energy produced. Within the first minute of the film, one narrator instructs the audience that the political outlook of the documentary is "liberal democrat." A liberal political concern for the environment is aligned with the interests of the nuclear industry. Whatever you do, the film enjoins, don't lose your head, don't panic about Fukushima. The director's statement insists that if you want to be a liberal, true and forward-thinking environmentalist, then you must be pro-nuclear:
I’ve considered myself a passionate environmentalist for about as long as I can remember. My mother read me Silent Spring when I was nine and the specter of a Cold War nuclear arms race was not an uncommon topic around the dinner table in my family. So my anti-nuclear and environmental roots run very deep. My first film was an anti-nuclear weapons documentary, Radio Bikini, that premiered at Sundance in 1988 and went on to receive an Oscar® nomination for Feature Documentary. My film Earth Days, which was Closing Night Film at Sundance in 2009, chronicles the rise of the environmental movement of my youth. In the course of making Earth Days I began for the first time to see the deep pessimism that has infused today’s environmental movement, and to recognize the depth of its failure to address climate change. It was initially through getting to know Stewart Brand that I was introduced to a new and more optimistic view of our environmental challenges that was pro-development and pro-technology. From there I began to seek out and discover a small but growing cadre of people around the world who were beginning to stand up and challenge what had become the rigid orthodoxy of modern environmentalism.

It’s no easy thing for me to have come to the conclusion that the rapid deployment of nuclear power is now the greatest hope we have for saving us from an environmental catastrophe. Yet this growing realization has led me to question many of the founding tenets of traditional environmentalism, from the belief that we can dramatically reduce our energy demand through energy efficiency to the belief that solar and wind power will one day power the planet. The almost theological adherence to a set of unquestionable beliefs by most liberals and environmentalists has likely contributed as much or more to prolonging our addiction to fossil fuels as the equally appalling state of denial among many conservatives when it comes to climate change. Both sides are locked into rigid, self-righteous ideological positions with potentially disastrous consequences for us all unless we begin to face the facts.

For the past three years I have devoted almost every waking moment to taking these ideas and shaping them into a documentary about what is perhaps the biggest and most unwieldy subjects imaginable: how do we continue to power human civilization without destroying the environmental conditions that has made modern civilization possible? I knew from the beginning that this film would have to be firmly grounded in personal narrative if it were to have any impact at all on a mass audience. Early on I determined that the film would be framed around a few key individuals who had undergone a dramatic intellectual metamorphosis on the issue of nuclear power, as I, myself had done. The evolution of their apostasy on this issue – their journey from being staunchly anti-nuclear to passionately pro-nuclear -forms the central dramatic arc of the film. My hope is to take the audience on a similar journey of discovery through the process of watching the film.

PANDORA’S PROMISE is without question the most personal and important film of my career. I’ve learned that just about everything I thought I knew about energy turned out to be wrong. And most of what I had been lead to believe about nuclear energy and its historical events turned out to be significantly different from what had really happened.

The making of this film has taken me to four continents on a grand tour of the hidden world of nuclear energy. I’ve been inside the doomed power plant at Chernobyl (the first cameraman to do so, I believe), deep into the Fukushima exclusion zone, and to a popular beach in Brazil that has a naturally occurring background radiation level that’s over 300 times what is considered “normal!” I’ve visited a little known research facility in Idaho where a new kind of reactor was developed 20 years ago that can’t meltdown and is fueled by nuclear waste.

If there was a single ah-ha moment it was when I was granted entry into a room in France (the size of a basketball court) where all the waste from powering 80% of the country for 30 years is stored: four cylindrical tubes 10 meters long and 1 meter wide are all that’s left from powering the city of Paris for 30 years with clean nuclear energy! I thought, “My God, what on Earth were we thinking?”

Robert Stone

April 22, 2013

Pandora's Promise official trailer (2013). Video Source: Youtube.

From the film's Website, comments from the critics:
Pandora’s Promise’ explodes the myths!" Kyle Smith, New York Post

"A clear-eyed look at the facts… It may be an inconvenient truth, but it represents the hope that Pandora found at the bottom of the box.” David Dunbar, Popular Mechanics

"Well-reasoned and urgent… The film couldn’t be more timely.” John Anderson, Chicago Tribune

“ESSENTIAL VIEWING… A full dose of strong opinion – and also some much-needed facts." Anne Michaud, Newsday

"CONTROVERSIAL… ENGAGING AND WELL-RESEARCHED… as nuanced as it is credible.” Anthony Kaufman, Indiewire

“If you have any interest in climate change go see ‘Pandora’s Promise.’” Michael Specter, The New Yorker

“COMPELLING… A debate worth revisiting, and only the most dogmatic will resist it.” Roger Moore, McClatchy-Tribune News Service

“PROVOCATIVE and IMPORTANT… ‘Pandora’s Promise’ is essential viewing.” Andrew Revkin, the New York Times
A review that approves of this film received some critical responses. Those commenters in turn faced ad hominem attacks from pro-nuclear readers, who dismissed the anti-nuclear critics as: "luddites," "flat-earthers," and "climate change deniers. Your unfounded fears need to be addressed - by you. Stop being nutty." For contrasting views to Pandora's Promise, check the offerings at the Uranium Film Festival and decide for yourself.

The left-wing Guardian is conflicted about Pandora's Promise because the film's argument is so obviously one-sided, jejune, anecdotal and shallow. All this documentary really reveals is that energy is big business, which is subject to reckless lobbying and political spin, regardless of the long term effects to the environment. Indeed, the environment can even be destroyed in the name of protecting the environment, if the political stakes are high enough.

Nuke Pro, a high-pitched, splashy anti-nuke blog, summarizes every one-liner that blogger has heard in online skirmishes with so-called 'nuclear shills.' The list comes from Nuke Pro's flame wars, but almost all of these one-liners appear as sober truths in Pandora's Promise:
  • ''no immediate health effects''
  • ''safe to eat''
  • ''no cause for alarm'' 
  • ''dispersion in the ocean makes it harmless''
  • ''dilution''
  • ''too low to measure''
  • ''safer than eating a banana''
  • "larger dose from flying on an airplane"
  • "sleeping next to someone gives you a larger radioactive dose"
  • "become I131 radiation rapidly depletes due to quick half life, we don't have to worry about any of the radiation."
  • "within safe limits''
  • ''part of background''
  • "definitely not caused by radiation''
  • ''we can rule radiation out as the cause''
  • ''no need to test''
  • ''harmless''
  • ''hydrogen explosion''
  • "because you cannot prove that the disease was caused by a specific radiation, the information is not valid until proven by the scientific method."
  • "nuclear is safe because they have backup power"
  • "nuclear is safe because background radiation is high, so don't worry about a little more"
  • "the radiation from that release is in 'the noise' of the background radiation"
  • "it's green and clean"
  • "nuclear is the only thing that can save the climate from excess carbon"
  • "nuclear plants have pooled insurance"
  • "The NRC makes nuclear industry safe by regulating them"
  • "The IAEA regulates the worldwide nuclear industry"
  • "No deaths caused by nuclear radiation" 
  • "Just keep smiling and radiation will not hurt you"
  • "Thorium reactors are completely safe"
  • "[in] depth ... defense safety at nuke plants means that a major accident should only happen about every 2000 years."
  • "All the nuclear waste in the world could fit in a football field"
  • "the solution for nuclear waste is a single permanent repository"
  • "nuclear power emits ZERO CO2"
  • "Reactors cannot blow up like nuclear bombs"
  • "No radiation from japan will reach the USA"
  • "Price-Anderson is what brings nuclear regulation to any nuclear activity" 
Forbes flatly dismissed the danger of radiation in a 2013 report. The comments below that article erupted into a discussion over nuclear energy safety. One commenter dismissed an anti-nuclear comment as "anti-science" (as though criticism of failures in scientific and tech sectors implies a moronic dismissal of all science, which it does not):
I hold a Ph.D. from MIT in radiation physics (and no ties to the nuclear industry). It is as plain as day to me that you simply have no idea what you are talking about. The pseudo-science you present is rhetoric from the anti-nuke, anti-science crowd that no one who is educated on the topic could take seriously. The kind of damage people like yourself do to raising the standard of living of the poor countries and the environment is unconscionable, as is the amount of money wasted on bogus theories and bad science. If you actually care about the planet or the humans that live on it, get an education – and until then have the humility to get off your pulpit and be quiet.
Another commenter dismisses any fears:
There is no credible scientific evidence that the radionuclides emitted by Chernobyl and Fukushima into the environment produce any adverse health effects let alone a “health calamity”. In fact, just the opposite has been observed by reputable scientists carrying out objective research. For example, the top scientists in the field researching Chernobyl (Texas Tech’s Baker and Chesser) have found that the mammalian populations in the Chernobyl exclusion zone are vibrant, diverse and growing even in the most radioactive environments.

Also, contrary to your assertion, nature does not differentiate between man-made and natural radiation. Energy = Energy.

Tell me why Bernard Cohen at the University of Pittsburg found an inverse relationship between radon dose and cancer rates? The areas (e.g., Denver Colorado) with the highest radon radiation dose rates had the lowest incidents of cancer. That in itself invalidates the whole hypothesis that you are basing your beliefs – LNT.

I challenge you to read the basis for the LNT formulated by Hermann Muller as illustrated in this article. There you will find the truth and the lies. When you do this and you are honest with yourself, it is you that will be amazed that you have allowed yourself to be a part of this grotesque corporate campaign to mislead the public.
The Forbes core defense of the nuclear industry is simply that it is a big, lucrative business, which should be left alone to make money. And the Pandora's Promise defense of the nuclear industry merely states that there is no viable non-carbon energy alternative, which makes nuclear power indispensable, given the world's enormous and ever-growing appetite for energy. Whether one agrees with the pro-nuclear lobby or not, their fundamental views cannot be dismissed. They are right about three things: it is true that this period in history will be judged for its greed - and for its limited technological advances and decent alternatives in the energy sector.

See all my posts on Nuclear topics.

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