“Pandora’s Promise” Review: Changing Sides on Nuclear Power

This friday is the theatrical release of Pandora’s Promise, a documentary about some high-profile environmental activists who changed their minds about nuclear power. A number of folks asked me to alert them when it’s out in theaters, so that’s what I’m doing.

I saw it, and met the director a few weeks back. It was excellent, and all the technical details were quite correct. If you’re interested at all in nuclear power (for, against, undecided, ambivalent, curious, whatever), I would really really really recommend seeing it. It’s a great primer on what nuclear power is, how it works, and what the issues are. There’s some incredible footage of fukushima, too, which I thought was just unmissable.

The first third of the movie very clearly lays out the concerns of the anti-nuclear environmentalists that are the subject of the movie. I think it presents some strong cases against nuclear power in a really clear way. Not to spoil the movie, but the rest of the movie is about why those environmental activists changed their minds about nuclear power and why they now feel that supporting nuclear power is the environmentally concious choice. Those folks are portrayed as level-headed, reasonable, thoughtful individuals throughout the movie, and I think that’s really important for honestly portraying the ambivalence most people feel about nuclear power.

That said, I do have a complaint about the movie : In a couple of scenes, one person appears to represent anti-nuclear-environmentalism (Helen Caldicott) . Unfortunately, her appearances painted a shrill picture of those environmentalists who are still strongly anti-nuclear. … which I think taints the otherwise very careful evenhandedness of the movie.

If you’re asking the question I asked when I first heard about this movie (who funded it?) the answer is #13 http://pandoraspromise.com/faq/ .


Verbatim from a Google Plus post. The author, Katy Huff, retains copyright. Thanks!


  1. I haven't yet seen the movie, but here is a Union of Concerned Scientists review by someone who did see it:


    Your statement that "all the technical details were quite correct" appears to be wrong. For example, Gwyneth Cravens makes a statement about radiation doses that is off by a factor of twenty million.

  2. Conversion experiences do seem to be very persuasive, all else equal.

    From the UCS review: "When Lynas says that in his previous life as an anti-nuclear environmentalist he didn’t know that there was such a thing as natural background radiation, or Michael Shellenberger admitted to once taking on faith the claim that Chernobyl caused a million casualties, the audience may reasonably wonder why it should accept what they believe now that they are pro-nuclear."

    And that's the thing: These guys never did do their homework. I give Brand a little more credit than that, but he has a background of industry consulting. The other two seem even less informed than Lynas and Shellenberger.

    So no, sorry, I won't be seeing it. (And FYI I do have a bit of a relevant technical background, so I don't feel like I'd be learning much anyway.)

  3. Doing homework is not so easy. Balancing risks is damned hard. I am not convinced of the nukes thing but I am not ready to take it off the table.

    Should P3 ignore the question in the interests of solidarity? I don't think that is our role.

  4. In a later correction to that article, the UCS scientist says that his estimate of the error in Craven's estimate was wrong. In fact, he says, Craven was off by a factor of 25,000 to 150,000, not 20 million.

    It seems that the nuclear issue provokes sloppy calculations and exaggerations all round.

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  6. But Steve, Katy Huff (whom I haven't met but of whom I have a very positive opinion) specifically says "The first third of the movie very clearly lays out the concerns of the anti-nuclear environmentalists". Have you seen the movie so that you can refute that claim? Because if not, I can't understand your basis for saying anything of the sort.

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