'Pandora's Promise' review: Counterintuitive film needs context

The brightly lit streets of Tokyo in a The brightly lit streets of Tokyo in a scene from CNN's "Pandora's Promise." Photo Credit: James Hollow

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REVIEW

THE DOCUMENTARY "Pandora's Promise"

WHEN | WHERE Thursday night at 9 on CNN

WHAT IT'S ABOUT What if nuclear energy were the answer to global warming? And what if everything we've read or seen about the safety of nuclear energy was disingenuous, or at the very least flawed? What if the "No Nukes" crowd was full of hooey? That's the premise of Robert Stone's ("Oswald's Ghost") new film, which premiered earlier this year at the Sundance Film Festival.

MY SAY There's nothing like energy, and energy policy, to start a debate -- often a blustery one based on three parts emotion, two parts fact. Films on the subject tend to reflect the passion, too. From "An Inconvenient Truth" to Joshua Fox's "Gasland," they can be blessed with a fiery fulmination that achieves some of their effect through sheer force of wind.

Then, along comes Stone's "Pandora's Promise" -- not fiery or fulminating, just calm, reasoned, intelligent and systematic. It begins with waves quietly lapping a shore. This is Stone's sly nod to his own anti-nuke work: the 1988 Oscar-nominated "Radio Bikini," about how the United States pushed people off their island so we could incinerate it, also began with waves lapping the doomed shore.

But it also sets the overall tone. Quietly, firmly, "Pandora's" lines up all the usual bogeymen and knocks them down, one by one: Chernobyl (about 60 died, not a million); Yucca Mountain, Nevada's spent fuel repository, now abandoned, at a cost of billions to taxpayers (not needed anyway); the so-called "China syndrome" (a Hollywood fantasy). Pro-nuke experts are lined up, too, like Richard Rhodes, who wrote the standard history of the U.S. atomic bomb program, including the classic "Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb."

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But what's missing is depth and context. "Pandora's Promise" reduces an enormously complicated issue -- one fraught with complex economic questions -- to a simple solution right under our noses. Except . . . it's already been there for more than half a century. The nuclear industry, which already supplies nearly a quarter of the U.S. electricity needs, has bigger problems than a few anti-nuclear activists. What are those? Won't find out from this.

BOTTOM LINE: Intelligent, possibly important, definitely counterintuitive -- but needs more reporting and context.

GRADE B-

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