Every now and then, when something is just perfectly in tune with my mission, I steal it and re-post it here at Decarbonise SA. This is one of those times!!! This is originally posted here. Thanks Robert, we owe you our support.

Director’s Note

Robert Stone, Director of Pandora’s Promise

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 holocaust 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 Best 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 thought I knew about nuclear energy and its historical events has turned out to be precisely the opposite of what 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 AHAH 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?”

A little known detail in the myth of Pandora’s box is that at the bottom of the box she found hope.

– Robert Stone


  1. I wonder if green trendies are going to refuse to fly in the Boeing Dreamliner because of some teething problems. They should insist we go back to smoke spewing 707s the way Germany has gone back to coal. I think with SMRs and modular construction we can quickly build a lot of NPP to replace coal. Let’s hope this film takes some of the high ground away from the antis.

    1. @John Newlands

      Interestingly enough, Amory Lovins, one of the high priests of the energy philosophy that Robert Stone learned was completely wrong, has been promoting the Dreamliner for at least half a dozen years. I’ve attended several of his talks in the Washington, DC area in which the plane was the star for at least 2-3 slides because of its radical approach to weight reduction using composite materials. Lovins likened the energy reduction potential to that of the Hypercar that he once formed a company to build.

      I could never understand Lovins’s math when it came to energy savings potential for systems like air conditioning, heat sinks in power plants, advanced battery storage, and insulation. He seemed to misunderstand the importance of redundancy and slight over design to ensure reliability, especially for applications like aircraft and ships. I also did not understand why one would want to spend tens of billions of dollars to reduce the weight of a plane using materials that have some of the odd properties associated with carbon composites.

      I hope I am wrong, but I would not be terribly surprised if it turns out that the Dreamliner reliability problems turn out to be attributable to a long series of decisions and assumptions about weight reduction and the potential value of the related energy savings.

      1. I reckon that the best energy saving potential of the winds has nothing to do with wind turbines, and is in effect already. I don’t know how much fuel airlines save by using the jet streams cleverly, and avoiding the wrong ones, but I suspect it’s quite a lot.

  2. I do not know the year, but it was before Mikhail Gorbachev taught his USSR the folly of the Cold War, that I read a letter in the Washington Post from two prominent nuclear scientists. They were Hans Bethe, one of the most distinguished scientists of the Manhattan Project, and Glenn Seaborg, who synthesized plutonium before the advent of nuclear reactors and was subsequently head of theAEC.
    The gist of the letter was “nuclear weapons are bad, nuclear power is good.”
    I myself had concluded in as a Physics student 1960 that the redeeming feature of the research that produced the bomb that destroyed Nagasaki, was that the non-weapons portion could be applied to the energy demands of civilization. I believed then that nuclear fusion was the ultimate answer, but breeder reactors would be an interim solution. I was not aware, nor were the experts in the field, of the prodigious difficulty of confining fiendishly hot ionised gases in any kind of fusion reactor.
    Once upon a time, the oil industry burned off the incidental gas that helped push the oil up the drilled pipes. Now it is a valuable fuel.
    In similar fashion, the dreaded plutonium that even a non-breeder reactor inevitably produces, can be consumed from the current stocks of spent fuel by separating it with the right amount of uranium, and putting it back in a reactor. I believe that’s what France does. The actual quantity per annum of natural uranium needed for US reactors is about 21 thousand tons. Of that, 140 tons is immediately fissile uranium. About 90 to 100 tons of that actually gets into the fuel rods, by the fractionating process called enrichment. Two or three years’ burnup, consuming half of both that uranium and the plutonium from neutron capture, yields by my estimation rather less than 80 tons of actual fissile waste — for the entire USA.

  3. Coal contains: URANIUM and all of the decay products of uranium, ARSENIC, LEAD, MERCURY, Antimony, Cobalt, Nickel, Copper, Selenium, Barium, Fluorine, Silver, Beryllium, Iron, Sulfur, Boron, Titanium, Cadmium, Magnesium, THORIUM, Calcium, Manganese, Vanadium, Chlorine, Aluminum, Chromium, Molybdenum and Zinc. There is so much of these elements in coal that cinders and coal smoke are actually valuable ores. We should be able to get ALL THE URANIUM AND THORIUM WE NEED TO FUEL NUCLEAR POWER PLANTS FOR CENTURIES BY USING COAL CINDERS AND SMOKE AS ORE. Unburned Coal and crude oil also contain
    BENZENE, THE CANCER CAUSER. We could get all of our uranium and thorium from coal ashes and cinders. The carbon content of coal ranges from 96% down to 25%, the remainder being rock of various kinds.
    If you are an underground coal miner, you may be in violation of the rules for radiation workers. The uranium decay chain includes the radioactive gas RADON, which you are breathing. Radon decays in about a day into polonium, the super-poison.


    1. Too true! The ratio of radon alpha particles per microgram to plutonium 239 palpha particles per microgram is about 24,000 years to 3.8 days. That’s the ratio of their half-lives. But you left out, in “Radon decays in about a day into polonium”, that the decay subjects your lungs to two more particles from the daughter and granddaughter products. I’m not sure I’d call the polonium a super poison compared with the radon nucleus that first got you, except that all the radon decay products stay there, whereas of the original whiff of gas, the atoms that don’t irradiate you by their decay while they’re in your lungs, get breathed out and their population refreshed on the next breath.

  4. Actually, though, there is a better place to get the fuel for the generation IV reactors. It’s the spent fuel dumps, the war surplus plutonium, and the “depleted” uranium fro the “enrichment” plants.

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