pandora_image_02The premise of Robert Stone’s newly released documentary, Pandora’s Promise, is that despite the scary features of nuclear radiation, nuclear power is the best chance we have to avoid the catastrophe projected from burning fossil fuels to power the growing world economy. The documentary’s approach is rather unique – former anti-nuclear environmentalists describe how and why they became pro-nuclear, in spite of even the recent major Fukushima Daiichi reactor disaster. It is important to add that Director Robert Stone is not arguing that standard “light water reactors” (LWRs) should be pursued, but rather newer designs, such as inherently safe breeder reactors that would deal locally with spent fuel to maximize the extraction of energy from the original uranium fuel.

Pandora’s Promise raises two ideas intended to address aspects of public fear of nuclear reactors that are not normally part of the public debate on nuclear power. The first is that reprocessing the fuel on site eliminates both transport of waste on public roads and the need to have several large nuclear waste disposal sites. The second is that you can design reactor cores in which the power density is reduced to the point where natural convection cooling is capable of preventing core meltdowns — a so-called inherently safe design.

But is the general public really going to be convinced that 1,000 nuclear power plants is a better idea than waiting to see if catastrophic storms really do become more common and sea levels actually do rise by 1-2 meters on account of burning fossil fuels? Even though I may be, to some, extremely optimistic to believe in the eventual success of fusion power, I think Robert Stone is even more of an optimist than I am to think that Pandora’s Promise is likely to convince the general public to become pro-nuclear (or at least not anti-nuclear). Still, if he and others don’t try, nuclear power will surely never have a significant resurgence.

What role should nuclear power play in our energy future? How does public perception of nuclear energy shape U.S. energy policy, if at all? Can we compare the potential costs of nuclear power with the potential costs of fossil fuel power in any meaningful way?


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