The Nuclear Comeback (Justin Pemberton, 2007)
Here’s a short documentary on nuclear power being aired in America on the Sundance Channel. What that said to me was “unthinking knee-jerk anti-nuke flick”, but I figured I’d watch it anyway. I’m glad I did, because I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. Who would expect a clearheaded, balanced look at the subject on Sundance? That, however, is exactly what you get, and for a movie that’s basically tracing the history of a public relations nightmare, it’s surprisingly fascinating.
When you think of nuclear power, what comes to mind? Three Mile Island? Chernobyl? Probably. After all, they were the biggest nuclear-related new stories of the seventies and eighties. They were so pervasive that the term “meltdown” entered the popular consciousness as a term for someone losing it. Going nuclear, as it were. But the fact is that nuclear power plants never disappeared. You don’t see them in America much, but in the rest of the world, a number of them have been operating
quietly ever since. And there’s one huge upside to nuclear power in our increasingly environmentally-challenged culture: the (almost) complete lack of a carbon footprint left by nuclear generation of energy. One day, some brilliant mind in a nuclear marketing department somewhere said “hey, you know, we might be able to use this to get society to look at us in a positive light again”, and a marketing campaign was born. Not in America, of course, where anti-nuclear sentiment runs even higher than it does just outside Chernobyl, a city that remains deserted twenty-three years after their nuclear incident. But Oceania? They got a faceful of marketing, and New Zealand filmmaker Pemberton wanted to take a look under the surface and see if there was actually any substance to it all. Turns out there is; like most marketing, it’s probable they’re overplaying the benefits, but it’s not all blowing smoke. The question is whether the ecological benefits of going nuclear are worth the obvious risks, and that is much murkier territory than simply talking about greenhouse emissions. However, Pemberton attempts not to take a position at all, letting both sides tell their stories, and does an admirable job at steering the kind of middle course we here in America don’t even expect any more. It’s an impressive job, and no matter which side of this fence you’re on, it might make you take a look at the other one in a more thoughtful light. Recommended. *** ½