Pandora’s Promise: Nuclear Power’s Trek From Too Cheap To Meter To Too Costly To Matter Much

You may be wondering if you should see the new pro-nuke movie, “Pandora’s Promise.” I think it’s safe to say that the answer is a resounding “no.” Indeed, the most stunning thing I’ve read about the movie comes from someone who is generally positive about it, NY Times blogger Andy Revkin: The film also avoids discussing the high costs and logistical and policy hurdles to adding substantially to the country’s, or world’s, existing fleets of operating nuclear plants. The scale and costs required to cut into coal use using any technology — nuclear, wind, solar or otherwise — is incredibly daunting. Huh? Doing a movie about nuclear power without discussing the high costs, would be like doing a movie comparing the US healthcare system to that of other countries … without discussing the high costs!!! Climate Progress has published dozens of posts about nuclear power — including two major reports (see here and here). I think nuclear power might provide as much as 5% to 10% of the “solution” to global warming. But in virtually all of our pieces cost is a major — if not the major — focus. That’s because it is the failure of the industry to make their product affordable — not the environmental community’s supposedly unwarranted fears of radiation — that has knee-capped the industry (see here and below). Indeed, while solar power and wind power continue to march down the experience curve to ever lower costs, nuclear power appears headed in the opposite direction. Nuclear power has a negative learning curve: Average and min/max reactor construction costs per year of completion date for US and France versus cumulative capacity completed. Amazingly, in the past few few years utilities have told state regulators that the cost of new nuclear plants is in the $5,500 to $8,100 per kilowatt range (see Nuclear power: The price is not right and Exclusive analysis: The staggering cost of new nuclear power). So Pandora’s Promise would appear to be largely irrelevant to those interested in the climate debate. But is it something a CP reader should see anyway? Like Dave Roberts at Grist, I’m not writing a movie review. Since my review copy hasn’t arrived yet, let’s treat it like any other movie and look at the big name reviewers at the NY Times and WashPost and see what the target audience thinks of it. NY Times reviewer Manohla Dargis writes: ‘Pandora’s Promise’ is as stacked as advocate movies get…. In brief — or so the movie’s one-sided reasoning goes — everything that anti-nuclear energy activists and skeptics have thought about the issue is wrong…. But you need to make an argument. A parade of like-minded nuclear-power advocates who assure us that everything will be all right just doesn’t cut it. Ouch! Michael O’Sullivan, reviewer for my “hometown” newspaper, the Washington Post, gives the movie 2 and 1/2 stars out of 4 — a “good” rating — noting: Despite its pro-nuke slant, environmentalists are the film’s intended audience. After all, as the film points out, most pro-business Republicans are already in love with the idea of more nuclear power plants, and need no convincing. So I guess Climate Progress readers are the film’s intended audience. O’Sullivan continues: But left-leaning supporters of green energy aren’t just the film’s target demo. They’re also its main subjects. Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas, Michael Shellenberger and other respected environmental activists, authors and experts appear throughout the film, explaining why they have recently started to reconsider their former staunch opposition to nuclear power. Stop the presses! I guess Climate Progress readers — and environmentalists in general — are not the film’s intended audience after all. You have to look pretty hard to find many respected environmental activists who consider Shellenberger one of their own. As CP readers know, Shellenberger has dedicated himself to spreading disinformation about Gore, Congressional leaders, Waxman and Markey, leading climate scientists, Al Gore again, the entire environmental community and anyone else trying to end our status quo energy policies, including me. Heck he even went after Rachel Carson! Now this wouldn’t matter if this movie were just being sold as “watch an objective look at nuclear power from all sides.” But it is being sold as “watch environmentalists who have rethought their position on nukes.” That makes it “contrarian,” which the MSM, if no one else, usually eats up. But the media — at least the informed media — isn’t fooled. As Mark Hertsgaard explains in the Nation, the environmentalists in the film are generally either sheep in wolves’ clothing or sui generis: The five converts featured in Pandora’s Promise speak for themselves as individuals; they don’t represent large environmental organizations—or small ones, for that matter. Gwyneth Cravens and Richard Rhodes don’t even appear to have track records as activists; Cravens is a fiction writer. Stewart Brand helped found the Whole Earth Catalog, but that was over forty years ago; since then, he’s spent much of his time as a consultant to corporations, including some in the energy sector. Shellenberger is a PR man who, as he says in the film, used to consult for environmental groups but no longer does. The only bona fide activist is Lynas…. So then it’s only fair to ask what the supposed intended audience thinks of the movie. Here’s nuclear physicist, Dr. Edwin Lyman of the Union of Concerned Scientists, skewer the movie: “By oversimplifying the issues, trivializing opposing viewpoints and mocking those who express them, and selectively presenting information in a misleading way, it serves more to obfuscate than to illuminate. As such, it adds little of value to the substantive debate about the merits of various energy sources in a carbon-constrained world.” Then we have the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists: In the end, by dismissing the protestors and failing to engage them in significant debate about the pros and cons of nuclear energy, the film undermined its own message. Dave Roberts has many more such reviews in his column. Hertsgaard debunks several “myths the film peddles” here. You get the point. The movie appears to treat its target audience rather poorly. Such is not the key to box office magic. My guess is the movie will prove … radioactive.

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