Pandora’s Promise. Major environmentalists turn pro-nuclear

Uranium cube. Credit: Robert Stone
Uranium cube. Credit: Robert Stone

Pandora’s Promise, opening soon, documents five major environmentalists who changed their views and now are pro-nuclear.

The gap between the amount of power produced fossil fuels vs. renewables is so huge it simply can’t be closed. Thus Stewart Brand and Michael Shellenberger, among others, have taken a second look at nuclear power and find it much less dangerous than they thought. Brand says “In light of climate change, can you be an environmentalist and not be pro nuclear?”

Pandora’s Promise asks whether the one technology we fear most could save our planet from a climate catastrophe, while providing the energy needed to lift billions of people in the developing world out of poverty. In his controversial new film, Stone tells the intensely personal stories of environmentalists and energy experts who have undergone a radical conversion from being fiercely anti to strongly pro-nuclear energy, risking their careers and reputations in the process. Stone exposes this controversy within the environmental movement head-on with stories of defection by heavy weights including Stewart Brand, Richard Rhodes, Gwyneth Cravens, Mark Lynas and Michael Shellenberger.

Shellenberger explains:

After scrutinizing the numbers, “I ended up feeling like a sucker. The idea that we’re going to replace oil and natural gas with solar and wind, and nothing else, is a hallucinatory delusion,” Shellenberger says, citing projections that global energy demand will likely double by 2050, and triple or even quadruple by the end of the century, as countries such as China, India and Brazil grow richer. “Most people kind of think that somehow we’re going to be reducing our energy consumption. Actually, we just find more and more uses for it. If you look at all the energy that is used by an iPhone, not just to make it and to power it, but also to power all the servers, all of the stuff that you don’t see that the iPhone is connected to, it uses as much energy as a refrigerator.”

One nuclear plant can produce prodigious amounts of power and do so 24/7. For California to generate the amounts of power it needs from solar and wind, much of its deserts would quite literally need to be covered with solar panels. Yes, Scotland may well be 100% renewable by 2020. However it has unusual amounts of wind power. I’m not sure that could be done here. Perhaps the most controversial claim of the five environmentalists is that they say nuclear is far safer than they thought. I look forward to seeing the movie.