The Plot: Nuclear power has been around for decades, providing electricity in many countries and acting as an alternative to environment-damaging fossil fuels. There are risks though, with one commentator stating that there is no safe dosage of radiation. More power stations are being decommissioned and detonated rather than built. This documentary charts a small but passionate group of pro-nuclear advocates as they travel around the world drumming up support for nuclear power as a solution to the climate crisis…
The Verdict: In every discussion, there are two or possibly more sides to how a situation can be interpreted. This is the way it should be, as other voices with different opinions need to be heard. When it comes to nuclear power, the anti-nuclear movement is well-established internationally and has historic events like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima to back up its stance. Then there’s the pro-nuclear movement, a much smaller but no less vocal group of people who firmly believe that their perspective needs airing too. That is, if anyone in the corridors of power is willing to listen to the possibilities that nuclear power presents. Frankie Fenton’s absorbing documentary Atomic Hope unusually takes the latter perspective, moving away from a well-worn discussion to examine the science and environmental impact of nuclear power versus other forms of energy production as carbon emissions take their toll on the planet.
Structured in seven chapters, Atomic Hope is an Irish-made documentary film but it only focuses on the international situation. The general stance on nuclear power on home territory needs no further discussion, so Fenton moves past that to focus on a number of pro-nuclear advocates from various backgrounds in the US, Europe and Asia. There are politicians, academics and scientists, regular joes and mothers who believe that contained properly and regulated thoroughly, nuclear power points the way forward. Even with the number of plants reducing, it’s not going away anytime soon. Pandora’s box has been opened. The EU alone relies on nuclear power for a quarter of its generated electricity. It’s clear that Fenton sides with the pro-nuclear movement, but doesn’t shy away from tackling the thorny issue of the destructive power of radiation leakage. Watch as one commentator visits the Chernobyl site and his radiation counter goes up as he gets closer to the core. Filmed several years ago, these scenes now have a different meaning following the events of the last year and serve as a reminder of how close we’ve come to another catastrophic incident.
The film occasionally branches out to back itself up with quoted statistics about the apparent safety of nuclear power and radiation exposure, compared to car crashes, X-rays and flights. Although, the one about the banana containing more radiation than living beside a nuclear power plant for a year sounds dubious at best. The banana is on the poster though, with one advocate riding it Dr. Strangelove-style in atomic hope rather than desperation. The pro-nuclear movement itself is a grassroots movement, a ragtag bunch of people working towards a common goal as they’re shut out of climate change meetings. Some of them are overly enthusiastic and a bit eccentric. Others like British academic Gerry Thomas and American engineer John Kutsch are more focused on reducing the demonising of nuclear power and highlighting its scientific benefits.
All of this makes for an accessible documentary that plays out with the environmental clock ticking away in the background. It’s refreshingly not bogged down in technical detail and edited together without coming across like a lecture trying to sell you on its stance. While Atomic Hope may not change hearts and minds about nuclear power, that does not appear to be its goal. It’s more of a direct think piece to at least draw the pro-nuclear movement out of the shadows, into the debate room and let it have its say. It’s a film worth listening to then, whatever your opinion on nuclear power is.
Rating: 3.5 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
In short: Absorbing
Directed by Frankie Fenton.
Starring Ben Heard, Gerry Thomas, John Kutsch.