Robert Stone
Director, Pandora’s Promise

Mediaplanet: What was the overall goal that you wanted to accomplish with the film Pandora’s Promise?

Robert Stone: My purpose in making the film was directly to challenge that taboo subject of nuclear energy as it relates to the environmental movement, and to reintroduce it as a point of serious discussion as one of the most effective solutions to replace fossil fuels and to successfully mitigate climate change.

It struck me as a supreme irony that the mainstream environmental movement is united against the one technology that offers perhaps the best hope of solving the worlds most pressing environmental problem.

MP: What initially drove you to create a documentary about, and spark discussion on, nuclear energy?

RS: After making a previous film (“Earth Days”) about the rise of the environmental movement, it became increasingly apparent to me that the tools and tactics that had worked so well to combat things like air pollution and water pollution have proven thoroughly inadequate in tackling a very different problem like climate change.

The deeper I looked into this I realized that much of the philosophy and basic understanding of the nature of the problem that forms the basis of today’s environmental movement is thoroughly out of date and is based on ideas and concepts that no longer stand up to scrutiny.

“I don’t think that many Canadians know that Toronto has one of the lowest per capita CO2 emissions of any major city in the world, thanks largely to its dependence on nuclear energy.”

MP: It has been two years since the film’s release – how have you seen misconceptions altered?

RS: I’ve seen huge changes in the last couple of years.  Obviously one film can’t take credit for this change, but I think the film helped to open the door to a re-evaluation of nuclear energy among those who were formerly opposed to it and made it safe for those who did support this technology to be more vocal and open about it.

That has had a cascading effect in that nuclear energy is now something that’s more widely acknowledged as a clean energy technology that can play a major role in combating climate change.  Differences in opinion on this within the environmental movement are now out in the open and there’s a fierce and vigorous debate going on about it.

I don’t think we’re at a tipping point but I think we may be approaching one.  Young people, in particular, have a completely different conception of this technology than the old guard who lead the environmental movement.  This generational split will only become more apparent as time goes on.


Stone using a geiger counter to measure amounts of radiation
Photo: Howard Shack

MP: What has been your favourite reaction to the film so far?

RS: That’s a hard thing to put my finger on because the whole experience has been incredibly rewarding on so many levels.  People come up to me all the time telling me how the film has changed their life and how as a result of seeing it they’re devoting themselves to seeing nuclear energy be more widely accepted among their peers.

I think the most heartening thing has been to see how the film has been received by rank and file environmentalists both at environmental film festivals (where it’s won several awards) and on college campuses.

The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive and people come away transformed in how they consider the role of nuclear going forward.  Most documentaries tend to preach to the converted, but this one seems to have drawn an audience that is predisposed to oppose its premise and has actually turned them around. That’s a rare thing of which I’m extremely proud to have accomplished.

MP: What do you believe Canadian’s fail to understand about nuclear energy?

RS: I don’t think Canadians are any different than anyone else in what they understand or fail to understand about nuclear energy.  I don’t think that many Canadians know that Toronto has one of the lowest per capita CO2 emissions of any major city in the world, thanks largely to its dependence on nuclear energy.

I don’t think many Canadians are aware of how important a role Canada has played in the development of nuclear energy with the CANDU reactors being among the most highly regarded in the world. Canada is also leading the way with next generation advanced reactor development with companies like Terrestrial Energy.

So I actually think Canada may out pace the United States in being at the forefront of the coming clean energy revolution, with advanced nuclear being a big part of that, along with renewables like advanced solar, hydro, and wind.

MP: What is next for you?

RS: I’m currently making a film about the political and cultural history of the race to the moon.  It’s a reflection on a time when there was genuine optimism about the future and about the promise of high technology to solve problems – a time when our vision as a society was expansive and aspirational.

What’s interesting is that this was not just a natural consequence of the time, it was in large part an outgrowth of determined leadership and follow-through on the part of our political leaders to set long range, seemingly impossible goals that inspired us to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.

It’s not a nostalgia film about “the good old days”, is an inspirational film about human possibility and optimism.  In the pessimism and small bore thinking that dominates much of our political discourse today, I think there are some lessons to be learned from this last great collective experience at thinking big and dreaming of a brighter future.