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Lights! Camera! Atoms! Sundance to debut pro-nuclear film

Posting in Cities

The show must go on. Supporters of "fast" reactors - a dormant design that's been around for a long time - say it's time to put them in the limelight.

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The case for a new type of nuclear power will hit the silver screen next month when Pandora's Promise debuts at Robert Redford's Sundance Film Festival.

Director Robert Stone's website says the documentary will feature former anti-nuclear scientists and activists who now believe that nuclear power is a key to a low-carbon energy future that can slow down global warming.

"The recent reactor meltdowns in Japan have ignited passionate worldwide debate about energy and the future of nuclear power," the website notes. "Pandora's Promise is a feature length documentary that explores how and why mankind's most feared and controversial technological discovery is now passionately embraced by many of those who once led the charge against it.

"The film is anchored around the personal narratives of a growing number of leading and former anti-nuclear activists and pioneering scientists who, in the face of considerable controversy, are directly challenging the anti-nuclear orthodoxy that is a founding tenet of the mainstream environmental movement."

Fast talk. Sir Richard Branson backs integral fast reactors. He wrote to President Obama to say so.

WASTE MAKES HASTE

Promotional material suggests that the film will advocate a shift away from today's conventional reactors and towards "integral fast reactors" (IFRs) that can burn nuclear waste as fuel and thus eliminate the controversial need to store it.

"The atomic bomb, the specter of a global nuclear holocaust, and disasters like Fukushima have made nuclear energy synonymous with the the darkest nightmares of the modern world," Sundance says on its website.

"But what if everyone has nuclear power wrong?" it asks. "What if people knew that there were reactors that are self-sustaining and fully controllable and ones that require no waste disposal? What if nuclear power is the only energy source that has the ability to stop climate change?"

TILL WE MEET AGAIN

Cast members include Charles Till, who led the development of an IFR known as the Experimental Breeder Reactor II (EBR II) at Argonne National Laboratory Idaho until Congress shut it down in 1994. His reactor was intended to burn waste and breed its own fuel. It was also designed to be meltdown proof, as reactions would simply stop in the event that the reactor's coolant stopped flowing - unlike at Fukushima, where reactions continued after the cooling system failed.

Not everyone agrees that IFRs and other "fast" reactors are safe (fast reactors do not slow down neutrons the way today's conventional reactors do). Congress halted EBR II funding in part because of safety concerns and also because it worried that the breeder would increase the potential for nuclear weapons proliferation, rather than reduce it.

But fast reactors are gaining support, including from entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who together with climate scientist James Hansen wrote to U.S. President Barack Obama earlier this year encouraging support for fast reactors.

Bill Gates' TerraPower is developing a type of fast reactor. China and Russia are both pursuing fast reactor development. Nobuo Tanaka, the former head of the International Energy Agency, has suggested that fast reactors could play a significant role in Japan's energy future.

The Sundance Film Festival runs in Park City, Utah from Jan. 17-27. Pandora's Promise is set for general U.S. release in the summer of 2013.

Photos: Sundance marquee from Resorts West, Park City, Utah. Richard Branson from GooglePlus.

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— By on December 17, 2012, 9:18 PM PST

Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure