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Nuclear Energy Film Changes Viewers’ Minds

Editor's Note: The below interview with Robert Stone and Gwyneth Cravens first appeared on NEI's website in August 2013. The documentary Pandora's Promise is set to debut on CNN at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific on Thursday, Nov. 7. As the program airs on CNN, NEI will be taking part in a real-time conversation about the film on Twitter using the #PandorasPromise hash tag.

Aug. 1, 2013—Nuclear opponents who have seen Pandora’s Promise, the documentary film that focuses on environmentalists who have changed their views and now support nuclear energy, have changed their minds too.

“It’s been overwhelmingly positive, more so than I could ever have dreamed,” said Robert Stone, director and producer of the film. “Wherever I have gone and screened the film, done a Q-and-A—and I’ve gone into incredibly hostile audiences—I’ve come away with almost universal support for the message of the film.”

But not entirely universal. After a screening in Pleasantville, N.Y., not far from a nuclear energy facility, Andrew Revkin of The New York Times moderated a discussion between Stone and Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an attorney for the anti-nuclear environmentalist group Riverkeeper. The debate became contentious. Revkin has since posted footage of the exchange to YouTube.

“I was completely surprised that he took no quarter. He simply would not engage in a conversation about it and said my film was a hoax,” Stone said in a telephone interview.

Kennedy’s response was a “complete outlier” compared to most reactions to the film, Stone said.

A more typical experience, he said, was a screening at an environmental film festival in Telluride, Colo.

“These were all environmental leaders … and almost entirely anti-nuclear. I was kind of the skunk at the party,” said Stone. “We had a screening [at a] 650-seat theater jammed to the gills … At the end of my Q-and-A I asked the audience, how many of them would support President Obama if he said he would support a new generation of nuclear reactors to combat climate change. And almost every hand in the house went up, I would say 98 percent. ... It was incredible.”

The film features five prominent environmentalists and thinkers who discuss their transformations from skepticism of nuclear energy to acceptance and, in some cases, advocacy.

Gwyneth Cravens, author of “Power to Save the World: The Truth about Nuclear Energy and Our Changing Climate,” is one of them. She said she had attended a screening at the Sundance Film Festival, where it received positive reviews from the audience.

“At Sundance they were doing audience surveys before and after screenings. The approval ratings [of the film and its message] went up 75 to 80 percent after seeing the movie,” said Cravens.  

Like the pro-nuclear environmentalists in the film, Stone said that growing up he had been against nuclear power, but his view shifted over time.  

“It stands to reason that if you really care about climate change, you should open your mind to other things,” Stone said. “Nuclear [energy] stares you right in the face as an incredibly powerful and prodigious source of non-CO2-emitting energy. … So I started looking at nuclear power in a new way.” 

Stone said the film will be shown on CNN in November and plans are in the works to make it available on streaming services like Netflix and in DVD format. It also will be offered on iTunes in 25 countries in December as well as on the Pandora’s Promise website

Stone hopes the increased availability will attract a larger audience. “The problem is that very few people have seen it,” he said. “People don’t generally line up at a movie theater to have their minds changed. They line up to get their views reinforced.”

Additional screenings are planned for the fall in Australia, the United Kingdom and Japan.

“I’m committed to continuing to take this around the world,” Stone said.