‘Split, don’t emit’ is one of the slogans of a small but committed group of pro-nuclear-power scientists and engineers who are the subject of a new documentary.
Directed by the award-winning filmmaker Frankie Fenton (It’s Not Yet Dark), and produced by Kathryn Kennedy for Kennedy Films (My Name is Emily, It’s Not Yet Dark), Atomic Hope follows the tiny, controversial group, who nevertheless have a global spread.
They explain their commitment to the cause of nuclear power on the grounds that rapid decarbonisation of the energy system is necessary to avoid climate catastrophe.
The film probes the hatred and conflict associated with nuclear power and the necessary sacrifices to be an activist for nuclear energy in today’s climate-conscious world.
The pro-nuclear scientists and engineers make their arguments based on science, many describing how they initially remained silent before feeling compelled to speak out on what they see as the merits of nuclear power as a clean and endless source of fuel.
The documentary yields some startling statistics, such as that more people die on a daily basis from air pollution caused by fossil fuels, than have ever been killed by nuclear accidents.
The film-makers visit Chernobyl in Ukraine, bordering on Belarus, where radiation levels have returned to normal, despite the devastating 1986 explosion.
Professor Jim Smith spent three decades exploring Chernobyl's post-human landscape. 30 years after the world's worst nuclear disaster, he has found wildlife thriving in the exclusion zone, an abandoned area of more than 4,000 square kilometres.
The documentary shows him carrying a dosimeter to measure the external dose of radiation at the destroyed reactor – lower, he says, than that from a long-distance flight.
Professor Gerry Thomas (Imperial College London Department of surgery and cancer) believes that the risk from a range of types of radiation – including natural radiation and medical radiation – are broadly accepted and that dangers of nuclear power have been exaggerated by years of negative reporting.
After the nuclear accidents in Fukushima (Japan) and Chernobyl, crucial steps towards limiting exposure were taken in both cases, in terms of moving populations away from the source of radiation and by telling people to stay indoors, Prof Thomas believes.
First responders suffered radiation injury and quickly died, however.
Californian politician Michael Shellenberger dismisses renewables, because he believes they are low-density, unreliable, and therefore more expensive.
The pro-nuclear lobby believes that the mass closure of nuclear power plants in the US and Germany has led to a huge and environmentally disastrous increase in fossil-fuel burning.
Filmed over a decade, and funded by Screen Ireland, Atomic Hope details the clashes, closed doors, and opposition the pro-nuclear activists face as they plead for science and data to be acknowledged.
Atomic Hope – Inside the Pro-Nuclear Movement was screened at the IFI documentary festival in October, and will be released in Irish cinemas on 17 February.