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HOT DOCS 2022

Review: Atomic Hope – Inside the Pro-Nuclear Movement

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- Frankie Fenton’s timely second documentary shines the spotlight on a tiny international movement of pro-nuclear activists and their motives

Review: Atomic Hope – Inside the Pro-Nuclear Movement
The founder and president of Environmental Progress, Michael Shellenberger, in Atomic Hope

The topic of using nuclear energy as a power source prompts some of the most emotional and heated debates within our society – that much is certain. Most of the voices are split between indifference, indecision and fear, but some also present themselves as strong advocates ofthe energy as a safe, green power source. In his new documentary, Frankie Fenton (It’s Not Yet Dark [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
) shines a timely spotlight on a tiny group of global activists who fight for the pro-nuclear cause. The feature, Atomic Hope – Inside the Pro-Nuclear Movement, is being showcased at Toronto’s Hot Docs.

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This highly “emotional component” of the public debate is skilfully triggered by the film’s opening sequence. In it, TTS’s chief nuclear engineer, Moto-Yasu Kinoshita, sits in a Metro carriage and explains why “presently, the Japanese attitude towards nuclear is really complex”, as people recognise the immense power of such technology but also look back on their country’s history. The old man’s speech, intertwined with shots depicting him at a graveyard and archive footage from World War II, reveals that he is from Nagasaki and lost some of his relatives owing to the atomic bomb. He argues that we’ve already opened “a Pandora’s box”, so our responsibility is to control such power and to use it as best we can.

Many speakers and activists will later take the stage, and viewers will soon realise that the main motive driving them is that they believe nuclear energy is the feasible, carbon-neutral power source capable of tackling climate change on a realistic scale – especially in comparison with other renewable sources, such as wind and solar. It has a very low environmental impact, and its benefits significantly outweigh its potentially catastrophic risks.

Commendably, Fenton’s film doesn’t steer clear of tackling one of the hottest topics debated by anti-nuclear activists: namely, the tragedy of Chernobyl and the risk of similar disasters potentially occurring again. Viewers will be particularly struck by some authoritative voices, in particular that of Geraldine Thomas, director of the Chernobyl Tissue Bank and one of the world's foremost experts on radiation and its effects on health. In her contribution, she thoroughly explains that the studies have been rigorous, and the expected rise in cases of cancer, leukaemia and other diseases has simply not occurred. The same goes for the effects on fertility, malformations, infant mortality, still births and adverse outcomes of pregnancy.

The aesthetic approach of the documentary is rather traditional. Shot over the course of ten years, it features numerous, controlled interviews with experts and activists, archive footage and a seven-chapter structure, which makes its viewing smooth and easy to follow.

Regardless of whether one is sceptical, in favour of or against the use of nuclear power, the documentary certainly delivers some interesting reflections about our future and the current climate crisis. It forces us to challenge our views and question whether the world can afford to wait any longer “while we have had the solution in front of our eyes”, as one of the interviewees states during the first third of this compelling documentary.

Atomic Hope was produced by Irish firm Kennedy Films. Paris-based outfit Java Films is in charge of its international sales.

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