Category Archives: Nuclear Education

Nuclear Education Nuclear Energy

Pandora’s Promise: Fuelling the Nuclear Debate

By Malcolm Bernard
Director of Communications
Canadian Nuclear Association

Pandora’s Promise is easily the most significant communications event to affect the nuclear industry this year, with the obvious exception of the recurring mistakes in cleaning up the Fukushima site.

The movie challenges a core belief held by the nuclear industry’s opponents, that the dangers of nuclear energy outweigh its benefits. In mounting that challenge, filmmaker Robert Stone has provided the nuclear industry with an effective vehicle to re-open public discussion.

Pandora’s Promise will be screened on CNN
Thursday, November 7, 2013 at 9 pm ET.
Click here for CNN’s coverage.

Yet the movie is no magic bullet. Cheered by industry insiders, and reviled by its opponents, the movie makes effective points without always providing adequate context. For those of us who lived through the Cold War, and Prime Minister Trudeau’s attempts to galvanize arms-control negotiations, and the trio of nuclear accidents at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and now Fukushima, the movie covers familiar territory. We understand Stone’s point of view, as my colleague John Stewart points out.

For those who are new to the debate, the movie takes for granted that audiences have sufficient information to consider the points in play. Rosey Li, our marketing officer who is new to the nuclear industry, found the movie’s most significant evidence needed further interpretation.

Nuclear communicators owe the public a great deal of further information. If Pandora’s Promise catalyzes a public debate, then we need to engage the public with answers. Not a sales job. Just simple, accurate facts.

That’s why the Canadian Nuclear Association was established more than five decades ago. We’re still here. We hope that we’re still helpful, as new audiences take up enduring questions.

By the way, John Stewart takes up some of those questions here.

Enjoy your reading, and let us know what further information you require. We’re on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

More relevant links

Read a CNN article about Pandora’s Promise
Buy Pandora’s Promise on iTunes

Nuclear Education Nuclear Energy

Pandora’s Promise: A Must-See Movie, but Often Confusing

The highly provocative and talked-about documentary Pandora’s Promise, directed by Robert Stone, argues that nuclear power is the best candidate to replace fossil fuels in a world with continuously increasing electricity demands.

The film follows the journey of previously anti-nuclear environmentalists as they talk about aspects of nuclear power that have changed their perspectives. After viewing the film, I can definitely see why the film has provoked such debate, and why some critics view it as a one-sided advertisement for the nuclear industry.

Pandora’s Promise makes several powerful assertions, but the lack of context or a comparison for the information thrown at you can render you confused (especially if you are brand new to the industry, like me).

For example, a graph-like representation of deaths by particular energy source depicts nuclear power as the second-safest energy source after wind since apparently the creation of solar panels is highly toxic and pollution from coal kills countless numbers of people. Exactly how many deaths are caused by solar and coal? We never find out.

Moreover, the filmmakers took a dosimeter to locations around the world, including Chernobyl, and showed numbers on the meter. Here again, context is missing. What do the numbers mean? What is the acceptable range of numbers on the dosimeter? I don’t know about you, but vague graphs and dosimeter readings are not enough for me, and probably not for anti-nuclear activists.

Stone’s film subtly critiques the groupthink mentality that occurs within environmental groups. That’s good. I think it’s very important for environmentalists to question and truly understand what they oppose in order to generate solid persuasive arguments rather than simply believe what they want to hear.

Nuclear Education Nuclear Energy

Pandora’s Promise Raises Good Questions for Environmentalists

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Both environmentalists and nuclear industry advocates are talking about a new and highly provocative film, Pandora’s Promise. What makes this conversation, and the film that inspires it, so interesting is that they are not in disagreement.

Director Robert Stone follows the journey of previously anti-nuclear environmentalists who have changed their views. Their conclusion is that nuclear is central to reducing fossil fuels as the source of electricity.

There are those who would consider it heresy to suggest that nuclear technology can lead us to a greener world, but more and more environmentalists are coming to see nuclear as an ally rather than the enemy. This is the result of a more comprehensive, evidence-based vision of the costs and impacts of each energy source, in the context of a sober realization that the demand for power will be met one way or another. Put simply, if we have to get energy from somewhere, we could do worse than get it from nuclear power – we could get it anywhere else. It is the unattractiveness of all the other options that has led the conversation right back to clean, affordable, inexpensive, and always-available nuclear power.

You simply cannot create such a film without hitting nerves and Pandora’s Promise shows a willingness to do so. Those who want to disagree with the conclusion will argue bias, but the participants, including the director, are all people who were once fervently anti-nuclear. As well, the filmmakers scrupulously avoided any nuclear industry support. And these are not the only converts; for example, George Monbiot, an environmentalist committed enough to personally swear off unnecessary air travel, has also embraced nuclear power. Yet, while being called a traitor by some former colleagues may be hard to take, it is liberating for any scientist to follow the facts wherever they lead.

For many policy makers and scientists there is little new in Pandora’s Promise, but the obstacle was never with them. Nuclear technology projects are large and politicians are sensitive to public opinion, even if that opinion is not always well-founded. Pandora’s Promise is an invitation to the public to reconsider, as did the participants in the film, their misconceptions about the costs, impact and safety of the technology.

It is natural that the science of climate change would find resistance when available options are poor and the cost of change is numbing. By putting the promise of nuclear back on the table, Pandora’s Promise may well restore hope that we can control our thirst for a limited supply of carbon.

Nuclear Education Nuclear Energy

Pandora’s Promise: Questions and Answers

By John Stewart
Director, Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

Here are some questions raised by critics of Pandora’s Promise, and some opinions from the Canadian Nuclear Association.

Q.         Why doesn’t Pandora’s Promise present a more fair and balanced discussion about nuclear energy’s benefits and risks?

A.         Feature-length documentary films generally take a point of view.  No apologies for that.  The point of view of Pandora’s Promise is that there has been a strong, long-standing imbalance in attitudes toward nuclear energy. 

Q.         Why are the cited sources far from neutral? Is this film meant to be a one-sided sales job?

A.         “Sales job” implies that the persons behind the film are selling the product, but they’re not.  The film shows leading, long-active environmentalists explaining in their own words how they came around to new opinions about nuclear power.  Notice that the filmmaker barely appears, and there is little to no narrative overlay.  Pandora’s Promise is about these individuals’ journey from anti- to pro-nuclear, and it is part of their own struggle, in their own words, to redress what they see as misunderstanding and misinformation.

Q.         Why choose to rely on testimonials from environmentalists and exclude the anti-nuclear movement when everyone knows the real problem is the nature of nuclear energy?

A.         If nuclear’s advocates talk about economics, they’re accused of sidestepping environmental issues.  Now it’s the other way around.  In fact the two can’t be separated.  The “nature of nuclear energy,” in the eyes of both advocates and critics, is in large part about its environmental impacts (whether one believes they are large or small).  Yes, it’s possible to have a purely commercial conversation about the cost and reliability of electricity – but ultimately that conversation is incomplete if environmental impacts aren’t factored in.

Q.         According to the facts, how many deaths will the Chernobyl plant have caused?

A.         We’re glad you’ve equated our view with the facts, because we rely on the multi-agency Chernobyl Forum, which was put together by the United Nations.  In 2005 the Forum found that fewer than 50 deaths were directly attributed to radiation from the Chernobyl nuclear accident up to that time, and that up to 4000 people could eventually die from that cause.  To put this into context, 47 people were directly killed by the crude oil explosion in Quebec in 2013, and some 4000 people a year die each year – each year – in coal mining in just one country, China.  

Q.         Why does The Chernobyl Forum, which estimated cancer deaths only among the most highly exposed population in Ukraine, leave out other parts of Europe which also suffered exposure?

A.         The Forum also looks at affected areas of other countries, such as Belarus and Russia.  But “exposed” is not the same as “harmed.”  The Forum recommends focusing on the most highly affected areas.  Even in those irradiated areas, the Forum finds that poverty, “lifestyle” diseases and mental health problems pose a far greater threat to local communities than does radiation exposure.

Q.         Are there, or are there not, at least 6,000 cases of thyroid cancer caused by Chernobyl?

A.         Well, no.  The Forum said that number (coincidentally) is about 4,000, nine of which were deaths as of 2005.

Q.         Why use the 2005 UN report on Chernobyl, from the IAEA and WHO, which has been widely discredited for suppressing key data?

A.         “Widely discredited” by whom and on what actual evidence?  The IAEA has several other responsibilities like security, safety and safeguards.  And it was one of eight UN agencies involved in the Forum.  You are asking us to believe not only that the IAEA pursued one specific goal to the detriment of the others, but that seven other UN agencies, including the World Health Organization, were involved, and that all their professional staffs went along with this.  Perhaps the accusers can tell us how and why such an alleged cover-up occurred and what possible motive all those organizations and professionals would have had for assisting it.

Q.         Is nuclear energy the best option?   Or just the least worst option?

A.         We will always need a mix of energy sources.  So it is not necessarily about being the best option, or the least worst option.  It is about evaluating our options fairly based on actual facts and evidence.  The environmentalists in the movie have merely come to the conclusion that nuclear deserves to be an option.

Q.         Could filmmaker Robert Stone have made more of an effort to look at other forms of energy, particularly renewables?

A.         That would be relevant if the film director had set out to create a policy paper or an engineering report, and if the point were to select one option as being superior to another.  As we’ve said, we will always need a mix of energy sources.  Pandora’s Promise is about certain individuals telling a story in their own words.

Q.         Why does your industry keep saying nuclear is key to base load generation when wind combined with solar match up very well with patterns of peak demand?

A.         Two reasons.  First, already the great majority of all electricity generation is for base load, so you can’t solve the emissions problem without addressing it.  Second, a number of trends in the energy market – things like time-of-use pricing, smart meters, and recharging of batteries at night — are tending to blunt the peaks and fill the valleys of the demand cycle.  Electric vehicles will accelerate that trend, because they too will be recharged at non-peak periods.  That’s good, because it uses generation capacity more fully.  And that further increases the role of base load in the system.  

Q.         How do we know that their changed view has made Mark Lynas and Michael Shellenberger somehow more competent, or more credible?

A.         We all start out with limited information.  But as humans we are not always great at seeking more of it, or of integrating new knowledge into our views.  The fact that Lynas and Shellenberger and other environmentalists have adapted their opinions, and even been willing to turn them around completely, in the face of resistance from friends and colleagues, as they acquired more information,  says something important about their characters and thinking.

Q.         Instead of just acknowledging the environmentalists who have been converted to nuclear, shouldn’t you also acknowledge that there are former nuclear supporters who now oppose the technology?

A.         Actually, that’s erroneous.  Opinion research shows a strong correlation between knowing more about nuclear technology and being more comfortable with it.  In Canada, support for nuclear technology is highest in populations that live close to nuclear facilities, where knowledge of the impacts is also the highest.

Q.         Why is it that the more people in Ontario learn about your plans for a deep-earth storage chamber for low-level waste, the more they oppose it?

A.         There are complications in measuring this kind of opinion.  It’s important to separate people’s factual information about a project from their mere awareness that a project exists.  Having heard of a project and having it at the front of your mind is not the same thing as having information about it.  So “learning more” about something has to be carefully distinguished from being made suspicious and afraid of it.  The one promotes support – as we see in the communities around a nuclear power plant – and the other promotes opposition.  The complication is measuring opposition.  You need to survey the whole community, not just measure the loudness of the opposition.  Loud opposition must not be mistaken for public opinion across the community.  Okay, maybe people in a certain area are against a deep geological repository, but let’s see a statistically valid poll before we accept that they are.

Guest Blog Nuclear Education

Everything You Wanted to Know about Nuclear Technology and Were Afraid They’d Ask

By Alex Wolf
Manager, Research and Education
Canadian Nuclear Association

Ever wanted to brush up on your understanding of nuclear technology? Well, if you’re interested in being in the Hamilton area next week, the Canadian Nuclear Society is putting on their Nuclear 101 course. It’s a two-day course being held on May 13-14 at McMaster University.

This is an excellent course for anyone to take – regardless of level of technical background. I’m a radiobiologist by trade, so certain things I obviously already knew, but I learned a lot about the history of nuclear in Canada and the engineering considerations involved in the fuel cycle. And it’s all delivered at a level for the layperson to understand.

I had a great time at this course, and it delivered exceptional value for the money and time spent. If you’re not able to make it to next week’s session, I highly recommend you stay posted on future events. A little knowledge goes a long way.

For more information, visit

Nuclear Education

Announcing the 2013 Canadian Nuclear Factbook!


It’s that time again!

The CNA is very proud to announce the latest edition of our perennial and bilingual fact-based update on all things nuclear in Canada and around the world. This booklet is the result of countless hours of research by CNA staff, and we hope it will be a valuable tool in nuclear education for you for the next 12 months until we do it all over again.

I know what you’re asking: HOW DO I GET ONE?

Well, if you happen to be at or on your way to the 2013 CNA Conference and Trade Show, look in your delegate bag! Delegates of our 2013 conference will be the first to receive copies of this highly-anticipated pocket-sized piece of instant bilingual information. Copies will also be mailed out to CNA members shortly.

Don’t worry, there are other ways to get them too. The 2013 Canadian Nuclear Factbook is fully downloadable in English and French, and individual copies can be ordered for free, delivered straight to your door.

Click here to find out more about nuclear energy — a reliable, affordable, and clean source of electricity.