Posted by Mark Halper

Sir Richard Branson supports “fast reactors,” which should feature in the film Pandora’s Promise.

The case for alternative nuclear power will hit the bright lights next month when a film premiering at Robert Redford’s Sundance Film Festival makes the case for reactor designs that are superior to conventional models.

The documentary Pandora’s Promise will show how nuclear can operate more efficiently, avoid any meltdown risks, and not leave dangerous waste – thus addressing public objections and helping fulfil nuclear’s promise of delivering CO2-free energy.

“The atomic bomb, the specter of a global nuclear holocaust, and disasters like Fukushima have made nuclear energy synonymous with the darkest nightmares of the modern world,” a promotional Sundance website announces.

“But what if everyone has nuclear power wrong?,” it continues. “What if people knew that there are 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?”


Details of the film are sketchy, but promotional material on the Web suggests that it will focus on integral fast reactors (IFRs), which use nuclear “waste” as fuel rather than leaving it behind as a potential weapons threat.

It is produced and directed by Robert Stone, whose website lists Charles Till as a cast member.

Till led the development of the Experimental Breeder Reactor II in the U.S. until 1994, when Congress withdrew funding, in part for safety concerns and also because opponents argued that the reactor would actually increase the weapons proliferation threat, rather than decrease it as breeder proponents claim.

According to the Sundance site, executive producers include Steve Kirsch, a Los Angeles-area venture capitalist and an IFR booster.

IFR supporters include entrepreneur Sir Richard Branson, who earlier this year wrote to U.S. President Barack Obama encouraging the president and U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu to facilitate the development IFRs.

Branson wrote the letter along with U.S. climate scientist James Hansen, and with Eric Loewen, the chief engineer for GE-Hitachi’s PRISM fast reactor.

The letter criticizes the 1994 cancellation of the fast reactor project, and notes that IFRs are superior to the conventional uranium-fuelled, water-cooled reactors that dominate the industry. Conventional reactors slow down or “moderate” neutrons, making less use of fuel and leaving more waste.

Russia and China both have ambitious plans for fast reactors.


The film chronicles shifting allegiances among former anti-nuclear scientists and activists who are now backing nuclear –a theme that will resonate with Weinberg Foundation co-founder Baroness Bryony Worthington, a nuclear advocate who once campaigned against it for  Friends of the Earth.

Stone’s 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 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.  Their stories and ideas will be brought to life through a combination of incredible archival footage from 1945 to the present and original filming across the globe.”

The Sundance premier will mark another example of the growing public attention for alternative nuclear. Earlier this month, the journal Nature published a feature stating that,  “For decades, one design has dominated nuclear reactors while potentially better options were left by the wayside. Now, the alternatives might finally have their day.”

Pandora’s Promise is scheduled for release in U.S. cinemas in the summer of 2013.

Photo of Richard Branson from Google Plus.


  1. Martin Kral says:

    Seems like ‘big money’ is investing in IFR. You have to assume that there is some money to be made here. The good thing about IFR is that it will burn up the current waste storage. However, after that, it will continue to burn uranium and that is one of those ‘fear’ words. Thorium is a better approach to an alternative energy/power source. I guess I have to assume that IFR will be SMR also.

  2. PetrHolsson says:

    From the trailer:

    1. Mark Lynas: “no increase in cancer amongst Chernobyl liquidators”

    WHO: “a doubling of the incidence of leukaemia among the most highly exposed Chernobyl liquidators.” –

    2. Mark Lynas: “no children born deformed as a result of Chernobyl”

    Science: “the frequency of both congenital and fetal abnormalities in the Republic of Belarus has apparently increased.” –

    3. Dude in denim shirt: “Greenpeace claims 1 million deaths from Chernobyl”

    Greenpeace: “93,000 cancer deaths, possibly up to 160,000 deaths from all other causes.” –

    So, in just a few seconds of trailer we find it’s packed with false claims. Looks like weak propaganda, not credible documentary.

  3. Robert Hargraves says:

    PetrHolsson’s comments are wrong.

    1. Here is the complete quote “An elevated risk of leukaemia was first found among the survivors of the atomic bombings in Japan some two to five years after exposure. Recent investigations suggest a doubling of the incidence of leukaemia among the most highly exposed Chernobyl liquidators. No such increase has been clearly demonstrated among children or adults resident in any of the contaminated areas. From the experience of the Japanese bomb survivors it is possible that a large proportion of the leukaemia cases that could be linked to Chernobyl have already occurred, now that 20 years have passed since the accident.” Note the words NO SUCH INCREASE.

    2. from the same WHO source “no effects on fertility, numbers of stillbirths, adverse pregnancy outcomes or delivery complications have been demonstrated nor are there expected to be any”

    3. Greenpeace didn’t get traction with 93,000 deaths, so it promoted the idea of a million deaths.

  4. Dr. A. Cannara says:

    PetrHolsson apparently is unaware also of the recent UNSCEAR report that begins to correct the 66-year old error in assigning dangers to radiation doses, no matter how small.

    So it may be a mystery of how life has survived the higher and higher radiation naturally present each half life doubling of Potassium40, Uranium… ago, but Nature certainly does know how to handle chemical or radiological cell damage on a second-by-second basis. It might be good for PetrH to learn some radiobiology and study the various literature on nuclear safety, etc. Here’s a start…
    “Radiation and Reason” by Allison

    Studies of all power systems’ relative safety (put httpcolonslashslash in front of tinyurl)…

    Science proceeds by questioning, gathering data, then analyzing results in various ways and subject to various theories. As a long supporter of Greenpeace, etc. it’s clear that some of their policies are developed without recourse to science and facts.

    We can no longer afford naive, unsupported bias in any subject that relates to the now tragic consequences of our carbon emissions. FoE, Greenpeace, even my own Sierra Club, have beennaively foolish in nuclear policies and inadvertently helpful to the combustion industry.

    On the movie by Stone, the key to safer more efficient nuclear power is not in fast-neutron, solid-fuelled machines. It is, as it was demonstrated in the 1960s at US ORNL, in liquid salt-fuelled systems. The systems that ran in the ’60s were, as Nobel Chemist Wigner and ORNL Director Weinberg, intended — passively safe and producing little waste.

    The IFR is not needed to consume weapons or spent fuel materials — the safer, Molten Salt Reactor (MSR) is indeed the way to proceed. And, if the ultimate in low waste and efficiency is desired, use of Thorium salt in the MSR provides humanity with safe, cheap, abundant power for millennia. This is demonstrated science, not theory. For example…

    Some history… (something else to blame on Nixon, despite his good works like EPA)

    So, if what JFK learned in 1962 had not been quashed in the 1970s, the goal of eliminating all combustion power by 2000 could have been met. One can estimate how small our present emissions burden would be, had that occurred.

    Naive anti-nuclear sentiment and activism have contributed to our descendents’ problems, which appear now to go on for thousands of years… (see DePaolo group’s papers on the carbon cycle)

    We know what the Koch brothers and others want. We can no longer accept foolish enviro-group actions, such as my Sierra Club accepting $millions from the gas industry, or the protesters against the Shoreham Nuclear Station in NY accepting advertizing $ from The Heating Oil Institute (the station may soon burn gas).

    Folks like Hansen & Sachs have indeed proceeded as scientists and seen the folly in blind anti-nuclear policy. Each group that has not is effectively supporting the combustion industry, which has long known nuclear could put them out of business.

    Fortunately, at least these countries are listening to our Nobelists from decades back…

    The key is liquid salt.

    Dr. A. Cannara

  5. cerebus says:

    PetrHolsson has tried spreading this misinformation elsewhere and has been dealt with:

    • jmdesp says:

      I wrote a comment on the decarbonisesa entry above, I also intended but didn’t find the time to completely study the 2 Chornobyl liquidators studies, which is the strongest not fully refuted result found by PetrHolsson. But at least one of the two has been quite extensively studied here

      The conclusion is that actually when you run the number, that supposed doubling only translate into suspicion of 20 added Leukemias amongst 110000 workers in 30 years. Knowing that Leukemias is the most radiosensitive cancer, and this population the most exposed, it sounds like this in fact definitively disprove the initially hypothesized 8000 cancers.

      What’s more, it’s only suspicion, the date isn’t very convincing, too much variations, and strange things like having a negative result on the 20 most recent cases where they could do an in-person interview shortly after the beginning of disease treatment.

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