Judge Clark Douglas learned everything he knows about nuclear energy from The Simpsons.
Has the world turned its back on nuclear energy?
Given my appalling lack of experience in the world of nuclear science, I'm not exactly qualified to comment authoritatively on the safety and risk of nuclear energy. It's a hotly-debated subject that has divided the general public and the scientific community, and now the good folks at Frontline have jumped into the fray with the thoughtful, informative hour-long documentary Nuclear Aftershocks.
Early in the documentary, we're given a brief overview of the sharp ongoing debate over nuclear energy taking place in the United States. We're shown television commercials in which former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani promotes the virtues of nuclear power, and then we're shown snippets of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo expressing his concerns about the danger of nuclear power. While the documentary does seem to make an effort to be non-partisan for much of its running time, suffice it to say that Cuomo is far more likely to be impressed by what Nuclear Aftershocks delivers than Giuliani is.
The first half of Nuclear Aftershocks focuses on the famous incident which occurred in March of 2011 at the Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant in Japan. The documentary outlines the series of events which occurred on that date in harrowing fashion, using a series of complex yet easily-understood animated charts to explain the chain of events unleashed by the earthquake and tsunami which occurred in the area. It's gripping stuff, highlighted by the revelation that a Japanese paleontologist had cautioned the Japanese public about the forthcoming tsunami approximately twenty years before it occurred. Fascinatingly, it was reading an ancient poem which referenced a previous natural disaster which inspired him to find the evidence behind his theory.
In its second half, Nuclear Aftershocks transforms itself into a critique of nuclear power, highlighting the numerous risks associated with the industry and the world's lack of willingness to effectively prepare for a nuclear disaster. Still, the documentary is hardly offering a doomsday scenario: certain scientists suggest that nuclear power is on its way out the door and will be abandoned within a couple decades, but the documentary was produced before the announcement that two new nuclear energy reactors will be constructed in the state of Georgia. These are the first nuclear energy reactors to be constructed in the United States in over three decades, and the announcement of their construction is regarded by many as a sign that the United States is preparing to embrace nuclear energy on a wider scale.
While it's generally agreed upon that nuclear energy comes with some considerable risks, the real question is whether or not there's such a thing as a risk-free sustainable energy source. At the moment, the answer is no. Hydro-electric power is generally regarded as safe, but it isn't available everywhere. At the moment, solar and wind are incapable of sustaining the world's power needs. Nuclear, coal and natural gas all come with certain risks to both the environment and to the health of people living nearby. The ultimate point Nuclear Aftershocks is getting at is a rather unpleasant one: if we want energy, we're going to have to live with a certain amount of risk. Even if nuclear energy is the safest sustainable option we have right now, we're going to have to live with the fact that there are certain dangers that come with that.
The documentary has received a decent DVD transfer, though it's unforgivably presented in non-anamorphic widescreen. It's 2012, people, get with the times! The Dolby 2.0 Stereo audio track gets the job done well enough, though this is largely an uneventful talking-heads piece in that department. There are no supplements included.
Nuclear Aftershocks may ultimately be a feel-bad viewing experience, but it's a worthwhile exploration of an important subject that gets its points across in a compelling, sensationalism-free manner.
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