Going plant potty in story of nuclear power

The Atom: A Love Affair chronicles an energetic journey through the 20th century to the modern day

Friday, 15th May 2020 — By Dan Carrier

The Atom A Love Affair

Directed by Vicki Lesley
Certificate: 12a

WITHIN a lifetime, the nuclear power industry has gone from being the golden future of energy generation to the dirty fuel that illustrates a blind race to make profit at any cost, the strength of industrial lobbying, and the inability of government to listen to those it supposedly represents – nor arguments based on empirical evidence that do not fit in with an economic philosophy.

In The Atom: A Love Affair, a wide-ranging, deeply researched, non-judgemental documentary, we are taken on a journey through the 20th century to the modern day to consider how we generate electricity and what role nuclear power has, and can, play.

Split into decades, film-maker Vicki Lesley charts how governments thought they had cracked the lode-stone problem of clean, efficient, renewable energy for all: the power needed for the post-war consumer boom, the eras of new white goods in each house, of labour-saving devices that would make the human race a species not of toil but of leisure and learning.

But, of course, a dream so good can’t be true: and as this film shows, nuclear is not only dirty, expensive and dangerous, it also crosses over into the realm of nuclear reprocessing plants, dealing with weapons-grade plutonium for mass destruction. Not a pretty look.

The difference between Germany and France are used as examples of how an approach to nuclear is based on what the state wants to believe.

France has 58 nuclear plants and cannot afford to replace them. The state-run energy firm EDF has to find new income streams so it is now building these eye-wateringly expensive plants elsewhere – including in the UK.

Germany’s anti-nuclear movement has grown in strength since the 1970s.

Post Fukushima, the Germans decided enough was enough and they would cease to use nuclear energy from 2022. They decided they would use the tax produced by the sale of nuclear energy to pay for other non-nuclear, carbon-free energy production.

“In Germany today, the atom is finished,” says one engineer.

“It is, they say, the last step on a very long goodbye dating from the 1970s. You cannot find any political party in Germany prepared to go anywhere near nuclear power.”

US politician Ralph Nader sums it up nicely (and the footage of him as a young man saying basically the same thing is inspiring).

“Atomic energy is unnecessary,” he says.

“It is uneconomical. It is unsafe. It is uninsurable. It is undemocratic and it is a travesty on our descendants who will curse us if we do not stop the menace of atomic energy.”

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