A Pro-Nuke Snoozer

Image of anti-nuclear protest.

Image by Ra Dragon.

Do not bother to see Oliver Stone’s new pro-nuke screed “Nuclear Now.”

It’s slow, boring, often cringe-worthy and profoundly false from start to finish. It’s also deeply tragic on at least two fronts.

The film’s stated purpose is to promote atomic energy, a for-profit weapons-related business defined by failure, multiple bankruptcies and major mishaps, now in steep obsolescent decline.

Stone’s apologia is unabashed and inept enough to make us wonder who’s really footing the bill. Masquerading as a documentary, it’s barely an infomercial…and a mighty dull one at that.

Which is tragic. Oliver Stone has long been one of our most courageous and incisive social critics. JFK, Platoon, Born on the Fourth of July, Nixon, W are all astute critiques. For many of us over the decades, Mr. Stone has been a hero.

But NN pollutes a great career. It reeks of sad sellout, something the tobacco industry might’ve emitted to glorify the wonders of smoking, or Monsanto to sell us on the safety of glyphosate. It makes Mr. Stone himself—the film’s centerpiece—seem a cringe-worthy shell of a remarkable former self. For that, we can only weep.

But to the tragedy of a single human’s downfall has been added tangible damage to our future as a species.

In Stone’s hands, “nuclear power” becomes a Disneyesque fantasy. Recalling Walt’s original 1950s promo piece “Our Friend the Atom,” NN portrays atomic reactors as magical unicorns that never falter nor explode, whose toxic poop is a minor miracle, whose lethal radiation might be good for us, whose pesky plutonium is all but pixie dust.

Much else is blatantly false and hideously omitted. A half-century of No Nukes activism is scorned as delusional, with the concerns of its many millions dismissed out of hand. (I am among those quoted briefly and out of context).

Three Mile Island, Chernobyl and Fukushima barely appear as minor annoyances. A century-plus of scientific findings and tragic data on the killing power of high and low radiation doses are dismissed out of hand.

The vulnerability of all individual reactors to acts of war, terror, operator error, blatant corruption, construction shortfalls, faulty maintenance, old age and deadly deterioration never appear on screen. There’s no place in this film for the crises at Zaporizhzhia, now in military peril, or Fukushima, with a million tons of radioactive liquid poised to pour into the Pacific.

Nor do we hear from Mr. Stone that US commercial nukes now average 40 years of age, are dangerously embrittled, badly maintained, largely uninsured, grossly uncompetitive. Or that taken individually, any one of them could blow at any time for a wide range of causes specific to each plant.

In reality, the core issue we face is not nuclear power, it’s the 94 individual reactors themselves…and the suicidal bet on which will blow up next.

It is also the reality that nuclear reactors worsen the global climate crisis. We do not cool the planet with radioactive carbon-emitting potentially explosive reactors burning at 571 degrees Fahrenheit.

Stone can’t avoid bowing to wind and solar. But he ducks the reality that renewables now dominate the global energy investment market..

Simply put: wind, solar, batteries and increased efficiency are cheaper, safer, cleaner, more job-producing, more reliable, faster to deploy and far more popular and profitable than nuclear. Unlike atomic energy, they are genuinely carbon-and heat-free.

And they fill the rest-of-the-20s black hole that Stone and his ilk can’t face.

For the simple reality is this: for at least the next six years or more, in the midst of humankind’s immediate need to cool the planet, as renewables surge ahead, no new US nuclear plants can be built at all.

There are 94 of the big old light water reactors on line here. Zero more are under construction, and none will be ordered.

The last two at VC Summer were abandoned outright after ten years of construction and $10 billion thrown down the tubes. Within a three-year window, that money could have built thousands of megawatts of solar, wind etc.

Instead South Carolina is stuck with a dead unfinished hulk that helped bankrupt Westinghouse and that has (so far) landed at least two top utility execs in prison.

In neighboring Georgia, Vogtle Units 3 and 4 stumble open after years of delays and a staggering $20 billion cost overrun. The $35 billion squandered on Vogtle could have powered Georgia with far more green-capacity at a fraction the kilo-watt price.

At Hinkley, England, two reactors have soared beyond L35 billion. Another at Flamanville, France, came in years late and hugely over budget. So did Finland’s Olkiluoto, which now frequently shuts to give way to cheaper wind power.

We see none of this in Stone’s screed. But shy the nation’s most radioactive bake sale, no one will ever finance another big US nuke.

Instead, Stone diverts us to the fantasy land of Small Modular Reactors, whose best case deployments are envisioned for December 2029. Their pushers posit thousands of these warhead-equivalent heat-makers buried throughout the land.

But even at the get-go they face soaring costs and complex licensing problems. Even at current pie-in-the-sky guesstimates, SMRs can never compete with renewables.

So while Stone hypes “nuclear energy” as a way to cool the planet, no big or small reactors can come on line until the 2030s.

Which leaves the industry just one lifeline—-to keep all the existing reactors operating, no matter their internal decay or market failures…at least until the next one explodes.

Except for the two shaky new ones at Vogtle and one more at Watts Bar, Tennessee, that opened in 2016, the 94 US nukes average around 40 years of age. Each is cursed with structural, operational, staffing, administrative, financial, waste management and other downfalls.

Even if all goes well, they can’t hope to compete as a whole with renewables, whose prices continue to plummet while efficiency rises.

So with no new big reactors in the pipeline, and small ones dubiously projected for the 2030s, and renewables blowing all other sources out of the market, the only tangible impact of Mr. Stone’s immediate atomic advocacy is to slash regulations at the existing, already uninsured nukes.

And that’s the biggest horror story Oliver Stone has ever hidden.

Stone built much of his career bravely fighting the Warren Commission’s delusional version of the JFK assassination.

Now he peddles the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s delusional aversion to reactor safety.

Suffice it to say that after six-plus decades, the uninsured industry the NRC is meant to regulate has YOU holding the radioactive bag for its fallout and waste.

And that far too much of your tax-payer money is going to fund dangerous, expensive old nukes that should’ve shut long ago.

Thus they continue to operate primarily as a funnel for the weapons industry’s war head material and trained personnel.

And we must ask: when the next quake/tsunami turns Diablo Canyon to seething rubble, when Davis-Besse blows its faulty top, when Seabrook’s concrete crumbles, when Palo Verde runs out of cooling water, when Prairie Island heats and poisons the entire Mississippi, will the next excruciating Oliver Stone “documentary” soft-pedal all that fallout for our children and theirs?

Must we now mourn the turning of a great truth-teller while quaking downwind from the dangerous, decrepit, deteriorating, outmoded, over-priced Bomb-Making reactors whose escalating insanity this oh-so-boring screed tries to hide in plain sight?

Harvey Wasserman wrote THE PEOPLE’S SPIRAL OF US HISTORY: FROM JIGONSASEH TO SOLARTOPIA.  Most Mondays @ 2-4pm PT, he co-convenes the Green Grassroots Election Protection Zoom (www.electionprotection2024).  The Mothers for Peace (www.mothersforpeace.org) could use your help in the struggle to shut the Diablo Canyon nukes.