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#HotDocs22 Review: Atomic Hope – Inside the Pro-Nuclear Movement

May 8, 2022

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The 2022 Hot Docs Film Festival runs from April 28th to May 8th in Toronto, more information on tickets and showtimes can be found right here.

There is broad scientific consensus that rising carbon emissions are exacerbating climate change, but there is less agreement on what the best alternative is to actually replace fossil fuels. While most climate activists are focused on wind and solar power as holding the keys to a decarbonized future, a small group believes that the long-maligned and widely misunderstood technology of nuclear energy is actually the best, most viable option to get us off of our reliance on fossil fuels in the short term.

In his documentary Atomic Hope – Inside the Pro-Nuclear Movement, director Frankie Fenton introduces us to a rag-tag group of scientists and activists who are fighting for more nuclear power, especially in places that still burn coal. Despite the disasters of Chernobyl and Fukushima, they argue that the benefits of nuclear far outweigh the risks, and that it is the only other form of energy we have right now that is able to meet current demands and reduce carbon emissions, while also producing relatively little waste.

The film’s subjects include author Michael Shellenberger, who views nuclear power as the only viable current option to replace fossil fuels; Iida Ruishalme, a cell biologist and leader of Mothers for Nuclear who is fighting for a low-carbon future for her kids; Eric Meyer, the founder of Generation Atomic, who raises awareness of the cause through public singing and crashing demonstrations; and John Kutsch, who leads a movement for thorium to replace uranium, including holding a conference of like-minded enthusiasts.

Despite being on the same page about the need to curb carbon emissions, they are shut out of climate marches and conferences, forcing them to find different ways to get their message out. While most of them remain open to the idea of renewables, Shellenberger is actively critical of wind and solar for its high cost, poor reliability, and low energy density, while considering the turbines and panels to be part of the environmental problem. The film looks at how much fear there still is around nuclear energy, with many equating it with nuclear weapons.

While Atomic Hope might seem like it is preaching to the already converted at times, the film makes a persuasive enough case for nuclear energy that it may swing those who are still on the fence, even if it will likely fail to win over the hardcore anti-nuke crowd. Whether you view the arguments as provocative or common sense will likely depend on what side of the aisle you already find yourself on. At a lean 82 minutes, Fenton’s film works as an engaging and informative introduction to these pro-nuclear activists, and the uphill battles they face within the larger environmental movement.

Screenings:

Tuesday, May 3rd – 7:00 PM at Varsity 7

Sunday, May 8th – 11:30 AM at TIFF Bell Lightbox 2

The film is also available to stream across Canada for five days starting on May 4th at 9:00 AM.

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