Monday, December 12, 2011

The UVM Film: Speaking for Themselves about Power Plants

Actions Speak Louder Than Words

Hillary Archer of the Gund Institute at University of Vermont (UVM) directed a film about nuclear power, Transparent Radiation. It's a pretty negative film.

Actions speak louder than words. If the Gund Institute thought coal plants were a bigger problem than nuclear plants, they would have made a film about coal.

However, in my previous post about the film a lengthy comment stream made it clear that some people at Gund thought I was misquoting them or misrepresenting the film. So in this post, I am being extra-extra careful. In this post, I have one quote from the film....followed by my opinion. Then I have the two film trailers...followed by my opinion.

My opinions are clearly marked. Readers can read the quote, watch the trailers, read my opinions, and come to their own conclusions.

Energy Choices Quote

After I heard this quote in the film, I asked for the entire quote to put in my blog. I thank Hillary Archer for sending me the quote.

The quote describes a possible energy future.

"If we were able to reduce our per capita energy consumption in the United states from what it is, even to European levels, which is still a very developed society, we'd be cutting our energy demand generally in half, and doing about the same to our electricity demand. So if you envision this stack, we've taken 50% and made it unnecessary. It's easy to imagine that the 20% that we get from nuclear could be in the 50% that's rendered unnecessary, so this whole issue of you need nuclear power is rendered irrelevant." by Eric Garza, in the film Transparent Radiation, 2011

My opinion: I interpreted this quote as saying that shutting nuclear plants is a very high priority action. Since 50% of our electricity comes from coal, cutting back electricity use by 50% could mean that we didn't need any coal plants. As I read this quote, I think it implies that shutting nuclear plants is higher priority than shutting all the coal plants. The nuclear plants would be the first to go. That's how I interpreted this quote.

In several email exchanges with people at Gund, they have made it quite clear that they think my interpretation of this quote is completely incorrect.

However, my opinion of the quote remains the same. IMHO, the quote recommends shutting the nuclear plants first. Other people's opinions that my opinion is incorrect--doesn't change my opinion.

Trailers for the Film

Here are the two trailers for the film, Transparent Radiation. Each is less than two minutes long, so you can watch them both.

My Opinion:

Scare First: The first part of each trailer is basically attention-getting. It consists of rather frightening footage, usually with Geiger counter sounds in the background. Trailers include tsunami footage and (one trailer) atomic bomb footage.

In watching the early attention-getting frames, I am most puzzled by what happens about sixteen seconds into the trailers. It looks like workers at Fukushima, dressed in anti-c's (radiation protection clothes), are carrying a body bag. Indeed, two people drowned at the Fukushima plant during the tsunami and one person was killed when his crane toppled during the earthquake. (About 20,000 people in Japan died during the catastrophe. Most were drowned or crushed.) Deaths at the plant were caused by the natural catastrophe. Anyhow, the body-bag sequence is both puzzling and irrelevant to nuclear energy. That is my opinion.

(Someone is sure to point out that one man at the plant died of heat exhaustion later, while working. It doesn't look like these men are carrying him. First you see the men in a cluster outside the plant, then carrying the bag.)

Reform Later: Moving from the scare scenes at the beginning, the trailers then consist of many people making general statements. Most of these statements strike me as almost religious in tone: variations of the theme that "we have to rethink everything" or "it's a new age." We are also described as needing to curb our insatiable appetites for material goods, stop neglecting the limitations of the world, and so forth. These statements may be a call to personal action, but I don't see them as having much to do with nuclear.

There are a few statements about nuclear energy. These are also very general remarks, without much substance. For example, there is one statement that "nuclear is not a silver bullet." This is a straw man. Did some unknown person, not in the film, say nuclear is a silver bullet? I know that nuclear can be a great help in slowing global warming, but I don't know any nuclear supporter who would call it a silver bullet. There is also one statement in the trailer about renewables, claiming that we have lacked interest in renewables and are holding on to things we are used to.

I noticed only one number in these trailers: concern with U238 and its four billion year half-life. I described my opinion of this long-half-life statement in my previous post, so I won't repeat myself. (The 50% quote above was in the film, not the trailers.)

My concluding opinion

The trailers are very well done as advocacy pieces. They start with scary images, and move on to almost religious statements about how we can do better. This is a good sequence for convincing people. It is regularly used in advocacy (and propaganda and sermons and political speeches) of all kinds.

In my opinion, these are excellent trailers, but not trailers that encourage thought about energy choices. The images and words are visceral and direct: This is frightening! We must reform!

The problem with pro-nuclear people (like me) is that I load up my posts with numbers and comparisons. I can see by these trailers that a more direct approach works better.

And yet...somehow...this is not the sort of thing I expected to see as a university project about energy.

End Note: Ms. Archer is a lovely and gracious person, and I feel badly about having a low opinion of the film. I am grateful that she sent me any quote that I requested. I have decided that being a film critic must be a really really terrible job.

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