07/12/2013 01:52 EDT | Updated 09/11/2013 05:12 EDT

Provocative pro-nuclear movie comes to Canada as country debates oil, climate

OTTAWA - To the chagrin of environmentalists, Robert Stone would like to see a day when nuclear power plants are manufactured like jumbo jets — and are just as common.

Stone is the director and producer of "Pandora's Promise," a provocatively pro-nuclear-power film that premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival and opens Friday night for a one-week run in Toronto.

The film — a portrayal of former environmental opponents of nuclear power who have seen the glowing green light, as it were — comes to Canada in the midst of a white-hot debate over fossil fuels, pipelines and oil-by-rail.

Complete with harrowing scenes from inside the no-go zone around Japan's Fukushima power plant, which melted down after the 2011 tsunami, "Pandora's Promise" has enraged environmentalists in the U.S. and is being met with similar disdain in Canada.

It comes at a time when nuclear waste, long the bugbear of the environmental movement, has been all but eclipsed by climate change — two issues Stone argues should be linked in a positive way.

The environmental movement's tactics were developed in the 1970s, when the world faced a different set of problems, says the filmmaker whose 1988 documentary "Radio Bikini," about nuclear bomb testing in the South Pacific, was nominated for an Academy Award.

"What we're doing now to combat climate change simply isn't working," Stone said in an interview. "They just fail abysmally at tackling climate change and everything is trending in the wrong direction."

For all its warts — cost, disposing of nuclear waste, rare but catastrophic meltdowns — emissions-free power from nukes deserves a second look, he said.

"You'd be a fool not to take a second look at nuclear, and once you do it's just astonishing how much misinformation and misconceptions there are about this technology."

Unsurprisingly, Stone's arguments kindle familiar fires in the hearts of those whose principles are rooted in opposing nuclear power.

Jon Bennett of the Sierra Club Canada called it "just propaganda that there's been any change in the environmental movement with regard to nuclear power."

Globally, nuclear power creates about the same amount of energy as burning wood, and is not the solution to climate change, Bennett said in an interview.

"The environmental solution to the problem isn't to build nuclear power plants, but to reduce the amount of electricity we use," he said.

"It's actually cheaper and more efficient to do it that way than to actually build reactors."

Fifty per cent of electrical power generation in Ontario, Canada's most populous province and manufacturing heartland, currently comes from nuclear plants. Hydro bills in Ontario still carry a line item paying off the huge debt of that generation-old nuclear build.

Stone accused ideological opponents, "professional anti-nuclear activists," of burying their heads in the sand on the urgency and reality of nuclear's place in the fight against climate change.

"You can be as efficient as you want. We're adding two billion people to the world between now and 2050, and several billion more are lifting themselves out of poverty," he said.

"No matter how efficient we get in the developed world, that's going to be completely offset and then some by what's happening in the developing world."

Cost overruns will be overcome with new technology, smaller scale and standardized production, said Stone, who compares reactor building to aircraft, computers, solar panels or wind turbines.

"We ought to turning these things out like we do a commercial jet aircraft, in factories, mass-produced modules. And that's where the future's going to go."

Bennett said he came to environmental activism in the 1970s around the building of the Darlington nuclear plant near Toronto, which ended up costing $13 billion despite an initial budget of $3.6 billion.

"Basically every five years somebody comes up with a new propaganda campaign like this that says there's a (nuclear) renaissance and finds a few environmentalist and cons them into saying something — and in some cases buys them," Bennett charged.

It has been difficult raising money for anti-nuclear campaigns, he acknowledged, but the fight continues.

Bennett also accused Stone of hiding his film's funding sources and of being in the pocket of the nuclear power generation industry. Stone insists all his partners are listed on the film's website at pandoraspromise.com.

"It's funded entirely by liberal democrats, the same people who funded (environmentally minded movies) 'The Cove' and 'The Island President,'" said Stone.

"I would be pretty much of an idiot to get money from the nuclear industry, wouldn't I? And I think everybody would know about it by now."