Nuclear Cinema: 10 Prescient Meltdowns

A year ago, the geothermal-rich Japan suffered an utterly predictable earthquake, tsunami and nuclear nightmare that is still currently unfurling in terrible ways. The more we know about what happened, one pattern becomes utterly clear: We should have known more about what was happening, as it happened, but were prevented by those whose culpability in such a predictable disaster was no longer safely hidden.

The same goes for the readout and fallout. From wreckage to radiation, Japan, and the rest of the world that its haphazard approach to hazardous waste has subsequently endangered, is still in the danger zone. Like Chernobyl whose shadow it annihilated, the Fukushima clusterfuck will take decades before we can fully apprehend, must less resolve, its technocratic ravages.

And to think, it all could have been stopped cold if TEPCO, and other nuclear industry titans and teat-suckers, would have just screened these cold-sobering reality checks disguised as harrowing films. With that sad fact in mind, I have resuscitated a cultural critique I submitted in those irradiated weeks shortly after the disaster, which was buried by our unhealthy obsessions with lesser matters.

Come for Dr. Strangelove, stay for Lester Brown.

[The article originally appeared with zero fanfare and videos as Top 10 Great Works of Nuclear Cinema on AlterNet in 2011.]

Despite the maddening lack of mainstream coverage, Fukushima remains a ticking time bomb, according to physicist Michio Kaku, who said Northern Japan was almost wiped off the map. In other words, there’s really no good news.

The only positive outcome of the Fukushima clusterfuck is that nations around the world have now seriously considered abandoning their nuclear programs altogether. Germany and Switzerland announced they’re finished with nukes, although not until 2022 and 2034, respectively. Italy is of a similar mind, and of course so is Japan, which is ready to scrap the Fukushima plant, along with its nuclear ambitions in general, if it can ever get close enough to the its still-lethal meltdowns without being irradiated to death.

Hopefully, those promises will hold once peak oil wreaks global havoc and Japan’s irradiated seawater and fallout stops allegedly killing babies in the Pacific Northwest. Japan in particular, in light of all that has happened, has zero excuse. It’s sitting on top of a gold mine of geothermal energy.

“Japan doesn’t even need nuclear power,” pioneering environmentalist and author Lester Brown told AlterNet two weeks after the disaster. “It’s ironic that the same seismic threats to Japan are indicators of the country’s enormous amount of geothermal energy. Japan has something like 10,000 natural hot baths, all using geothermally heated water. Any country with that many hot springs can tap geothermal energy for electricity. So the question has to be asked: Why hasn’t Japan developed this indigenous renewable resource? Why did they even bother with nuclear power?”

It’s a significant question, no matter how we try to oppress it at home and abroad. For years, 75 percent of the United States’ nuclear sites have been leaking radioactive tritium. As I write, Nebraska’s Fort Calhoun and Cooper nuclear plants, the former of which was shut down in April, are in danger of rising floodwaters from extreme weather courtesy of climate change, extreme weather that will worsen as the crisis inevitably intensifies.

Despite these killer trends, the International Atomic Agency’s 151-nation ministerial meeting on Japan’s nuclear nightmare ended June 23 with no new nuclear rules or policies. “In our view, the application of international safety standards by the national regulatory authorities is more efficient and effective than its application by an international entity,” Brazil’s Laercio Antonio Vinhas explained. Thanks for coming out. See you next year!

While science geeks and sellouts alike continue to argue over whether or not Fukushima is the biggest industrial catastrophe in the history of humankind, two things are screamingly obvious: This is the kind of enviropocalypse that happens when the nuclear industry limits disaster planning to a single page. All of this, and worse, could have been avoided if the public and proper authorities would have just watched the following 10 destabilizing cinema and documentary meltdowns.

Dr. Strangelove or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb

Stanley Kubrick’s immortal satire of absurdist game theory and the cock-sensitive warmongers who play it is nuclear cinema’s prime mover. It should only take a single viewing for anyone to realize that placing a superpower’s nuclear capabilities in the hands of politicians and soldiers is a global disaster simply awaiting derangement. From its eponymous technofascist to its bumbling American president — both brilliantly inhabited by the late, great Peter Sellers — it proved beyond all doubt that nukes are simply too hot to handle, especially for a military-corporatist complex that’s plenty happy to repopulate the planet without us vermin around. It’s not for nothing that the U.S. military actually recently released a manual for zombie invasion: We’re the post-apocalyptic zombies they’re ready to blow away should push come to shove.

Into Eternity

The only full-length documentary about the lunacy of nuclear waste disposal, Michael Madsen’s 2009 stunner felt like a fever dream straight out of David Lynch’s dream-noir hauntings. Chronicling the construction of the Onkalo repository on Finland’s Olkiluoto island, Into Eternity quickly laid bare the fantasy that humankind has the temporal foresight, to say nothing of the technical capacity, to create sites that can safely house nuclear waste for 100,000 years. Much less the million years that Nevada’s Yucca Mountain is supposed to be in compliance.

“Who wants waste that has to be stored for a million years around them?” Lester Brown told AlterNet. “There’s not a single country in the world that has come up with a way of safely disposing of nuclear waste.”

A Is For Atom

Criminally underrated UK documentarian Adam Curtis makes a habit out of routinely annihilating technocrats and utopianists. Named after General Electric’s 1953 propaganda short, this hour-long finale of Curtis’ six-part interrogation of misguided science and rationalism, called Pandora’s Box, handily eviscerated the promise of nuclear safety. Stretching across decades from America to Russia, it employed Curtis’ iconic remixing of related and unrelated footage from the BBC’s vast vault to artfully make a very simple point: No one on Earth ever been able to build a reliably safe nuclear plant. and a trash dump to store all the crap it creates. In fact, from Three Mile Island to Cherrnobyl and now to Fukushima, the utter opposite has come true. General Electric, Westinghouse — parent corporations of media dinosaurs like NBC and CBS — Tepco and other contract-happy technocrats have regularly built nuclear plants more likely to create the China syndrome than clean energy. Speaking of…