The Atomic States of America

Directors Don Argott and Sheena Joyce trace the evolution of nuclear energy

Atomic States still

A still from The Atomic States of America.     Photo: Noah Musher

In the wake of the Fukushima disaster in Japan, The Atomic States of America casts a timely inquiry into the viability of nuclear energy, a technology with enticing advantages but horrific fallout consequences.

Directors Don Argott and Sheena Joyce trace the modern nuclear renaissance to the “peaceful atom” campaign, launched by the U.S. government soon after the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Ads and PSAs touted nuclear energy as a constructive technology—the way of the future—as Americans welcomed facilities into their backyards. An energy source that emits no greenhouse gases, infuses local economies with jobs and decreases dependence on foreign oil? Hell, yes.

Joyce and Argott carefully consider the flip side as they visit communities that have been rocked by nuclear leakage and hit with inordinately high rates of cancer. They point to a series of cover-ups at nuclear facilities where evidence of leakage and meltdowns have been found. They question whether the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission imposes strong enough safety standards on facilities such as Indian Point Energy Center in Buchanan, New York, which lies on two fault lines.

The testimony from victims is emotionally compelling, but Atomic States is ultimately driven by evidence—enough, surely, to urge nuclear proponents to consider whether the potential consequences outweigh the benefits. Or as one activist explains, “We haven’t reached the point where humans can responsibly split atoms.”

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