Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Nuclear living (and dying): Ivy Meeropol's INDIAN POINT examines New York's (in)famous nuclear facility

Something like this simply couldn't happen. Or so the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) told us -- before Japan's Fukushima disaster -- which, as I understand it, is ongoing still. In one scene toward the close of Ivy Meeropol's thoughtful and about as "fair" as possible (considering the whole-view circumstance regarding the use of nuclear energy) new documentary, INDIAN POINT, the filmmaker shows us a visual demonstrating the "reach" of the Fukushima disaster. Unless I didn't understand the map at hand, this continuing contamination has now spread around half the globe. Oh, but don't worry: Since this "couldn't happen," then clearly it is all just part of our imagination.

I don't mean to take lightly this whole nuclear threat. But, really, what else can you do but crack jokes -- and, sure, speak out -- when your government and its regulatory agency take the side of business over safety and refuse to regulate properly?  Ms Meeropol, shown at left, doesn't hammer home her points. In fact, she begins by introducing us to one of the workers at Indian Point, a supervisor who has been at the plant for over 30 years. He seems like a decent, honest guy who loves his job and is probably very good at it. But, or so we learn as the documentary unfolds, this is all based on a kind of "faith" in what we are told, rather than on any reality. If religion comes immediately to mind, that would seem quite appropriate.

And yet eight and one-half million people live within New York City and would be sitting ducks in the face of an Indian Point nuclear disaster (until last year, when he moved to Florida, TrustMovies was one of these), because the NRC offers no genuinely workable evacuation plan. A number of these New Yorkers, like me, are agnostics and atheists. They don't believe in any "god," yet they are quite willing to let this hopeful-if-crackpot faith guide them that, somehow, all will be well regarding the neighboring nuclear plant. If you want to live in New York City or one of its boroughs, Fukushima is the price you may eventually pay.

Or would pay, were it not for those activists, of which we see several in this 94-minute movie. To her credit, Ms Meeropol addresses not just the Indian Point issue but the entire issue of nuclear power and what it means -- from the amount of energy it provides compared to those of other sources (re Indian Point, the actual figure is ripe for reassessment) to what happens to the "spent" but still radioactive nuclear fuel. We meet the head of the company that owns Indian Point, as well as some of the folk who want to see the plant closed, as well as workers for the environmental group RiverKeeper, who give us what may turn out to be the key factor in closing this nuclear plant: what it is doing to the Hudson river water and fish that surround it.

The surprising hero (one of them, at least) of this movie turns out to be a fellow to whom we are introduced early on and who we are prepared to dislike. This would be Gregory Jaczko (above), the then-Chairman of the NRC, who might initially look like just another do-nothing apparatchik but who proves to be a strong campaigner for better safety. So of course he must be removed from his job, Ms Meeropol does not spend a whole lot of time on this, but from what she shows us it seems likely that a conspiracy to oust the guy succeeded in getting him to resign. Since his resignation, the woman who followed him into that office has also resigned. (I suspect an entire movie could be filmed around Jaczko, his career and philosophy. Maybe Corey Stoll could star in it.)

Slowly and quietly infuriating, as it presents everything from how aging nuclear plants begin to fall apart (the shaking tubes/pipes we see here will not inspired much confidence) to what is happening to that prehistoric-but-still-with-us fish, the Sturgeon, Indian Point should make its audiences think and think again about nuclear power as an answer -- or even an alternative -- to the world's energy needs.

From First Run Features, the documentary, a USA/Japan co-production, opens this Friday, July 8, at The Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center at Lincoln Center; on Thursday, July 21 in Hudson, New York, at Time & Space Limited; and at Laemmle's Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills on Friday, July 22. Elsewhere? Nothing scheduled as yet. But click here to keep abreast of any additional upcoming playdates, cities and theaters.

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