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Return of the Atom – Mika Taanila and Jussi Eerola

September 12, 2015

I chose this movie, the only Finnish movie at the festival this year, mostly because of the topic. It’s a documentary about the 2002 decision to build a new nuclear reactor in a small town in Finland but also the first reactor to be built in Europe since the Chernobyl disaster which occurred in 1986. Since that time of course Germany had shut down all of its nuclear reactors and the fear of another Chernobyl has sent most Europeans down the wind, hydro or solar route to renewable energy sources. Not so in Finland which still generates something like 25 percent of its power from the atom. The building of the reactor has been plagued with delays and a project that was to be completed in 2005 is now scheduled to come online in 2018 at the earliest and has cost over runs that are 3 times the original estimates. All this plus the health concerns of course and the risk of melt downs, earthquakes etc. The film is too long and in Finnish with English subtitles. Sadly much of the story is lost unless you speak Finnish but it is still a very important story. It shows, not what one would expect: namely a town mobilizing to stop government imposing a dangerous new technology but Instead the story of a town oblivious to the dangers or the policy errors or else strongly in support of the economic boon it would bring. Only a handful of locals oppose the project and they are ostracized as cranks and trouble makers. The film makers take the side of the cranks but show inertia of the town in the face of government decisions and the resulting frustration and impotence of the small group in opposition.

The film is promoted as full of humour and presenting the clear lies and machinations of the corporations behind the plan and the dangers of public/private cooperation. However because of the language issues and I think cultural differences between Finland and really the rest of the world, most of the jokes were missed by the audience including myself and at the end there was no applause which is very unusual for a TIFF presentation. I think in part because the audience was not aware the film had actually come to an end until the credits started to roll. It was a very confusing story and presented in a way that did not engage the audience I fear. However, after lots of thought I was glad I had seen it and have thought more about the issues raised in the time since. The scariest thing is the acquiescence of the community to the imposition of the reactors (there are two already there and more are planned) as well as the decision to store the reactor waste nearby the town. It is really not so different from Alberta’s and Canada’s decision to allow the tar sands exploitation. The risks are not dissimilar and the lack of engagement of the communities is much the same. If we can’t wake ourselves up to these issues we are doomed. The humour of the film therefore is hard to react to because it is very black. You have to laugh or you end up crying with the cranks.

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