Nearly everyone has an opinion about nuclear power but far fewer know its history and the complex social and political forces that have shaped it. Unlike so many other documentaries about nuclear power, 'The Atom: A Love Affair' does not try to argue one side of the debate or the other.
Instead, the film takes viewers behind the sensational news headlines to tell the inside story of how we got here, over seven eventful decades in the United States, Britain, France & Germany. A tale of scientific passion and political intrigue all wrapped up in the packaging of a sentimental screen melodrama, it takes us on a tragicomic journey through the turbulent and often-forgotten history of nuclear energy, brought vividly to life by those who were actually there.
Capturing both the tantalising promise and the repeated disappointments of this singular technology, the film reveals how the post-war, romantic fantasy of an atom-powered future developed into the stormy, on-off relationship still playing out today. Now, as a new 21st century landscape of smart, flexible and decentralised energy rapidly evolves around it, could it really be the end of the affair for the once mighty atom?
Over the course of an almost 5 year filming period, director Vicki Lesley travelled far and wide across the United States, Britain, France & Germany interviewing an array of writers, historians, scientists, engineers, politicians and campaigners about the gripping and chequered history of nuclear energy. Some of the important players in the nuclear story featured in 'The Atom: A Love Affair' include:
TONY BENN - A legendary and colourful figure in British politics, Tony Benn (who sadly passed away in 2014), was the minister in charge of nuclear power in Britain, first as Minister for Technology in the 1960s and later as Energy Minister in the 1970s.
BERNARD INGHAM - Best known as Margaret Thatcher's press secretary, Bernard Ingham worked in the Department of Energy under Tony Benn in the 1970s. He was and is a passionate supporter of nuclear power and until 2007 was the Secretary of the advocacy group Supporters of Nuclear Energy (SONE).
HAROLD BOLTER - Originally a journalist, Harold Bolter was a director at British Nuclear Fuels Ltd from 1975 until 1993. His time at Sellafield included the controversial push into nuclear reprocessing following the Windscale Inquiry and a number of safety scandals in the 1980s.
PETE WILKINSON - As director of Greenpeace UK in the 1980s, Pete Wilkinson went into battle against British Nuclear Fuels with a series of direct actions attempting to stop the discharge of nuclear waste into the Irish Sea from Sellafield. RALPH NADER - Perhaps still most remembered for his presidential candidacy against George W. Bush in 2000, Ralph Nader is one of the most high-profile advocates for public and consumer safety in America and has been involved in anti-nuclear campaigning since the 1970s.
MIKE McCORMACK - A chemist at the US Atomic Energy Commission in the 1950s, Mike McCormack later moved into politics, serving in the US Congress from 1971 to 1981 and becoming the first chair of of the House Subcommittee on Energy.
WILLIAM MAGWOOD - Now at the OECD, William Magwood has held a number of senior political positions in the US nuclear sector, including director of nuclear at the Department of Energy during George W. Bush's administration, and Commissioner at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission until 2014.
JUERGEN TRITTIN - Now a Green MP in the German Bundestag, Juergen Trittin entered politics in the early 80s, inspired by his involvement in the anti-nuclear protest movement. From 1998 to 2005, he was Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation & Nuclear Safety in Gerhard Schroeder's government
MICHAEL SUESS - Michael Suess has worked in engineering and senior management roles at numerous high-profile German companies. From 2006 to 2014 he worked for Siemens, rising to become CEO of the manufacturing giant's Energy Sector, overseeing its withdrawal from nuclear power after Fukushima.
MARCEL BOITEUX - As head of Electricite de France, the French state power company, from 1967 to 1987, Marcel Boiteux was one of the chief architects of the major expansion in nuclear power undertaken in France after the 1973 oil crisis.
BERTRAND BARRE - Physicist Bertrand Barre began his career at the French Atomic Energy Commission in 1967 and has held a variety of senior posts in the French nuclear industry, including Chief Scientific Advisor at Areva, as well as serving as Nuclear Attache to the French Embassy in Washington DC in the 1970s.