The Atomic States of America (2012) is a documentary film that primarily focuses on two nuclear communities in the United States — Shirley, New York and Middletown, Pennsylvania. Shirley is a community in the town of Brookhaven which is situated on the coast of Long Island, New York. In the 1980s and 1990s there was a cancer outbreak in the communities which was eventually linked to Brookhaven, a nuclear research facility. Middletown, Pennsylvania is a community popularized by the infamous Three Mile Island (TMI) nuclear facility meltdown. Through detailing the problems faced by these nuclear communities, the documentary seeks answers to the question, how can nuclear power be green? A question once so simply answered by explaining that nuclear power is emission-free, is no longer so simple.
The documentary explores the dark side of using the atom to satisfy our appetite for energy while becoming less reliant on foreign resources. It explores the economics of nuclear power, which according to the documentary, isn’t very economic. As stated in the documentary, an investment of $7 billion dollars is needed to initially start a single nuclear power plant. It also touches on the financial problems associated with nuclear waste, including the Yucca mountain fiasco.
Yucca mountain is a nuclear waste storage facility. Millions of dollars have been spent on the facility but it is no longer deemed suitable for use because of seismological concerns. The solution? Nuclear facilities should store their own waste on site. Sounds like an easily remedied problem, right? Well, you’ll just have watch the film and decide for yourself.
The trust between government agencies that oversee nuclear energy and the communities represented in the film have been tarnished.
Some of the concerns raised by these communities are water contamination, inadequate evacuation plans and, most importantly, trust. The trust between government agencies that oversee nuclear energy and the communities represented in the film have been tarnished. Citizens in the film criticize the nuclear agencies and companies for poor response times to incidents, denial of water contamination and lack of accountability. One of the most chilling aspects of the film occurs we see individuals in their homes at their dinner tables jotting down the location of their neighbors who have cancer, or have died of the disease. What they eventually create are hand-drafted maps of cancer clusters in their towns.
The documentary also focuses on other communities in the U.S. and aims to raise awareness for nuclear communities across America…communities that are suffering the ramifications of harnessing the power of the atom — a power many believe modern day society is insufficiently equipped to harness. The documentary is based on the same titled book and is available on Netflix, Amazon and Snagfilms.
D. Argott, S. M. Joyce. 2012. The Atomic States of America. United States of America.9.14 Pictures.