The Uranium Film Festival & The Perils of Nuclear Power

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White block letters flash in over a stark black background. “You can’t smell it. You can’t see it. But if Tschernobyl” — a gray industrial landscape of towers and high walled enclosures appears. “Fukushima. You can hear it.” A Geiger counter eerily, constantly clicks in the background. “This is uranium.” uranium film festivalA disembodied hand wrapped in a purple latex glove lifts a wedge of rock.

Then cartoon characters scream and run haphazardly across the screen. They tear at their helmet-covered heads while a warning horn punctuates the chaos. A spokesperson with a wry smile then says, “Uranium changes everything.”

Two sets of clips from mid-20th century black-and-white horror films are next, followed by a blinding yellow ball of light with a golden halo and violet rays around it. The light dissolves into an atomic bomb detonation with accompanying screams of terror. A voiceover narrator says, “Uranium makes the modern world” as buildings shatter into splinters. Another atomic bomb explodes, and the narrator asks, “What happened when we awoke the dragon?”

The final frames announce the most recent International Uranium Film Festival, which took place in Berlin in autumn, 2017.

The International Uranium Film Festival is dedicated to all films about nuclear power and its associated risks of radioactivity. This educational event merges art, ecology, environmentalism, and environmental justice as it informs the public about uranium mining and milling, nuclear power issues, nuclear weapons, and the nuclear fuel cycle. The dynamic media of film and video allow organizers and festival participants to educate and activate the international public as it brings together cultures and generations around the effects of radioactivity and radioactive materials.

Founded in 2010 in Rio de Janeiro by Norbert Suchanek and Marcia Gomes de Oliveira, the visual exhibition has traveled to nine countries around the world and has successfully organized about 60 Uranium Film Festivals. The films typically have content that critiques and analyzes uranium mining, milling, and use and the effects those processes have on land, water, and human health. The dialogue that results, hopefully, can lead to a more peaceful, healthy future and hold promise to promote a safe, sustainable future without nuclear risks.

What’s Wrong with Uranium and Nuclear Power, Anyway?

uranium film festivalUranium is a radioactive element that occurs naturally in the earth’s surface, according to the Depleted UF6 Guide. Uranium is used as a fuel for nuclear reactors. Uranium-bearing ores are mined, and the uranium is processed to make reactor fuel. Using uranium as a fuel in the types of nuclear reactors common in the United States requires that the uranium be enriched so that the percentage of U-235 is increased, typically to 3 to 5%.

To enrich the uranium, a gaseous diffusion process creates two products: enriched uranium hexafluoride, and depleted uranium hexafluoride (depleted UF6). Large quantities of depleted UF6 have accumulated at the gaseous diffusion plants where it was created. If a cylinder leak (breach) occurs and the depleted UF6 is exposed to water vapor in the air, uranyl fluoride (UO2F2) and hydrogen fluoride (HF) are formed.

UF6 poses potential health risks for three primary reasons:

  • Uranium is radioactive and can therefore increase the likelihood of cancer in exposed individuals.
  • Uranium is a heavy metal that can have toxic effects (primarily on the kidneys) if it enters the bloodstream through ingestion or inhalation.
  • UF6 can react with moisture in the air to produce HF, a corrosive gas that can damage the lungs if inhaled.

In addition to the radiological and chemical health risks associated with depleted UF6 cylinders, there are also risks of industrial accidents and transportation-related accidents during handling, storage, or transport of depleted UF6.

The Atomic Age nuclear world has produced millions of metric tons of high-level, low-level, and intermediate-level radioactive waste during the past sixty years. This waste will remain hazardous for over 100,000 years. The Union of Concerned Scientists reminds us that the 2011 accident at Fukushima was a wake-up call about the vulnerability of nuclear power plants to natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods.

We are at a turning point in which many investors are shying away from fossil fuels as energy sources due to their imminent status as stranded assets because of the serious risk they pose to our health and our environment. Shockingly, however, nuclear power is gaining appeal for investors looking for a fast return. Nuclear power is being pitched by some financial planners as “necessary” and — are you ready for it? — “actually good for the environment.”

Solar power, wind power, geothermal power, hybrid and electric cars, and aggressive energy efficiency are climate solutions that are safer, cheaper, faster, more secure, and less wasteful than nuclear power. The Uranium Film Festival can help people around the world to understand how our transition from fossil fuels to an equally dangerous source is not a climate solution.

And The Uranium Film Festival Award Goes To…

The Uranium Film Festival honors the best and most important films about uranium with trophies produced by Brazilian waste-material-artist Getúlio Damado, who lives and works in Santa Teresa, Rio de Janeiro. This famous artists quarter serves dually as the site of the first International Uranium Film Festival, which was held in May, 2011. The Uranium Film Festival Award is created from waste material directly from the the streets of Santa Teresa or artifacts that are metaphors for remembrance, such as old watches to remember the first atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima. Watches in Hiroshima stopped exactly at 8:15 in the morning when the A-bomb exploded on August 6th, 1945.

Uranium Film Festival

Submissions to the Next Uranium Film Festival

The upcoming International Uranium Film Festivals planned for 2018 are in Rio de Janeiro (May/June 2018) and in Berlin (October 2018). If you’re interested in submitting an entry to the 2018 Uranium Film Festival, be sure that you restrict your narrative to productions dealing with nuclear power, radioactivity, and the use of radioactive elements like uranium.

Sample subjects are:

  • From Hiroshima to Fukushima: nuclear war and atomic bomb tests
  • Nuclear disasters like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl or Fukushima
  • Atomic legacy issues, including the research, development, testing and use of nuclear weapons
  • Uranium mining
  • The use of depleted uranium weapons
  • Nuclear waste
  • Radioactive contamination
  • Nuclear medicine
  • Films about nuclear scientists like Marie Curie, Enrico Fermi, Otto Hahn, or Albert Einstein

The festival accepts submissions of feature length and short length films in all genres:

  • Documentary
  • Fiction
  • Experimental
  • Animation
  • Comedy
  • Romance
  • Horror
  • Thriller
  • Science Fiction
  • Suspense
  • Student productions
  • Educational and image films

The Thinking Behind the Uranium Film Festival

The Festival’s must-see documentaries and movies that are rarely shown in TV or in film theaters give nuclear filmmakers a global audience. A further important achievement of the Festival is a first-ever film archive and documentation center dedicated to all films about the nuclear fuel chain and radioactivity: the Atomic Cinematheque, or the Yellow Archives.

uranium film festival

Every year, the Festival receives new invitations from all over the world to introduce its films to other cities and countries like Australia, Greenland, Tanzania, Spain, or Scotland. This is only possible through the kindness of donations from like-minded concerned individuals and other non-profit organizations. The organizers do kindly ask for your support, welcoming any donation and distribution.

The Uranium Film Festival is a project against forgetting and ignoring. The horror of atomic bombs and uranium weapons, and nuclear accidents like Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Goiânia, or now Fukushima, should never be forgotten — nor repeated.

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Carolyn Fortuna

Carolyn Fortuna, PhD, is a writer, researcher, and educator with a lifelong dedication to ecojustice. Carolyn has won awards from the Anti-Defamation League, The International Literacy Association, and The Leavey Foundation. Carolyn is a small-time investor in Tesla and an owner of a 2022 Tesla Model Y as well as a 2017 Chevy Bolt. Please follow Carolyn on Twitter and Facebook.

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