• Interviews

Venice 2022: Oliver Stone (Mimmo Rotella Foundation Award) and Co-Writer Joshua Goldstein Talk “Nuclear”

Oliver Stone’s latest documentary Nuclear, which begs us to reconsider nuclear energy to solve the environmental crisis, was presented out of competition on September 9 at the Venice Film Festival. In Venice Stone was also awarded the 21st edition of Premio Fondazione Mimmo Rotella (an Italian renowned artist) during a special ceremony held at the Centurion Palace in Venice. “Mr. Stone has added to his already rich filmography another important piece to the marriage of artistic research and observation of our reality,” the organizers wrote in their motivation. “With his new documentary film, Stone probes new perspectives on energy and the environment.”


Nuclear is a plea for world powers to invest heavily in nuclear energy as the only realistic alternative to fossil fuels in the fight against climate change. “It’s a thoughtful and reasoned argument,” wrote Hollywood Reporter, “backed by an array of experts and supported with an encyclopedia’s worth of facts and figures which, thanks to Stone’s skill as an editor and storyteller, don’t weigh down the film’s 105-minute running time.”

Oliver Stone co-wrote, produced, narrated and conducted the interviews for Nuclear, inspired by Joshua S. Goldstein’s book, A Bright Future – written by this international relations scholar with Swedish nuclear engineer Staffan Qvist. Goldstein co-wrote the film with Stone.


The two were together in Venice to meet the press following the premiere of the film, which is likely to have a theatrical release in the US and other countries before going on stream.


The main argument for Nuclear is that the dangers and risks of atomic power are overblown and exaggerated and that, given the very real and growing dangers of climate change, nuclear energy is the only way out. Nuclear looks on approvingly as Sweden uses nuclear power to rapidly decarbonize and worries as countries like Germany pull back from atomic energy in the wake of the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

Stone remains outspoken and candid in his politics —in the interview with The Hollywood Reporter he lambasted the US for “antagonizing Russia” through NATO expansion and mused that dictatorships like China and Russia “can sometimes achieve a lot more” in fighting climate change than Western democracies. “The success, or not, of Nuclear will depend on how much audiences are willing to ignore the film’s messenger and focus on the message,” writes the Hollywood Reporter.

“This film is not about politics, it’s not political,” Stone said. “The future of the human race is more important than all that bullshit.”

“I too once believed the environmentalists were right and that nuclear power was dangerous,” Stone explained to us. “We were, in a way, terribly miseducated, subconsciously cross-wiring nuclear war with nuclear power. People don’t think well when they’re scared: and fear is a mind-killer.”

“I’ve done 10 documentaries and 20 feature films,” said Stone. “I know a little about the power of film.  I thought about how scared I was when I saw Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, a very powerful film, though it doesn’t mention nuclear energy at all as an alternative to climate change. That’s what’s strange about it. Then I read Josh’s [Goldstein] book, ‘A Bright Future’. It’s a very practical book. It’s a serious study of how some countries have solved climate change. And that seemed a very important thing to remember. He goes into detail on France and Sweden, which has grown up into a carbon-free economy. It’s a positive book. I can’t stand reading these books where they say it’s all doomsday shit.”

In their book, Goldstein and Qvist wrote about mostly Sweden and France, explaining that it’s possible to decarbonize and do it really fast – France did it in 15 years. “They took off fossil fuels and replaced it with nuclear power,” Goldstein, sitting next to Stone, said during our round table. “The book it’s factual. It’s very well detailed and vetted. Everything’s correct. But information doesn’t counteract fear very well. And I discovered that people are afraid of nuclear power in a visceral way. And you give them all the information, but it doesn’t get through necessarily. So, that’s when I started thinking about a film.”

“When I first read his book right away, I was moved, and I optioned it,” says Stone. “We thought about a narrative plug to make it kind of fun, but then we said, ‘Let’s make it factual. Let’s do a documentary. It’s the fastest way to get to the truth’.”

Nuclear begins with Stone relating the very modern history of its subject, starting with the discovery of radium by Marie Curie in 1898. Nuclear energy suffered a brief image setback in 1945 after the double bombing of Japan, but by 1953 President Eisenhower was all about it, making his famous “Atoms for Peace” speech to the United Nations. “Nuclear was going to be the way forward until — who else? — the fossil fuel lobby took issue with its benefits and paid lobbyists to defame it,” writes Deadline. “By the 1970s that work had paid off, and when the Three Mile Island reactor suffered a meltdown in 1979 — the same year hit disaster movie The China Syndrome was in cinemas — rock stars were playing “No Nuke”.

“Two women, Marie Curie and another German scientist, Meisner, created the mathematical theoretical formula for fission,” says Stone. “And then of course Einstein, Fermi and Oppenheimer went further.  And it’s so depressing when you realize that the United States had a mass solution. And of course, as you saw in the film, it worked for 20 years. Until, of course, the Rockefeller Foundation got into the act. I don’t know if you know who they are, but they’re basically an oil company. And they started forming these environmental groups. Friends of the Earth was one of the first, and they gave them 25 million dollars. Oil rules.”

“They also knew that if people are afraid of radiation, then they’ll be afraid of nuclear power,” adds Goldstein. “And then it’s a clear road for fossil fuels to continue. And that’s what’s happened.”

“Basic confusion,” says Stone. “Billions of dollars have been spent over the decades to keep us afraid of nuclear power. So that’s where we want to understand it, to be less afraid of it. Everyone who understands nuclear power the best is the least afraid of it. And that includes you now.”

“We spent a lot of time in these reactors in Russia, France, in the United States,” says Stone. “A lot of the people who work there are young. Every day they work with it, and it works. They’re not walking around stunned. They trust it. And that’s what we should do. We should trust it because it works. And the results of 60 years show that it’s the least number of deaths in the production of energy. The most amount of deaths on the chart is coal. Below that is brown coal. And then there’s oil and gas. They’re scared, but now I think they’ve got a little bit more of a mandate. You saw the chart in the movie where it says 60% of Americans are supporting nuclear power now. Yeah, that’s a big deal. Because that figure used to be lower. The really interesting thing in the United States politics is that everything’s gridlocked.”

“Everything’s partisan, except nuclear power,” Goldstein opines. “Both parties are supporting it. Both sides of congress. Corey Booker is on the liberal side, and Jim Inhoff, is the big climate denier, he likes nuclear power. And so, it’s an opportunity when everything else is blocked and gridlocked, here’s something we can agree on. And the Biden administration has been very supportive of it.”

Some asked Stone what he thinks about Hollywood’s attitudes about this issue. He replied: “Let’s take Don’t Look Up: it’s bullshit. But it’s nice. But it’s a meteor that’s coming down to earth, right? Adam McKay, the director, told me, ‘The world is going to end in 2026’.  How does he know that? I don’t know. But he’s very adamant about it. Very funny. In fact, when I questioned it, he got hostile to my doubt. So, it’s difficult to do a positive nuclear story in Hollywood, a narrative dramatic story, I mean. Better stick to the facts.”