In a world where unabashed advocacy documentaries are thick on the land, Ivy Meeropol’s expert “Indian Point,” an evenhanded look at the issues surrounding nuclear power, is a welcome exception.
With no end in sight to global energy demands, questions about nuclear’s place as a possible solution become increasingly urgent, with anger and rigidity on all sides of the issue often the end result.
Taking a different approach, Meeropol, whose work includes 2003’s excellent “Heir to an Execution,” examines New York’s controversial Indian Point Nuclear Power Plant from multiple points of view, including the perspectives of its advocates, its enemies, the people who work inside it and the public servants who are in charge of regulation.
One of more than 100 American nuclear facilities currently operating, Indian Point is especially controversial because of its location in Westchester County, just north of New York City.
As attorney Phillip Musegaas of Riverkeeper, one of Indian Point’s opponents, points out: “Twenty million people, 6% of the U.S. population, lives within 50 miles. We’re screwed, basically, if anything goes wrong. Everyone has their fingers crossed under the table.”
This worry grew more extreme after the 2011 events at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear plant, the worst nuclear disaster since Three Mile Island and Chernobyl and illustrated here by chilling home movie footage.
With Entergy Corp., the owner of Indian Point, scheduled to renew its license to operate the reactors, vocal local opponents like sweet but steely former school librarian Marilyn Elie appear at the mandated Nuclear Regulatory Commission hearings and insist on answers about safety.
On-camera proponents of Indian River, who include Entergy’s public relations director but no higher-ups, say no energy source is without risks but that nuclear’s benefits like job creation and low cost to consumers outweigh the risks.
Adroitly summing things up is environmental journalist Roger Witherspoon, who happens to be married to activist Elie. Everything depends, he says, on the perception of risk and what each side feels is acceptable in that area.
One of “Indian Point’s” most compelling areas is its exploration of the plant itself, showing us what it looks like on the inside (“where the magic happens,” one employee notes) and talking extensively to the people who run it day to day.
Especially compelling is senior control room operator Brian Vangor, on the job for over 35 years and completely and thoroughly dedicated to keeping things as safe as possible.
The most complex and involving character in “Indian Point,” however, turns out to be Gregory Jaczko, introduced as the chairman of the NRC and the man in charge of regulating America’s plants.
As “Indian Point” progresses, Jaczko gets radicalized by what he sees at Fukushima and pushes for an accelerated schedule for safety upgrades and stronger regulations at plants.
The industry, not happy about this, apparently pushed back, leading to highly partisan congressional hearings and nasty talk about Jaczko from folks like Republican Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina.
In this highly partisan milieu, filmmaker Meeropol’s impartiality is tonic. No matter which way you come down on the nuclear power issue, watching “Indian Point” will clarify your thinking.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes
Playing: Laemmle Monica, Santa Monica