What Batman can teach us about a nuclear future
The Dark Knight Rises, the last and final instalment in Christopher Nolan’s Batman series, packs a serious punch. For almost three hours audiences are held captivated by the reluctant return of the Caped Crusader to save Gotham City from a neo-fascist Nemesis in the guise of the megalomaniacal Bane. The political subtexts are not standard Hollywood fodder.
Nolan not only fesses up to the corruption at the heart of the otherwise civilized veneer of modern liberal Democracy, he also tackles head-on themes such as the inevitable compromise and capitulation to following orders intrinsic to carrying out state sanctioned authority, and ultimately, the darker impulses that may lay at the heart of the nuclear industries push into promoting itself as the clean energy solution of the future.
It is on this second score that The Dark Knight is at its most prescient, timely and cutting. One of the major arms of the Wayne Empire’s commercial interests is in developing Nuclear Fusion energy – the silver bullet often touted by the real world nuclear industry as the answer to the impending climate change crisis.
In the movie, the nuclear physicist who develops the reactor meets a rather grisly end once his usefulness to the new regime expires and, like Oppenheimer before him, becomes burdened with the knowledge that his revolutionary creation that was supposed to transform the world as the ‘peaceful atom’ will ultimately become a deathly blight on the planet. Or as Oppenheimer said, quoting Krisna, “Now I am become Death – Destroyer of worlds.”
Without giving away the end of the The Dark Knight Returns (that wouldn’t be fair) – it is a safe bet to say that Nolan’s movie certainly does no favors to the world’s already struggling nuclear industry.
Like all good art, the movie comes at just the right moment in time – a moment when Germany has just shut down its nuclear industry due to political pressure, and when the people of Japan are now taking to the streets en-masse to demand that its government refrain from restarting the countries nuclear industry post-Fukushima.
If any country knows about the dangers and horrors at the extreme ends of the nuclear chain it is surely Japan.
Yesterday marked the 67th anniversary of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, which were estimated to have killed more than 150,000 people. Currently in Japan, many thousands of people who lived in the vicinity of Fukushima Prefecture are still unable to return to their homes, despite the government having lowered the public safety radiation thresholds in the wake of the nuclear disaster, much to the chagrin of international observers such as the International Physicians for the Prevention of War.
The movie is successful in implanting in the minds of audiences the intrinsic and well-proven connections between nuclear bombs and nuclear power.
Namely, that plutonium is produced from uranium in a nuclear reactor. Military and civilian nuclear programmes are often closely linked. Most of the recent instances of nuclear proliferation have stemmed from ostensibly peaceful programmes (for example North Korea and Iran). Releases of radiation similar to or larger than those from a nuclear bomb can come from nuclear reactors and spent fuel ponds – meaning that every reactor is, in effect, a giant pre-positioned dirty bomb.
Its only a shame that Nolan’s epic finale has come to be shadowed by the atrocity that occurred in Aurora USA, where 12 people were killed and many more injured at the hands of a lone gunman who thought he was the Joker. That event horribly compounds the fact that Nolan’s movie is about the extremities of violence and its impact not only on individuals; but on economic structures, corporate governance, and the motives behind indefensible industries.
By driving the message home about the intrinsic dangers of nuclear power to such mainstream mass audiences, The Dark Knight Rises provides a strong counter-balance to the myth that the nuclear industry can ever be anything but a dangerous blight on modern civilization.
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