While doing a series of reports on alternative energy sources, an opportunistic reporter Kimberly Wells witnesses an accident at a nuclear power plant. Wells is determined to publicise the incident but soon finds herself entangled in a sinister conspiracy to keep the full impact of the incident a secret.Written by
Dave Jenkins <email@example.com>
In the United States, there are two main types of commercial power reactors: PWR (Pressurized Water Reactor) and BWR (Boiling Water Reactor). In the scene where Gibson is explaining the basic workings of the plant to Kimberly Wells, the diagram on the board shows the former type, PWR. This is shown by the two loop system in which the water is pumped through the reactor under high pressure to prevent boiling, and then through a steam generator, or boiler, to create steam for the turbine using clean secondary water. In subsequent scenes, the dialog of the characters in the control room seems to suggest that they are dealing with a BWR system, where water is allowed to boil in the reactor vessel and steam is directly piped to the turbine, with no steam generator. Godell is concerned by the high water level in the reactor reaching the steam lines, of which there are none on a PWR reactor vessel. Once Goddell and the operators realize the water level is low, character dialogue references Auxilary Feedwater which is a PWR system. As well, in the action hearing later, the investigator talks about how the operators began cutting off feedwater and releasing steam in order to lower the reactor water level, which would only happen on a BWR. See more »
This is *not* a great film about nuclear power. It plays too fast and loose with reality for that--especially in a cringe-inducing scene where two scientists describe the consequences of a reactor accident. The catastrophic damage they describe is (even opponents of nuclear power would agree) a worst-case scenario, not the inevitable result of a breakdown in the reactor cooling system. Three-Mile Island suffered such a breakdown, and the surrounding "area the size of Pennsylvania" remained habitable.
That said, this *is* a great (and surprisingly subtle) film about complex technological systems, how they fail, and how the organizations that manage them go awry. Subtle? Well: 1) Jack Godell, the whiste-blowing hero, is a flawed and self-doubting normal human being rather than a crusader in shining armor; 2) His co-workers at the plant (as opposed to the "suits" they work for) are sympathetic working-class guys who gripe (as does everybody now and then) about burdensome government regulations and the clueless public; 3) The flaws in the plant are subtle, not glaring. The film, in other words, plays a lot fairer than you'd expect given its reputation (and pedigree).
Does this film have a definite whiff of late-70s, post-Watergate America about it? Sure. Does it have a political edge? Yes. For all that, though, it's still (sadly) relevant--our technology, and the people who are supposed to make it work, still fail us. See the movie, then skim the recent (August 2003) report on the Columbia disaster; the more things change. . .
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