C21: The China Syndrome

I woke to another downpour in the middle of the night. The winds were slamming the neighbor's loose roof metal. I went outside around 3 am thinking the banging was a cabinet door I have mounted outside. It wasn't but I couldn't get back to sleep. Wide awake I watched The China Syndrome.

Made in the same year as the Three Mile Island incident, "The China Syndrome" posits a core meltdown in a Californian nuclear plant. What if contractors, driven by profit, omit to x-ray all the welded joints in a power station's water pumps? What if contaminated water leaches into the environment? What if faulty instruments indicate that reactor rods are being cooled, when in fact they are exposed, and generating uncontainable heat?

The film is also a dissertation on the power of the media to shape our awareness. In the opening sequence we see images of Kimberly Wells, the Channel 3 news presenter, but we hear the disembodied voices of directors controlling the newscast. Powerful, unseen people decide what we can see. There are also mishearings and broken links - TV is an imperfect medium and the wrong information can easily be conveyed. "Hey! Hey! Is anybody listening to me?" asks Kimberly. It is a metaphor for the whole film.

I wish everyone would watch this film again - or for the first time. It is so timely now. It is also the best argument why we should not be considering Nuclear as an alternative energy source. As I watched the profit motive driving all of the decisions in this film, I shuddered to think how much worse it is 29 years later.