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Under Control on JMAN.tv - The Best Documentaries... Instantly On Demand

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Within the closed world of the nuclear power industry one of humanity’s most compelling struggles has taken place. Beautifully shot on 35mm film, this documentary pushes past the public debates to tell a story of mankind and dangerous science. Germany was at the vanguard of the nuclear power industry but now the walls are coming down. It was the country's greatest scientific endeavour; billions were spent on 17 nuclear stations. But now all are due to be decommissioned, thanks to popular fear and the power of democracy.

A nuclear plant worker steps into a sleek screening booth: “Good day. If you have objects with you please place them in the analysis unit and position hands and feet for a frontal reading”, comes the robotic instruction. After a brief pause the machine concludes; “No contamination found.“ Travelling through the secretive inner workings of a nuclear power plant, we journey into a deeply alien world, strange in every way but also routine and humdrum to those who populate it.

“A human being can of course mess up. Push the wrong button, turn the wrong control”. Yet when it comes to atomic power, such fallibility can be lethal and the machine is engineered to be autonomous. Incredible images of the pulsating blue glow surrounding the fuel rods in the reactor core gives an eerie impression of both the beauty and potential threat of this source of energy, and its immense radioactive power.

“There are nuclear substances that must be kept out of the biosphere for an unfathomable amount of time”, a scientist explains. It is just one of the many problems facing the nuclear industry: disposing of its toxic waste. Deep beneath the earth’s surface in a vast salt cave incongruous yellow barrels pile up in gloomy caverns. Meanwhile, the unstable cave ceilings quietly threaten to collapse and unleash disaster. It is just one of the many issues that has turned German public opinion against atomic energy.

Ghost-like abandoned plants now blot the German landscape. ”Nine billion Marks: that is what this bit of fun cost”, a disgruntled former plant caretaker spits, as he reveals a fully functioning ‘fast breeder’ plant, left to rust. The sheer scale of the waste comes to light in every detail; “every single cable was painted with three layers of fireproof paint. 100 painters spent a year doing that work”. In a surreal twist of fate, the site now plays host to a stark and weathered theme park: a bizarre monument to a vision of a glorious atomic future that has reached a futile end.

“Those who dedicated their lives to developing this technology didn’t set out to harm anyone”, the director of a nuclear assessment company quietly reminds us. Yet the feeling that mankind just isn’t quite ready to properly harness this extraordinary power source and control its side effects permeates every scene of this haunting doc. With rarely captured views of the deep internal organs of nuclear plants, it offers a thought-provoking insight to one of the most hotly debated subjects of our age.

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