Oliver Stone has a new documentary out that is sure to push Generation Greta’s buttons. Recently screening at the Zürich Film Festival and La Biennale di Venezia, his film, “Nuclear,” argues that only a massive number of new nuclear power plants can save Planet Earth. It’s a message few green believers want to hear.  

I reach the Oscar winning director, via Zoom, at his home in Los Angeles, California. In Hollywood, environmentalism is the reigning cause celeb and Teslas are the latest in conspicuous conservation. Stone’s atomic advocacy, however, is at odds with the environmental establishment. Germany and Switzerland are phasing out nuclear power at the behest of green politicians. Greta Thunberg and her faithful followers rail against the energy demands of capitalism. 

Stone, himself a man of the left, is sympathetic, but he laments that their good intentions and misplaced fears are taking them, and the cause, down the wrong track. “Nuclear power plants run for years without polluting the environment, without carbon monoxide being poured into the atmosphere,” he explains with some exasperation. Contrary to popular scaremongering, nuclear energy is safer than fossil fuels, boasting a far lower mortality rate than its dirty competitors.

Stone’s alternative advocacy is provoking criticism. But the star director — who has managed the likes of Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt, and Angelina Jolie — is not easily rattled. Stone tells me, “I am 76 years old. With the remainder of my life, I want to do something that will help people.” 

But what about the highly radioactive waste caused by spent fuel rods, I ask.  Aren't we saddling humanity and nature with an enormous burden for centuries to come? “It's the cleanest energy we have,” Stone insists. But the master provocateur is also careful to point out that his film “does not say it's the only solution.”

Renewable energy is important, Stone acknowledges, but there will not be enough to meet the needs of a growing world population. People in India, China, Africa, Latin America will demand ever increasing energy supplies “because they want what we have in the West.” According to estimates, the demand for electricity will increase two to four times in the next decades. "That is enormous."

This makes modern nuclear power plants that are smaller, more efficient and safer all the more important. “America has fifty start-up companies building small modular reactors” — nuclear fission reactors that allow for higher safety of the nuclear materials used. “There are lots of promising new techniques,” Stone tells me. “We've learned a lot from building. This is what people don't understand. They think about the 1970s. They think about these three accidents, out which one was really dangerous.”

Stone is referring, primarily, to the disasters at Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima. “Everybody is scared of nuclear energy because they're listening to the old days. They're back to the 1970s. They're back to World War II. They're thinking of Hiroshima, Nagasaki.” He blames the confusion many people make with nuclear weapons versus nuclear power. “People do not understand that the bomb is made with enriched plutonium,” Stone explains. “Nuclear energy comes without having to enrich plutonium in a completely different process that is safe.”

Stone believes that the term "nuclear" is used to instil fear — “unnatural fear” —especially in view of the war in Ukraine. 

But doesn't this war, imposed on Ukraine by Putin, show how vulnerable nuclear power plants are? According to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the likelihood of a nuclear disaster has increased since the Russians invaded Ukraine, as shown by the example of Zaporizhzhya, where the local nuclear power plant has apparently come under fire.

Stone considers these fears unjustified. “The plant is very well built, well protected with a container system. You could even run a jet plane into the plant and it wouldn't ignite," he says, adding that the power plant was built with high safety measures.

The dangers are being played up by the press trying to stir up sentiment against Russia, the movie director alleges. “They want to embarrass the Russians in any way possible. So, they keep emphasizing the dangers of it, even saying that the Russians are firing at it. But they're not.”

“The United Nations went there and they made it very clear that it wasn't the Russians that were threatening the plant, it was the Ukrainians.”

Putin has recently contributed to rising nuclear fears by blatantly threatening to use weapons of mass destruction. Can Stone imagine Putin using an atom bomb? "Putin is not going to…” Stone pauses and rephrases. One should “not jump to conclusions,” Stone instructs. “He said he would use nuclear weapons to protect Russia. He will use nuclear weapons only if we threaten Russia. That's what he said, and that's allowed."

Stone is one of only a few Westerners who have gotten to know Putin personally. He filmed a documentary of the Russian president from 2015 to 2017. Called “The Putin Interviews,” the result is a four-hour TV series. The slogan of the documentary: “Know your enemy.”

For months, people in the West have been debating if Putin is genuinely crazy. Stone dismisses the speculation. “The last time I saw him in 2018 or 2019,” Stone tells me, “he was a very sane man, very calm.” The man in the news, now, appears the same.

"He’s not a man who loses his temper, who has an ego fit," Stone observes. “I think when you fight a war, you say the worst things about the enemy. But you have to use your own common sense.” Putin, Stone insists, is “a very balanced man, a very good chess player.” He points to his recorded interviews as proof. “In it, Putin explains the situation in Ukraine,” Stone reminds me. “The United States staged a coup in Ukraine in 2014 and installed an anti-Russian, pro-Western government.”

All of which leads Stone to harbor great concern about the current global instability. He leans into his desktop camera, “I am concerned because the United States keeps pushing, pushing, pushing, provoking, provoking.” This, he worries, poses great dangers. “They [the Americans] want him [Putin] to use a nuclear weapon, because then they’ll have a great case for going after him in full.”

Of course, Putin is aware of the Western game. “Believe me, he knows all this,” Stone reflects. “But I wouldn't play around with Putin, because he has great weapons.”

Stone is convinced that what he calls “a new breed of neoconservatives” is wielding the sceptre of war in Washington. And with President Joe Biden now in the White House, “Liberal Democrats have jumped in.”

“The Neoconservative people are very dangerous,” Stone warns starkly. Sounding like a left wing version of conservative Fox News Channel host Tucker Carlson, Stone presses, “They got us into the war in Iraq, don't forget. The war in Afghanistan. These people never take responsibility. Never apologize for their mistakes. They just keep going. They keep being aggressive.”

As Stone surveys the American political landscape, he sees an entrenched, century-long, campaign of antagonism against the Russian bear. “This is the policy that goes back to 1918. You could go back to the revolution. It just doesn't end. Roosevelt and Kennedy were the only two who seem to make some kind of breach in the piece.” The old man of the unchanging sea is pessimistic about a potential rapprochement. “We don't have those kind of statesmen in America anymore.”