In ‘Sam and the Plant Next Door,’ a Child Reckons With Climate Change and Nuclear Power

Every day, when 11-year-old Sam goes to school, he dreams of becoming a marine biologist. Next to his home, in Somerset, England, the most expensive power station in the world is slowly rising. Sam is deeply concerned about the effects of Hinkley Point on the environment. He tries to sound the alarm to his elementary-school friends.

“If that power station that they built starts to leak a bit, all that radioactivity would just [spread] through the country,” Sam says in Ömer Sami’s short documentary, Sam and the Plant Next Door. “It’s very poisonous—you could die from it. One thing that really bugs me is that corporations are doing really bad things to the environment all the time.”

In fact, many of Sam’s friends will end up working for Hinkley Point. The plant—a complex financial agreement between Électricité de France (EDF) and China General Nuclear Power Group (CGN)—is expected to create 25,000 jobs and generate support for local businesses and education. But the precocious Sam feels a responsibility to mitigate Hinkley’s threat to the planet.

With a keen eye for nuance, Sami’s stunning film follows the young boy as he grapples with difficult truths about the world he’s trying to save. Ultimately, Sam will face a dilemma that puts his idealism in conflict with his family’s economic reality: Should he accept scholarship funds from EDF in order to attend a prestigious private school, where he can study marine biology?

Sami was initially drawn to the young boy’s story because its ethical quandaries reflect universal truths. “His convictions were mostly at odds with the world around him,” Sami told me. After finishing the film, Sami was struck by the vitality of the youth-led environmental awareness and activism movement, led by Greta Thunberg, that had emerged. “This new generation of Greta and Sam’s are united in their frustration in being disregarded by adults who are unwilling to take responsibility and act on the information that is all around us,” he said.

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In one scene in the film, a representative from Hinkley Point comes to speak to Sam’s classroom about future job opportunities at the plant. “Where do you think you will be in 30 years’ time?” the rep asks the class. For Sam, the question looms in the air with the specter of climate change.

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