The Movie ‘Moon’ Wrestled With the Ethical Implications of Mining Cheap Fuel For Fusion Energy

Commercial fusion energy could be within reach in the next fifty years, but Moon depicted a future where mining cheap fuel for fusion goes awry.

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Gif: YouTube

With the long New Year’s weekend ahead of us and Christmas behind, there’s still time to kick back and watch a movie, or two or three. Make one of those Moon, which feels timely now that scientists have had a breakthrough in fusion energy. It’s got moon mining, a gnarly lunar rover and Sam Rockwell. Need I say more?

It only took about thirteen years from the release of Duncan Jones’ sci-fi flick Moon (released in 2009), but a fusion energy experiment has finally produced more energy than expended, so the world depicted in the movie is that much closer to reality — and that’s both exciting and terrifying. Here’s the trailer, in all of its low-resolution glory:

Moon | Official Trailer (2009)

Boy, 2009 was a different time. Not only was physical media like Blu-Ray and DVD discs still going strong, but Kevin Spacey hadn’t turned out to be a creep. Don’t worry, Spacey isn’t the film much because he only plays the voice of a robot named GERTY, but fair warning nonetheless.

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In any case, the film is about a miner living on the moon, who’s only got a couple of weeks left of a three-year contract. The lonely Sam Bell — played by Rockwell — oversees and maintains a mostly-automated mining operation from a lunar base; heavy machinery harvests the lunar soil for helium-3 (3He), which is used as fuel in fusion reactors back home on Earth.

You might recall that helium-3 was mentioned in Kurzgesagt’s video explaining fusion energy, which described how helium has been deposited by solar winds on the moon’s surface. That helium could be a viable fuel for commercial fusion energy one day, and that pretty much sets the stage for the Duncan Jones film — who, by the way, is the son of the late David Bowie.

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Sam Bell is one of the workers who mines helium, and then makes sure it gets back to Earth. But something isn’t right on the lunar mining base, and through the course of the movie, we see the human cost of mining helium as cheaply as possible.

I won’t spoil the movie, even though you’ve had over a decade to check it out. And I won’t sweat you if you haven’t seen the film; it didn’t really have a wide theatrical release. It also had the unfortunate luck of being released the same year as the sequel to Twilight, called New Moonwhich I almost accidentally bought tickets for in 2009. But now is the perfect time to revisit Moon given the latest fusion energy news, and all we know about mining operations, which haven’t exactly been known for their humane or ethical treatment of workers.