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Protests in Bonn on 14 October 1979.

The anti-nuclear movement is a loosely-linked international social movement that people opposed to the use of nuclear technologies follow. The chief focus of the movement is opposition to nuclear power (see Nuclear debate), but also includes other issues such as:

Historically, this opposition has come from both political organisations and grassroots movements. Common political targets are new nuclear plants (see EPR image to right), waste repository sites, transport of waste, nuclear reprocessing, uranium mining, or any other nuclear-connected technology, because of perceived and real environmental consequences of these activities.


A symbol of the anti-nuclear movement is a smiling, traditionally red sun, usually on a yellow background. There are several variations, such as pugnacious raised fist or angry face. It is often accompanied by the slogan "Nuclear power? No thanks!" This symbol has its roots in the Danish anti-nuclear movement in the 1970s and has since gained worldwide usage.

The Free Republic of Wendland coat of arms, which is not recognised internationally, shows an orange sun on a dark green background.

A symbol of resistance against nuclear waste transport is a (mostly yellow) X. This symbol is newer than the smiling sun. It originated in the German anti-nuclear movement.

Image:Englishsm.png|The "Smiling Sun" icon of the anti-nuclear movement. Originated from the Danish Antinuclear Movement (OOA).

Image:Republik Freies Wendland Wappen.jpg|A possible predecessor to the smiling sun logo.Image:Nuclear hand.png|Another high profile anti-nuclear symbol, which is a variation on the international radiation symbol. It is used and recognised in at least Australia.Image:Nuclear power is not healthy poster.jpg|Anti-nuclear poster from the 1970s American movement.


The roots of the anti-nuclear movement stem mainly from three sources:
  • First, within Western culture there is a thread of mistrust of science and technology which dates back to novels written in the early nineteenth century, in which ambitious and over-confident scientists unleashed uncontrollable forces.
  • Second, radioactive materials were misused and carelessly handled in the early part of the twentieth century (see Radioactive quackery), which led to a general belief that all forms of radiation were dangerous at any level.
  • Third, nuclear energy was, and is, associated in the public mind with nuclear weapons.

All three of these roots coalesced following the use of atomic weapons on Japan and the subsequent bomb tests, with resultant distribution of radioactive fallout. The anti-nuclear movement grew out of this convergence.

In the 1960s, the environmental movement grew mainly in reaction to obvious deterioration of the natural and urban environments. Although some environmentalists favoured nuclear energy as a way to reduce pollution, the majority came to the movement with already-formed anti-nuclear attitudes, and at present the anti-nuclear movement and the environmental movement have considerable overlap.

Opponents of nuclear energy used the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty of 1968 to reinforce the connections between the international export and development of nuclear power technologies and the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Finally, because nuclear power has always been a technology which requires and employs specialists, some individuals with little or no scientific training view it as an elitist technology. The public view of nuclear power is based on popular political and social perception rather than in-depth knowledge of the technology and scientific specifics of nuclear power.

Much early opposition to nuclear power was expressed in relation to environmental grounds: thermal pollution, known and postulated reactor accidents, potential release of radiation during shipments, and still-developing means for long-term radioactive waste storage and disposal. The environmental movement made such concerns well-known, whereas opposition on issues such as concentration of capital in major engineering endeavors rather than decentralised and less productive energy sources, and proliferation of nuclear weapons, did not attract much attention.

By the time of the rise of New England's Clamshell Alliance, California's Abalone Alliance, and dozens of similar regional groups dedicated to stopping the growth of nuclear power through nonviolent civil disobedience based actions, points of opposition had expanded from concerns about pollution and proliferation to include concerns about economic viability and terrorist target threats.

The John Gofman controversy

John Gofman was called the father of the anti-nuclear movement by some , even though his concerns over nuclear energy began in the 1960s, long after the movement started. He was, in fact, a weapons researcher and never apologised for his work on atomic bombs. He claimed that the consequences of exposure to low levels of radiation were much greater than previously thought. His findings were disputed by other analysts, but safety standards were strengthened, and in 2005 The National Academies of Science released a report which concluded "that the smallest dose [of radiation] has the potential to cause a small increase in risk to humans."

The National Institutes of Health and the Health Physics Society in the United States and other professional health organisations internationally reject the hypothesis on which Gofman based his calculations, the "linear-no-threshold" formula. The International Commission on Radiation Protection and the United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation acknowledge that the concept is unsupported by scientific evidence but recommend the rule be applied in risk calculations in the interest of conservatism, supposing that overstating the risk leads to safer design considerations. Critics complain that the rule encourages unsafe decisions by driving choices toward other, greater, health risks.

Gofman predicted that Chernobylmarker would cause 1,000,000 cancers and 475,000 deaths, and later, in 1996, estimated that the majority of cancers in the U.S. were caused by medical radiation. These estimates are widely disputed, and in 2005 a report prepared by the Chernobyl Forum, led by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and World Health Organisation (WHO), attributed 56 direct deaths (47 accident workers, and nine children with thyroid cancer), and estimated that there may be 4,000 extra cancer deaths among the approximately 600,000 most highly exposed people; thus disputing Gofman's hypothesis.

Gofman acted as an expert witness in several radiation-exposure legal cases and helped to establish an advocacy group, the Committee for Nuclear Responsibility, based in San Franciscomarker.

Gofman did not play a major organising role in the movement, and suggested that Larry Bogart is the movement's true originator.


Anti-nuclear events have seen participation in the tens of thousands on a number of occasions. Exact counts, however, are generally impossible, and estimates may differ by large margins in some cases, making an exact ranking difficult. A likely candidate for the largest anti-nuclear protest was a nuclear weapons protest in West Berlin boasting on the order of 600,000 participants in 1983. The largest petition was against nuclear weapons and boasted 32 million signatures. The largest protest against nuclear power may have been on July 13, 1976 in Bilbao, Spain when 200,000 have been estimated to be in attendance; its platform was to have public votes on nuclear plants.

A few injuries during protests have occurred which include a train worker who was hurt when a hook claw sabotage method was used once. No deaths have resulted from violent action, although one resulted from non-violent direct action, and one resulted from an attack by right wingers on a protest. Major instances include:

  • In 1977 over 10 acts of violence targeted EDF-connected sites. Coined as Nuclear's night of terrorism, acts included explosive charges placed outside the senior management building, a garage, in Toulouse and Talence buildings, and on pylons supporting the Bugey Nuclear Power Plantmarker and the Saint-Maurice Nuclear Power Plant. A group called C.A.R.L.O.S. claimed responsibility under the purpose of urgently stopping the building of nuclear plants.

  • In 1979 a group called CRANE stole irradiated plates in Lyon and placed them in scattered places throughout the university. 11 out of 14 were found. The group intended to demonstrate what a terrorist group could do.

  • On 18 January 1982, five rockets were fired at the Superphénixmarker reactor under construction: two reached the building. Magdalena Kopp, the wife of international terrorist Carlos, claimed to provide support. The objective of the terrorists was to halt construction of the facility.

  • Also in 1990 two pylons holding high voltage power lines connecting the French and Italian grid were blown up by Italian eco-terrorists, and the attack is believed to have been directly in opposition against the Superphénix.

  • In 2004, a 23 year old activist who had tied himself to train tracks in front of a shipment of reprocessed nuclear waste was run over and effectively cut in two by the wheels of the train. The event happened in Avricourt, France and the fuel (totaling 12 containers) was from a German plant, on its way to be reprocessed.

  • On July 21, 2007, a Russian antinuclear activist was killed in a protest outside a future Uranium enrichment site. The victim was sleeping in a peace camp, which was part of the protest when it was attacked by unidentified raiders who beat activists who were sleeping, injuring eight and killing one. The protest group was self identified as anarchist and the assailants were suspected to be right wing.

In the media

The movement was popularised in part by artists. Beginning in the 1960s, the anti-nuclear trend was escalated in the popular media by novels such as Fail-Safe and films such as Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Popular performers such as Bonnie Raitt and Jackson Browne recorded songs about nuclear or alternative power sources. Along with numerous documentary film treatments, the Academy Award nominated The China Syndrome, 1979, and Silkwood films dramatised the fears of anti-nuclear activists.

Anti-consumerist philosophy

A common theme among environmentalists is the belief in the need to reduce consumerism. Early anti-nuclear advocates thought that nuclear energy would enable lifestyles which would strain the viability of the natural environment. This belief reinforced their generally anti-nuclear attitudes.


The movement uses a number of methods to influence policy and gain publicity. Many prominent institutionalised groups advocate Non-violent direct action. Others, individuals or anti-nuclear groups, have taken violent direct action (such as rocket attacks on the Superphénixmarker site). Types of actions taken include:

  • Propaganda
    • Websites. Many anti-nuclear groups maintain websites which include information on nuclear technology.
    • Demonstrations and information desks. Many nuclear power opponents man information desks and organise demonstrations. These, however, gain little attention from the press and the public if they are not very large. Forms of demonstrations may include:
    • Concerts
Most actions included supporting concerts. The best known concerts were the No-Nukes concerts by MUSE at Madison Square Garden in 1979.
  • Non-violent direct action. Similar to a Sit-in, this kind of action is commonly considered civil disobedience. Examples include:
    • Blockages. Nuclear transports or nuclear plants have been blocked by protesters. This leads to large-size blockades with several thousand people, based on the principle of nonviolence, but also smaller demonstrations happen. In Germany, if a blockade states that it is not coercive, there are no severe legal repercussions to the activists. In Austria, a blockade was staged in protest of the Temelin Nuclear Power Plantmarker across the Czech Republicmarker border (critics of the movement saw this action as nationalistic). In France in November 2004, an activist died on train tracks after chaining himself down.
  • Direct action.
    • Sabotage. Another method is sabotage, such as track and signal systems of the railway. Also, damage to overhead lines by hook claws have been a result of this kind of protest. After an engine driver was slightly injured, the method has been labelled as a "severe interference in the rail transport" .
    • Violent demonstrations. During Germany's largest demonstration, which took place in 1981 in Brokdorfmarker, West Germany, an estimated 50,000 demonstrators faced 6,000 policemen. Twenty-one policemen were injured by hundreds of demonstrators who were armed with gasoline bombs, sticks, stones and high-powered slingshots. Police arrested seven demonstrators and drove the others back with water cannons. In 1986, West German police were confronted by demonstrators armed with slingshots, crowbars and Molotov cocktails at the site of a nuclear reprocessing plant in Wackersdorfmarker.

The results of one study that investigated the relative prevalence of each kind of protests in the anti-nuclear movement in Germany are shown below.

Profile of German anti-nuclear protests from 1988 through 1993.
Type of protest Entire German
Environmental Movement
Anti-nuclear Movement
Appeal 16.1 7.2
Procedural 8.9 7.7
Demonstrative 42.3 44.5
Confrontational 16.9 24.6
Light violence 5.7 2.4
Heavy violence 6.2 10.9
Other 3.8 2.6
Total 100 100
Sample size 1,377 62

Impact on public policies

By the nation's legislation under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987, all territorial sea and land of New Zealand is declared a “nuclear free zone”.

In Italymarker the use of nuclear power was barred by a referendum in 1987. Recently, however, Italy has agreed to export nuclear technology and now it intends to reverse the ban on nuclear power (as Sweden did in 2005).

Touted as a victory by the Alliance '90/The Greens political party, which positions itself as anti-nuclear, Germanymarker set a date of 2020 for the permanent shutdown of the last nuclear power plant in the Nuclear Exit Law, although recently there have been significant discussions to extend this date.

Irelandmarker also has no plans to change its non-nuclear stance and pursue nuclear power in the future.

In the United Statesmarker, the Navajo Nation forbids uranium mining and processing in its land.


Nuclear accidents are often cited by anti-nuclear groups as evidence of the inherent danger of nuclear power (see Nuclear and radiation accidents). Also, according to anti-nuclear organisations, rendering nuclear waste harmless is not being done satisfactorily and it remains a hazard for anywhere between a few years to many thousands of years (although the same organisations usually oppose, and lobby against, processing the waste to reduce its radioactivity and longevity). The economics and nuclear proliferation issues are also primary concerns.

Nuclear-free alternatives

In general, anti-nuclear groups tend to claim that reliance on nuclear energy can be reduced by adopting energy conservation policies. Some favour changing human lifestyles to allow lower energy consumption that can be supported by renewable energy sources, believing those lifestyles would generate less pollution.

Anti-nuclear groups favour the development of distributed generation of renewable energy, such as biomass (wood fuel and biofuel), wind power and solar power, and efficiency-enhancing approaches including co-generation. Some favour geothermal power as well, though it isn't distributed and emits considerable amounts of air pollution and greenhouse gases.

Greenpeace advocates reduction of fossil fuels by 50% by 2050 as well as phasing out nuclear energy, contending that innovative technologies can increase energy efficiency, and suggests that by 2050 the majority of electricity will be generated from renewable sources.

No Nukes group

In 2008 musicians Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne and Graham Nash (see No Nukes group) announced a new campaign to stop Congress from economically favouring the nuclear industry.

Criticism of the anti-nuclear movement

Criticism comes mainly from three sources: nuclear experts with specialised technical knowledge, environmentalists, and businesses that conduct nuclear activities. The principal criticisms are that nuclear opponents overstate the impacts on human health and on the environment from nuclear energy and fail to consider the impacts of alternatives, that they make the same unbalanced comparisons with respect to economic cost, and that they ignore the practical limits of alternatives. Beyond that, critics charge that the more radical nuclear opponents argue points which are frightening but irrelevant, that they misrepresent the facts about nuclear energy and fail to substantiate their statements, and that they contradict independent analyses done by unbiased professionals.

Environmentalists criticise the anti-nuclear movement for under-stating the environmental costs of fossil-fuels and non-nuclear alternatives, and over-stating the environmental costs of nuclear energy.

Of the numerous nuclear experts who have offered their expertise in addressing controversies, Bernard Cohen, Professor Emeritus of Physics at the University of Pittsburghmarker, is likely the most frequently cited. In his extensive writings he examines the safety issues in detail. He is best known for comparing nuclear safety to the relative safety of a wide range of other phenomena.

Anti-nuclear activists are sometimes accused of representing the risks of nuclear power in an unfair way. The War Against the Atom (Basic Books, 1982) Samuel MacCracken of Boston University argued that in 1982, 50,000 deaths per year could be attributed directly to non-nuclear power plants, if fuel production and transportation, as well as pollution, were taken into account. He argued that if non-nuclear plants were judged by the same standards as nuclear ones, each US non-nuclear power plant could be held responsible for about 100 deaths per year. Nuclear power, according to MacCracken, even has a better safety record than solar.

The Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI) is the main lobby group for companies doing nuclear work in the USA, while most countries that employ nuclear energy have a national industry group. The World Nuclear Association is the only global trade body. In seeking to counteract the arguments of nuclear opponents, it points to independent studies that quantify the costs and benefits of nuclear energy and compares them to the costs and benefits of alternatives. NEI sponsors studies of its own, but it also references studies performed for the World Health Organisation, for the International Energy Agency , and by university researchers.

Criticism arising from concerns over global warming

Some environmentalists, including former opponents of nuclear energy, criticise the movement on the basis of the claim that nuclear energy is necessary for reducing carbon-dioxide emissions. These individuals include James Lovelock, originator of the Gaia hypothesis, Patrick Moore, and Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog. Lovelock goes further to refute claims about the danger of nuclear energy and its waste products. In a January, 2008 interview, Moore said that "It wasn't until after I'd left Greenpeace and the climate change issue started coming to the forefront that I started rethinking energy policy in general and realised that I had been incorrect in my analysis of nuclear as being some kind of evil plot." [195972]

Some anti-nuclear organisations have acknowledged that their positions are subject to review. However, concern for global warming has not changed the views of some other anti-nuclear organisations toward nuclear energy. These include Greenpeace, the Sierra Club and Friends of the Earth (FoE). Nuclear opponents counter that capital resources would be spent more productively on renewable energy sources than nuclear plants, arguing further that the problem of intermittancy can be overcome through storage, biofuels, and improving the electrical-distribution grid.

But critics of the movement point to independent studies that show the opposite: that the capital resources required for renewable energy sources are higher. They also point out that storage and long-distance redistribution of electricity, assuming they could be accomplished, would add to the cost and that the inefficiencies of both mitigation methods would raise the costs even more. They also argue that biofuels can't even replace a major part of petroleum-based fuel for vehicles, much less generate electricity. Some have gone so far as to claim that incorporating renewable technologies such as wind may increase fuel consumption and carbon emissions, in places such as Denmark.

Public perception of nuclear power

Approval ratings of nuclear energy, which are a reflection of the anti-nuclear movement's position prevalence in the general public, vary from poll to poll. These variations can be due to news coverage of events concerning e.g. nuclear reactors, energy supplies, global warming. Some polls show that the approval of nuclear power rises with the education level of the respondents.

The results of the polls tend to be variable, depending on the question asked: a CBS News/New York Times poll in 2007 showed that a majority of Americans would not like to have a nuclear plant built in their community, although an increasing percentage would like to see more nuclear power.

A poll in the European Union for Feb-Mar 2005 showed 37% in favour of nuclear energy and 55% opposed, leaving 8% undecided. The same agency ran another poll in Oct-Nov 2006 that showed 14% favoured building new nuclear plants, 34% favoured maintaining the same number, and 39% favoured reducing the number of operating plants, leaving 13% undecided.

In the United States, the Nuclear Energy Institute has run polls since the 1980s which had shown a general trend toward favourable attitudes on nuclear energy. A poll in conducted March 30 to April 1, 2007 chose solar as the most likely largest source for electricity in the US in 15 years (27% of those polled) followed by nuclear, 24% and coal, 14%. Those who were favourable of nuclear being used dropped to 63% from a historic high of 70% in 2005 and 68% in September, 2006.

In Spain in 2007, nuclear energy received a low poll rating at 3.1 on a scale of 10. Solar and wind received the highest rating, at 8.6 and 8.3, respectively.

Recent developments

Anti-nuclear protest near nuclear waste disposal centre at Gorleben in northern Germany, on November 8, 2008.
Anti-nuclear march from London to Geneva, 2008
Start of anti-nuclear march from Geneva to Brussels, 2009

During a weekend in October 2008, some 15,000 people disrupted the transport of radioactive nuclear waste from France to a dump in Germany. This was one of the largest such protests in many years and, according to Der Spiegel, it signals a revival of the anti-nuclear movement in Germany. In 2009, the coalition of green parties in the European parliament, who are unanimous in their anti-nuclear position, increased their presence in the parliament from 5.5% to 7.1% (52 seats).

In October 2008 in the United Kingdom, more than 30 people were arrested during one of the largest anti-nuclear protests at the Atomic Weapons Establishmentmarker at Aldermaston for 10 years. The demonstration marked the start of the UN World Disarmament Week and involved about 400 people.

In 2008 and 2009, there have been protests about, and criticism of, several new nuclear reactor proposals in the United States.

A convoy of 350 farm tractors and 50,000 protesters took part in an anti-nuclear rally in Berlinmarker on September 5, 2009. The marchers demanded that Germany close all nuclear plants by 2020 and close the Gorleben radioactive dump.


International organisations

National and local

See also


  1. WISE has badges and stickers in 35 languages. WISE.
  2. Weart, Spencer R. Nuclear Fear: a History of Images. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988
  3. Toward Renewed Legitimacy? Nuclear Power, Global Warming, and Security p. 110.
  4. Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements
  5. Interview with John Gofman
  6. LA Times, August 28, 2007 p. B 8
  7. Dr. John W. Gofman Medical physicist who has died aged 88.
  8. Review of reports by J.W. Gofman on inhaled plutonium
  9. John W. Gofman: Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology, Emeritus, Berkely. 1918-2007
  10. NAS BEIR VII pg. 7 retrieved 14 February 2008
  11. National Institutes of Health
  12. Health Physics Society
  13. ICRP
  14. Radiation Science and Health
  15. Chernobyl's 10th: Cancer and Nuclear-Age Peace
  16. Russia and Ukraine Dispute Chernobyl Safety
  17. Chernobyl death count still disputed
  18. BEIR VII pg. 329
  19. X-rays and cancer risk from radiation
  20. Medical radiation exposure and breast cancer risk: Findings from the Breast Cancer Family Registry
  21. Obituary in The Times
  22. Blogs for Bush: The White House Of The Blogosphere: Edwards Calls Israel a Threat
  23. ZNet |Activism | The Power of Protest
  24. Friends Of The Earth
  25. WISE Paris. The threat of nuclear terrorism:from analysis to precautionary measures. 10 December 2001.
  26. Indymedia UK. Activist Killed in Anti-nuke Protest.
  27. Energy Daily. Russian Anti-Nuclear Activist Killed In Attack. July 21, 2007.
  28. “For What It’s Worth,” No Nukes Reunite After Thirty Years
  29. Musicians Act to Stop New Atomic Reactors
  30. [1]
  31. WEST GERMANS CLASH AT SITE OF A-PLANT New York Times March 1, 1981 pg. 17
  32. Nuclear Power in Germany: A Chronology
  33. Violence Mars West German Protest New York Times March 1, 1981 pg. 17
  34. Energy and Now, the Political Fallout, TIME, June 2 1986
  35. Dieter Rucht. University of Essex. The Profile of Recent Environmental Protest in Germany.
  36. New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act
  37. Italy
  38. Italy joins GNEP
  39. The Radioactive Energy Plan
  40. German Parties Set to Clash Over Nuclear Power
  41. Electricity Regulation Act, 1999
  42. Navajo Nation outlaws uranium mining
  43. Greenpeace Website
  44. NRDC Website
  45. Public Citizen Website
  46. Energy revolution: A sustainable world energy outlook
  47. Geothermal
  50. James Lovelock: Nuclear power is the only green solution
  51. Going Nuclear
  52. Bernard Cohen
  53. The Nuclear Energy Option
  54. Samuel MacCracken, The War Against the Atom, 1982, Basic Books, pp. 60-61
  55. Nuclear Energy Institute website
  56. Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health: Budapest, Hungary, 23–25 June 2004
  57. Executive Summary
  58. Ari Rabl and Mona. Dreicer, Health and Environmental Impacts of Energy Systems. International Journal of Global Energy Issues, vol.18(2/3/4), 113-150 (2002)
  59. Environmental Heresies
  60. An Early Environmentalist, Embracing New ‘Heresies’
  61. James Lovelock
  62. Some rethinking nuke opposition USA Today
  63. Green Dreams
  64. Spiked Online. Energy: the answer is not blowing in the wind.
  65. Study FBBVA on Social Attitudes (Spanish)
  67. Energy
  68. - Majority of Europeans oppose nuclear power | EU - European Information on EU Priorities & Opinion
  69. Going Nuclear: Frames and Public Opinion about Atomic Energy
  70. Survey Reveals Gap in Public’s Awareness
  71. The Renaissance of the Anti-Nuclear Movement
  72. Nuclear Waste Reaches German Storage Site Amid Fierce Protests
  73. Police break up German nuclear protest
  74. Green boost in European elections may trigger nuclear fight, Nature, 9 June 2009.
  75. More than 30 arrests at Aldermaston anti-nuclear protest The Guardian, 28 October 2008.
  76. Protest against nuclear reactor Chicago Tribune, October 16, 2008.
  77. Southeast Climate Convergence occupies nuclear facility Indymedia UK, August 8, 2008.
  78. Critics assail nuclear plan
  79. Anti-Nuclear Renaissance: A Powerful but Partial and Tentative Victory Over Atomic Energy
  80. Hearing today involves opponents to new reactors at Comanche Peak
  81. Eric Kirschbaum. Anti-nuclear rally enlivens German campaign Reuters, September 5, 2009.
  82. 50,000 join anti-nuclear power march in Berlin The Local, September 5, 2009.

External links


  • Lawrence S. Wittner The Struggle Against the Bomb Stanford, CA: Stanford University 3 vol. ed I 1993 II 1997 III 2003

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