Protests in Bonn on 14 October
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
Common political targets are new nuclear plants
(see EPR image to
right), waste repository
, 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
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
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
The roots of the anti-nuclear movement stem mainly from three
- 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
- 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
Opponents of nuclear energy used the Nuclear Non-proliferation
of 1968 to reinforce the connections between the
international export and development of nuclear power technologies
and the proliferation of nuclear
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
, known and postulated reactor accidents
, potential release of
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
The John Gofman controversy
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
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.
predicted that Chernobyl 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
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 Francisco.
Gofman did not play a major organising role in the movement, and
suggested that Larry Bogart
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.
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
Power Plant 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 Superphénix 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
- 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
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
. 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
, 1979, and Silkwood
films dramatised the fears of
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
individuals or anti-nuclear groups, have taken violent direct
action (such as rocket attacks on the Superphénix site).
Types of actions taken include:
- 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:
- 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
- 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 Plant across the Czech Republic 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 Brokdorf, 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 Wackersdorf.
The results of one study that investigated the relative prevalence
of each kind of protests in the anti-nuclear movement in
are shown below.
Profile of German anti-nuclear protests from 1988 through
|Type of protest
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
Italy 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).
a victory by the Alliance
'90/The Greens political party, which positions itself as
anti-nuclear, Germany 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.
Ireland also has no plans to change its non-nuclear stance
and pursue nuclear power in the future.
States, 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
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
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
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
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.
numerous nuclear experts who have offered their expertise in
addressing controversies, Bernard Cohen, Professor Emeritus
of Physics at the University of Pittsburgh, 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
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
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
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
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
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.
Anti-nuclear protest near nuclear waste disposal centre at Gorleben
in northern Germany, on November 8, 2008.
Anti-nuclear march from London to
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).
October 2008 in the United Kingdom, more than 30 people were
arrested during one of the largest anti-nuclear protests at the
Weapons Establishment 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.
of 350 farm tractors and 50,000 protesters took part in an
anti-nuclear rally in Berlin on September
5, 2009. The marchers demanded that Germany close all
nuclear plants by 2020 and close the Gorleben radioactive
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