Sustainable Community Action

The anti-nuclear movement arose out of a concern of the use of nuclear technologies. This movement manifests various concerns:

  • opposition to nuclear weapons, weapons using depleted uranium, and in favour of nuclear disarmament
  • opposition to nuclear power and generation of electricity with nuclear energy.
  • opposition to the use of radioactivity and food irradiation
  • opposition to radiation including microwave radiation

Many people who are anti-nuclear, are against the use of nuclear power for electricity generation, since they think nuclear power is inherently dangerous. They consider the risk of a nuclear accident unacceptable and generally believe that radioactive waste cannot be safely disposed of safely. Many also see uranium mining and nuclear reprocessing as unacceptable, because of perceived and real environmental consequences of these activities.


Anti-nuclearism as a viewpoint, not a movement, stems mainly from three roots:

  • First, within Western culture is a thread of mistrust of science and technology which dates back to novels written even in the early nineteenth century, in which arrogant, morally-deficient scientists unleashed uncontrollable forces. The tradition of anti-science fiction persisted as late as the 1960s, after which it became a target for parody
  • Second, radioactive materials were misused and carelessly handled in the early twentieth century, 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 atomic weapons.

All three of these roots converged in the face of the use of atomic bombs on Japan and the subsequent bomb testing, with resultant distribution of radioactive fallout. The anti-nuclear movement grew out of this convergence.[1].

In the 1960's, 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 is subsumed within the environmental movement, although a major portion of the people who call themselves environmentalists favour nuclear energy.[1]

A common theme among environmentalists is the need to reduce consumerism. Early advocates concluded that nuclear energy would enable lifestyles which strained the viability of the natural environment. This belief reinforced their generally anti-nuclear attitudes.[2]

If you ask me, it'd be a little short of disastrous for us to discover a source of clean, cheap, abundant energy because of what we would do with it. We ought to be looking for energy sources that are adequate for our needs, but that won't give us the excesses of concentrated energy with which we could do mischief to the earth or to each other.

Amory Lovins,  The Mother Earth - Plowboy Interview, Nov/Dec 1977, p. 22

Giving society cheap, abundant energy ... would be the equivalent of giving an idiot child a machine gun.

Paul Ehrlich,  "An Ecologist's Perspective on Nuclear Power", May/June 1978 issue of Federation of American Scientists Public Issue Report

We can and should seize upon the energy crisis as a good excuse and great opportunity for making some very fundamental changes that we should be making anyhow for other reasons.

Russell Train (EPA Administrator at the time, and soon thereafter became head of the World Wildlife Fund),  Science 184 p. 1050, 7 June 1974

Let's face it. We don't want safe nuclear power plants. We want NO nuclear power plants

A spokesman for the Government Accountability Project, an offshoot of the Institute for Policy Studies,  The American Spectator, Vol 18, No. 11, Nov. 1985

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 power production by nuclear plants is usually centralised and nuclear power has always been a technology which 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 (which any thermal power source can produce, and which impact depends on energy efficiency), 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 endeavours 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 supposed pollution and proliferation to include economic arguments and supposed terrorist target threats. Alternative technologies, solar panels, conservation, bicycle transit and other ideas were proposed as substitutes.

The movement was popularised in part by artists. 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 movies dramatised the fears of anti-nuclear activists.

Some observers claimed to see a considerable overlap between opponents of nuclear power and supporters of unilateral disarmament during the Cold War. Others link the anti-nuclear movement to currents within the environmentalist movement who want the West (particularly the U.S.) to stop using so much energy and reduce the size of its economy.

By the nations legislation under the, New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987[3],[4], all territorial sea and land of New Zealand is declared a nuclear free zone.

Further information: Nuclear-free zone#New Zealand


Nuclear accidents

Nuclear accidents are often cited by anti-nuclear groups as evidence of the inherent danger of nuclear power (see list of nuclear accidents). Most commonly cited by anti-nuclear people is the Chernobyl disaster, which resulted in massive amounts of radio-isotopes being released into the environment.

High level nuclear waste

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, depending on the particular isotopes. The length of time waste has to be stored is controversial because there is a question of whether one should use the original ore or surrounding rock as a reference for safe levels. Anti-nuclear organisations tend to favour using normal soil as a reference, in contrast to pro-nuclear organisations who tend to argue that geologically disposed waste can be considered safe once it is no more radioactive that the uranium ore it was produced from.

Fusion energy makes nuclear waste of a type that must be stored and could be reused after some 100 years, not the tens of thousands of years of fission waste

Monetary cost of nuclear power

Anti-nuclear organisations consider that the Economics of new nuclear power plants are unfavourable because of the initial costs of constructing a nuclear plant (see Darlington Nuclear Generating Station), the public subsidies and tax expenditures involved in research and security, the cost of decommissioning nuclear facilities, and the undetermined costs of storing nuclear waste.

Nuclear proliferation

Part of the radioactive material produced in some types of nuclear reactors has the potential to be used to make Nuclear Weapons by countries equipped with the capability of chemical and isotope separation. Anti-nuclear activists claim that this makes nuclear power undesirable out of concern for nuclear proliferation.

Nuclear-free alternatives

Anti-nuclear groups favour the development of distributed generation of renewable energy, such as hydroelectricity, biomass (wood fuel and biofuel), geothermal power, co-generation, wind power and solar power.

Some few pro-fossil anti-nuclear proponents also consider that a nuclear power phase-out implies a sustainable transition period of reliance on clean coal-fired or gas-powered plants, and discount the damage to the environment and resulting global warming.

Anti-nuclear groups also tend to claim that reliance on nuclear energy can be reduced by adopting energy conservation and energy efficiency policies. Anti-nuclear groups normally favour changing human lifestyles to allow for the lower energy consumption that would result from renewable energy sources, believing those lifestyles would generate less pollution.


Criticism comes mainly from three sources: nuclear experts with specialised technical knowledge, environmentalists, and (as would be expected) businesses that do nuclear work. 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.[5][6][7][8][9]

Of the 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.[10][11]

The well-known and respected environmental scientist James Lovelock regards nuclear energy as essential to minimizing global warming due to greenhouse gases. In his writings he refutes claims about the danger of nuclear energy and its waste products.[12][13] Other well-known environmentalists who share his convictions include Patrick Moore (environmentalist)[14] and Stewart Brand[15].

The Nuclear Energy Institute[16] is the main lobby group for companies doing nuclear work. 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. The Institute sponsors studies of its own, but it also references studies performed for the World Health Organisation[17], for the International Energy Agency [18], and by university researchers[19].

The anti-nuclear movement and global warming

Main article: Global warming

The anti-nuclear movement opposes expanding nuclear energy to displace fossil fuels (petroleum, coal, natural gas).

They contend that capital resources would be spent more productively on renewable energy sources than nuclear plants. They argue further that the problem of intermittancy can be overcome through storage, biofuels, and oversizing the electrical-distribution grid.[20][21]

Nuclear proponents point to independent studies that show the opposite: that the capital resources required for renewable energy sources are higher.[22] 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.[23]

Former US Vice-President Al Gore has stated about the use of nuclear power to mitigate global warming: [24]

  1. REDIRECT Template:Pull quote

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[25].

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.[26]

File:Nuclear energy poll europe.png

Feb 2002 opinion poll regarding nuclear power in the European Union.

  Respondents opposed to nuclear, many of whom would consider themselves "anti-nuclear"
  In favour of nuclear power

Results for Feb-Mar 2005 show 37% in favour of nuclear energy and 55% opposed, leaving 8% undecided.[28] 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.[29]

In the United States, the Nuclear Energy Institute has run polls since the 1980s which show a general trend toward favourable attitudes on nuclear energy, but those polls show higher approval than most other polls.[30]

Anti-Nuclear, watchdogs, and nuclear awareness organisations

International organisations

  • International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons
  • International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
  • Friends of the Earth
  • Greenpeace
  • Ploughshares Fund
  • Nuclear Information and Resource Service - World Information Service on Energy

Local organisations

  • Anti-nuclear movement in the United States
  • Anti-nuclear movement in the European Union
    • Sortir du nucléaire in France
  • Sortir du nucléaire in Canada
  • Citizens' Nuclear Information Centre in Japan
  • Anti-nuclear movement in Africa
    • Earthlife Africa
    • Koeberg Alert

Related topics

Sustainable energy

Related Wikipedia content

32x28pxEnergy portal
32x28pxEnvironment portal
  • Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
  • Global warming
  • Nuclear-Free Future Award
  • Nuclear-free zone
  • Nuclear Power
  • Trans-Mediterranean Renewable Energy Cooperation (TREC)
  • The China Syndrome (1979 film starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to:

UK Links


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

This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).


  1. 1.0 1.1 Weart, Spencer R. Nuclear Fear: a History of Images. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988
  3. New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987
  17. Fourth Ministerial Conference on Environment and Health: Budapest, Hungary, 23–25 June 2004
  19. 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)
  26. Energy
  27. April 19th 2002, Eurobarometer 56.2, by French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) Other polls point different results:,22606,21311462-5006301,00.html ,