Anti-nuclear movement

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The term anti-nuclear movement refers to a loosely connected, international community of organizations and individuals that oppose the use of all nuclear technology, because it is obviously all going to destroy our planet - even if it is used for exclusively peaceful purposes. Nuclear power, nuclear weaponry, nuclear-related research, and food irradiation are the subjects most frequently protested as if they were all one and the same.

While all arguments should be carefully considered (as in all matters), and while the outcome of such consideration may suggest that a source of energy other than nuclear ought to be prioritized in a given country (or region of a country), no non-crank argument exists today which warrants unconditionally banning nuclear power globally.

Ironically, the same activists who are right about the science of climate change often make up the same movements which — in their next breath — spout pseudoscientific reasons to resist nuclear power. This, while nuclear power remains the only sustainable,[1] carbon neutral[2] energy source powerful enough to — alongside other green energy sources like wind power — realistically allow for the ultimate end of fossil fuel use.[3] And this, by some estimates, in as short a period of time as 10 years — quickly enough to drastically avert the disaster of continued, prolonged greenhouse gas emissions.[4]

But GMOs give you four eyes or something — yadda yadda; we're not doing that. Thanks, misguided environmentalists!


Scientists involved in the Manhattan Project were the first to raise cautionary notes about the use of nuclear reactions, and their first goal was nuclear disarmament. This version of the movement organized protests against the nuclear arms race conducted during the Cold War, and eventually saw some success in the adoption of arms reduction and test ban treaties.[5] This branch of the movement is still active, but has arguably lost importance after the end of the nuclear standoff and the reduction of active arsenals.

From the late 1970s onwards, another distinct branch of the movement that opposed the usage of civilian nuclear technology (e.g., energy generation) gathered significant public support in Western Europe and the United States.[6] These activists are mostly concerned about the dangers of nuclear power production such as the risk of reactor meltdowns, radiation release and the long-term problem of nuclear waste disposal. It received significant international attention and increased support after events like the Three Mile Island accidentWikipedia in the US in 1979, the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, and the meltdown of the Fukushima reactors in 2011. In the wake of the first two incidents, the Tracy Ullman ShowWikipedia had an animated short about a horribly incompetent nuclear inspector and his family. This gag animation would be spun off into its own show that you might have heard about, The SimpsonsWikipedia. Unfortunately, the father never (permanently) updated his career as other industries have demonstrated incompetence, such as "DotCom salesman" or "Bank Loan Auditor". The result is when the public thinks of safety at nuclear power plants, they think "Homer Simpson".

Support for the movement's objectives considerably differs between the general public and the scientific community,[7] with energy experts being significantly more pro-nuclear than the public.[8] However, some scientists do support the movement.[9]


Anti-nuclear groups routinely protest activities related to nuclear power. Such protest is generally peaceful and includes maintaining websites, organizing rallies and marches, and publishing books, articles and brochures on the subject.

Some anti-nuclear groups have conducted actions that, while not compromising nuclear safety, were disruptive and/or illegal. It should be emphasized that such actions are exceptions, rather than the norm. Examples include:

  • Trespassing on nuclear power plant grounds in order to paint slogans on cooling towers, assaulting security guards in the process[10]
  • Sabotaging railroad tracks used for the transport of nuclear materials[11]
  • In one case, firing a rocket-propelled grenade at a reactor under construction[12]

Hundreds of thousands of people have attended anti-nuclear protests and demonstrations, such as in Bilbao, Spain, 1977, and New York City, 1979. 1,414 people were arrested in Seabrook, New Hampshire while protesting the construction of a power plant.

Arguments against nuclear power[edit]

There are a number of arguments used by anti-nuclear activists which address the problem of nuclear waste, health effects of radiation, risks of terrorism and energy security, the financial viability of nuclear power, and other government policies around nuclear power.[more detail please] In the opinion of activists such as Greenpeace and the UK Green Party, such arguments indicate that people should abandon the use of nuclear energy in order to protect the environment, avert major disasters, and save money.[13][14]

All of these points suffer from various flaws. For example, the fact that nuclear waste is not all that dangerous when properly contained[15] and the fact that no substantial radiation leaves the plant are basic facts of physics which protesters tend to ignore.

Budget and time constraints[edit]

Nuclear reactor construction in Europe has often proved prone to cost overruns and other problems,[16] but this is at the very best a general argument against present-day methods of planning and managing construction — indeed, the fact that one could name children's hospitals that have overshot time- and budget constraints is hardly an argument in favor of dismantling the field of pediatrics.Wikipedia

Another obvious flaw of these arguments is that criticizing nuclear power from appeals to short-term cost effectiveness opens the door for any literate economist to just point out that it's way cheaper to just do nothing about climate change and keep using fossil fuels than to replace the already economically functional oil economy with a bunch of reactors in an effort to save the Earth *scoff*. Duuh.

However, an argument pointing towards costs in the long run is a bit more sound. If you can show that a nuclear power plant will never "earn back" its high initial cost of investment due to solar and wind power outcompeting it, the question "Why should we build this?" does become a legitimate one. Of course any prognosis that concerns future events is a difficult thing to make.


The anti-nuclear movement typically gets a short-lived spurt of support after each nuclear disaster, regardless of whether criticisms of one country's nuclear problems apply to another. The Fukushima disaster led to opposition to nuclear power even in parts of the world that are free from enormous earthquake-induced tsunamis.[17] To those grounded in reality, the Fukushima disaster is mainly an argument against the construction of nuclear power plants along the coast of a notoriously earthquake- and tsunami-ridden nation. Likewise, the Chernobyl disaster was mainly due to a ridiculously bad design for a nuclear reactor and then someone decided to have the night shift do a safety experiment despite those people not knowing many important aspects of the reactor's behavior under "non-routine" conditions, among them the fact that inserting the control rods would actually increase the reaction rate at first due to them having graphite tips — a factor that ultimately led to the meltdown.

Pseudolaw interpretations[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Pseudolaw

Despite popular belief to the contrary, it is not illegal under New Zealand's nuclear-free legislation to build or operate a nuclear power station — the legislation covers only nuclear-propelled ships, nuclear explosive devices, and radioactive waste. The only significant proposal for a nuclear power station in New Zealand was the Oyster Point Power Station on the Kaipara Harbour near Kaukapakapa north of Auckland.

Between 1968 and 1976, there were plans to develop four 250-megawatt reactors at the site. In 1976, the plans were dropped as the discovery of Maui natural gas meant there was no immediate need to embark on a nuclear programme.[18]

Effects of the movement[edit]

In a number of countries, the movement has attracted enough popular support to stop the further development of nuclear energy.[19] Many Western countries stopped building new plants after the Chernobyl disaster, and in places like Germany, where the movement has the support of a large portion of the population, nuclear power is to be gradually phased out as the newest plants reach the end of their lifespan. The biggest success of the movement is successful lobbying to impose stiff regulations and additional safety measures on utility outfits and plant constructors.

The larger effect of the trend toward ever stricter control of radioactive materials is that any substantial use of them requires many formalities. This acts as an economic deterrent and results in a preference toward non-nuclear technologies, which, coupled with the removal of subsidies, caused the progress of nuclear research to dramatically slow down since the 70s.[20]

The movement is rarely successful in shutting down existing power plants (though it has happened[21]).

Nuclear energy proponents such as Bill Gates[22] and NASA's James Hansen[23][24] point out that this exacerbates global warming and increases pollution-related deaths, in that when new baseload demand cannot be provided by nuclear power, new coal and natural gas power plants must be built to replace them — not the wind or solar systems that anti-nuclear groups would prefer[25]. Just think, if it hadn’t been for these people we might have stopped climate change already.

New Zealand[edit]

In 1984, New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange barred nuclear-powered or nuclear-armed ships from using New Zealand ports or entering New Zealand waters. Under the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act 1987, territorial sea, land and airspace of New Zealand became nuclear-free zones.[26] This has since remained a part of New Zealand's foreign policy. New Zealand's only nuclear reactor was a small sub-critical reactor that had been installed at the School of Engineering of the University of Canterbury in 1962. It had been given by the United States' Atoms for Peace program and was used for training electrical engineers in nuclear techniques. It was dismantled in 1981.

After the Disarmament and Arms Control Act was passed by the Lange Labour government, the United States government suspended its ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty) obligations to New Zealand. Following consultations with Australia and after negotiations with New Zealand broke down, the United States reiterated that it was suspending its treaty obligations until US Navy ships were re-admitted to New Zealand ports, citing that New Zealand was "a friend, but not an ally".

New Zealand's three-decade anti-nuclear campaign is the only successful movement of its type in the world which resulted in the nation's nuclear-free zone status being enshrined in legislation. Kiwis have long maintained an independent foreign policy initiative, with various governments ignoring American and other countries' policy demands, while meeting their international responsibilities towards maintaining global peace. Their environmental/pacifist based anti-nuclear stance reflects the mainstream ideology held by the majority of its residents; New Zealand's nuclear-free zone option looks to remove the nation from under the nuclear umbrella.

Ironically, Sir Ernest Rutherford, the physicist who became known as the father of nuclear physics, was born in New Zealand.[27] Under him, Nobel Prizes were awarded to James Chadwick for discovering the neutron (in 1932), and John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton for an experiment which was to be known as splitting the atom. Rutherford's research, and work done under him as laboratory director, established the nuclear structure of the atom and the essential nature of radioactive decay as a nuclear process.

New Zealand's laws only prevent nuclear weapons or nuclear-propelled vessels from entering the country. Nuclear power plants are permitted under New Zealand laws,[28] although there are no nuclear power plants in New Zealand as of this writing. New Zealand produces 82% of its electricity from renewable resources (predominately hydro power) which is expected to grow to 90% when new wind farms come online. As New Zealand is one of the lowest carbon emitting nations the lack of nuclear power is moot.

Notable anti-nuclear groups and people[edit]

The list is limited to opponents of non-violent use of nuclear energy. There are many more groups which campaign mainly or exclusively in favor of nuclear disarmament.



Previously anti-nuclear[edit]

  • Stewart Brand, editor of the Whole Earth Catalog[40][41]
  • Ben Heard, Australian climate consultant[42]
  • Mark Lynas, British environmentalist and former climate adviser to the president of Maldives[43]
  • George Monbiot, environmental columnist for the Guardian[44]
  • Patrick Moore, co-founder of Greenpeace[45]
  • Stephen Tindale, former director of Greenpeace[46]
  • James Lovelock, proposed the Gaia hypothesis[47]


  5. The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty is not actually in force, but breaking its terms by any country would cause a big fuss.
  6. Science Encyclopedia: Antinuclear movement
  7. "Scientists, public differ in outlooks". USA Today.
  8. – a survey from 1980, just after TMI, shows that 95% of energy experts and 100% of nuclear experts supported the development of nuclear energy.
  9. Many members of Union of Concerned Scientists are bona fide scientists.
  10. Greenpeace Fanatics Assault Officers at Cofrentes Nuclear Power Plant
  11. RIA Novosti - Greenpeace rips up rails to stop nuclear waste shipment to Russia - note that the shipment did not actually contain nuclear waste (spent fuel), but depleted uranium hexafluoride, which would be re-enriched to produce additional nuclear fuel.
  12. Super Phénix Unscathed in Rocket Attack, Science, February 1982, 641
  13. Why we must phase out nuclear power, Caroline Lucas, Rebecca Harms, and Dany Cohn-Bendit, The Guardian, 17 Feb 2012
  14. Nuclear power - the problems, Greenpeace, 2006
  16. Flamanville: France's beleaguered forerunner to Hinkley Point C, The Guardian, 27 July 2016
  17. Dip in nuclear power support after Fukushima proves shortlived, The Guardian, 18 Jan 2012
  19. CS Monitor, "Germany to phase out nuclear power"
  21. e.g. Superphénix, Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant
  22. Bill Gates touts nuclear energy, says coal kills more people May 3, 2011 at 11:44 am by John Cook
  23. Nuclear Power Prevents More Deaths Than It Causes, Mark Schrope, April 2, 2013
  24. Prevented Mortality and Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Historical and Projected Nuclear Power Pushker A. Kharecha * and James E. Hansen, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University Earth Institute, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2013, 47 (9), pp 4889–4895 DOI: 10.1021/es3051197 "Using historical production data, we calculate that global nuclear power has prevented an average of 1.84 million air pollution-related deaths and 64 gigatonnes of CO2-equivalent (GtCO2-eq) greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions that would have resulted from fossil fuel burning."
  25. Lynas, Mark (2013). "Making the World Safe for Coal" (Article). The Breakthrough Institute. Retrieved June 13th, 2017. 
  29. Alec Baldwin: The Human Costs of Nuclear Power
  30. The Grande Dame of Anti-Nukes
  31. A 35% Spike in Infant Mortality in Northwest Cities Since Meltdown Is the Increase in Baby Deaths in the US a Result of Fukushima Fallout? by JANETTE D. SHERMAN, MD And JOSEPH MANGANO
  32. Are Babies Dying in the Pacific Northwest Due to Fukushima? A Look at the Numbers By Michael Moyer | June 21, 2011
  33. 33.0 33.1 Mangano and Sherman have released another bogus study seeking to scare people about radiation by (pro-nuclear) Rod Adams, who doesn't pull punches: "If you see a paper with the names Joseph Mangano and/or Janette Sherman you can be pretty sure of two things before you even begin reading it. The paper will attempt to correlate cherry picked data and it will reach conclusions that strive to make radiation as scary as possible. Neither of these authors can be trusted to tell the truth and neither deserve the title of “scientist”."
  34. Shame on you, Janette Sherman and Joseph Mangano!
  35. More bullshit from Joseph Mangano, take 2 - a clear example of how to lie with statistics
  36. Youtube: Fukushima Health Effects in North America?
  37. Mangano and Sherman: An unexpected mortality increase in the United States follows arrival of the radioactive plume from Fukushima: is there a correlation?, which has 3 critical comments on
  38. and rebuttals:
  39. About RPHP states: "Given RPHP's threefold mission in the areas of research, education and public awareness, the history of RPHP can best be traced through its books and articles on radiation and nuclear issues--by Jay Gould, Ben Goldman, Ernest Sternglass, Joseph Mangano, Bill McDonnell, Janette Sherman and Jerry Brown." (emphasis added)