Antinuclear movement, social movement opposed to the production of nuclear weapons and the generation of electricity by nuclear power plants. The goals and ideologies of the antinuclear movement range from an emphasis on peace and environmentalism to intellectual social activism based on knowledge of nuclear technology and to political and moral activism based on conflicts between nuclear power applications and policies and personal values. Antinuclear organizations tend to emphasize alternative energy sources, the dangers of the proliferation of nuclear weapons, possible environmental hazards, and the safety of nuclear-industry workers. Many seek a complete moratorium on nuclear development and research. Arguing that nuclear-related terrorist attacks and nuclear accidents are probable and that radioactive waste is difficult to adequately dispose of, antinuclear activists push for alternative energy technologies to meet the needs of the human race prior to the depletion of fossil fuels.
During the late 1930s and early 1940s, atomic research was expensive and generally funded by the government and the military. Early atomic scientists were focused primarily on scientific potential and advancement. By the time the negative aspects of nonpeaceful uses of atomic power were realized, the government and the military controlled atomic energy. By 1945, when Los Alamos Laboratory scientists exploded the first plutonium bomb in New Mexico, scientists were becoming increasingly concerned about the destructive potential of atomic power.
Even at that early stage of atomic research, it was apparent that the technology was advancing very quickly. The U.S. attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945 were the beginning of a strong public antinuclear movement. A movement of scientists developed to try to prevent military control of atomic energy, resulting in the foundation of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS).
In late 1945 FAS supported the McMahon Act, which placed atomic power under the control of the Atomic Energy Commission, a civilian agency. As the Cold War escalated, gaining increasing international and national attention, military power and national security became paramount. Scientists who were actively against military use of nuclear power were discredited.
In the 1950s increasing efforts were made to support international cooperation and sharing of nuclear materials through Pres. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace proposal to the United Nations. Although that provided a level of control over nuclear research, it also led to nuclear weapons development in other countries. During that time both government and private industry were developing the first commercial nuclear power plants; government research into applications of nuclear power research was continuing; and the environmental effects of radiation were being investigated. Critics of nuclear power were becoming increasingly vocal, expressing concerns about the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, radioactive fallout, and the potential for radiation to cause genetic mutations. The first World Conference Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs was held in Hiroshima in 1955.
Politically, the change of the 1950s resulted in Pres. John F. Kennedy’s Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty in 1963, which prohibited the testing of nuclear weapons under water, in the atmosphere, or in outer space and was signed by the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom. The antinuclear movement grew throughout the 1960s. The Cold War resulted in an elevated fear of nuclear attack, the construction of backyard nuclear-bomb shelters, and regular duck-and-cover drills in grade schools. The “ban the bomb” movement began in Britain; construction of missile bases were protested; and increasing controversy developed over construction of commercial nuclear power plants. In 1968 the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom signed the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and agreed not to assist other states in obtaining or producing nuclear weapons.
Although the antinuclear movement continued in the United States during the late 1960s and into the 1970s, some momentum was lost as many other social issues came to the forefront, such as the Vietnam War, the women’s movement, the civil rights movement, and environmental issues. One environmental issue that strongly affected the antinuclear movement was the concern about thermal pollution due to hot water discharge from nuclear power-facility cooling systems. Although the effects of thermal pollution were minimal and have been corrected through regulation and improved technology, concerns about thermal pollution in the early 1970s led the way to environmental-impact challenges of nuclear power facilities by citizen groups.
The antinuclear movement reemerged as a major social movement after the energy crisis of the early 1970s. The energy crisis and associated efforts to both expand nuclear power and provide improved nuclear safety brought many nuclear issues and concerns to the forefront. During that time commercial nuclear power continued to develop across the globe, as did both public concerns about nuclear power and awareness of the benefits of nuclear power. The antinuclear movement was strongly supported by American activist Ralph Nader, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth, who each variously called for moratoria on nuclear power development. Antinuclear activities were brought to worldwide attention in 1979 when the Three Mile Island accident occurred at a nuclear power plant in Pennsylvania. The late 1970s also saw expansion of antinuclear activities in western Europe as protests increased against the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO’s) sharing of nuclear weapons and its stance that conventional deterrence is not nearly as effective as nuclear deterrence.
During the 1980s the focus of the antinuclear movement shifted to adjust to a large number of political and social changes, including cuts in funding for development of alternative energy sources, production of plutonium for nuclear weapons, expansion of nuclear research and military deployment in western Europe, and increased European and Japanese pressure for nuclear disarmament. Antinuclear activism was then largely directed to halting testing, deployment, and development of nuclear weapons; managing radioactive-waste disposal; and preparing emergency evacuation plans in the event of an accident at a nuclear power plant. The antinuclear movement influenced arms-control agreements between Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan and positively contributed to nuclear disarmament and avoidance of nuclear war.
A resurgence of global interest in the antinuclear movement began in the mid-1980s after higher-than-normal numbers of deaths from children’s leukemia were reported for residents near several types of nuclear facilities. That began a lengthy controversy, which continues today, into the effects of exposure to low-level radiation.
In 1986 the antinuclear movement again received a boost from a nuclear power plant accident, that time at the Chernobyl plant in Ukraine. That was by far the most-serious nuclear accident in history, with widespread physical and sociopolitical effects. While that accident substantially added strength to the antinuclear movement, particularly at the grassroots level, where it became a global symbol for antinuclear activism, it also helped spread technical knowledge about nuclear power. Public and media discussion of the extensive lack of safety systems and appropriate operator training at Chernobyl and resulting comparisons with nuclear power plant technology in the United States and worldwide expanded public knowledge of the safety and technology associated with properly operated and maintained power plants. Proponents of nuclear power argue that since Three Mile Island, regulatory improvements within the commercial nuclear power industry in the United States have resulted in a strong safety-oriented culture with a focus on communications and social responsibility. In response, antinuclear activists argue that even well-run power plants are susceptible to terrorism or acts of nature, as evidenced by the 2011 Fukushima accident.
Given the increases in oil prices, concerns about global warming, and the slow advances in alternative energy sources, commercial nuclear power has again come to the forefront of energy and environmental policy decisions. Thus, the antinuclear movement is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Civil Disobedience is the act of disobeying a law on grounds of moral or political principle. It is an attempt to influence society to accept a dissenting point of view. Although it usually uses tactics of nonviolence, it is more than mere passive resistance since it often takes active forms such as illegal street demonstrations or peaceful occupations of premises. The classic treatise on this topic is Henry David Thoreau's "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience," which states that when a person's conscience and the laws clash, that person must follow his or her conscience. The stress on personal conscience and on the need to act now rather than to wait for legal change are recurring elements in civil disobedience movements. The U.S. Bill of Rights asserts that the authority of a government is derived from the consent of the governed, and whenever any form of government becomes destructive, it is the right and duty of the people to alter or abolish it.
Throughout the history of the U.S., civil disobedience has played a significant role in many of the social reforms that we all take for granted today. Some of the most well known of these are:
1) The Boston Tea Party -- citizens of the colony of Massachusetts trespassed on a British ship and threw its cargo (tea from England) overboard, rather than be forced to pay taxes without representation to Britain. This was one of the many acts of civil disobedience leading to the War for Independence, establishing the United States of America as a sovereign state.
2) Anti-war movements have been a part of U.S. history since Thoreau went to jail for refusing to participate in the U.S. war against Mexico in 1849. More recent examples were the nationwide protests against the war in Viet Nam, U.S involvement in Nicaragua and Central America, and the Gulf War. Actions have included refusal to pay for war, refusal to enlist in the military, occupation of draft centers, sit-ins, blockades, peace camps, and refusal to allow military recruiters on high school and college campuses.
3) The Women's Suffrage Movement lasted from 1848 until 1920, when thousands of courageous women marched in the streets, endured hunger strikes, and submitted to arrest and jail in order to gain the right to vote.
4) Abolition of slavery -- including Harriet Tubman's underground railway, giving sanctuary, and other actions which helped to end slavery.
5) The introduction of labor laws and unions. Sit-down strikes organized by the IWW, and CIO free speech confrontations led to the eradication of child labor and improved working conditions, established the 40-hour work week and improved job security and benefits.
6) The Civil Rights Movement, led by Martin Luther King, Jr. and others, included sit-ins and illegal marches which weakened segregation in the south.
7) The Anti-Nuclear Movement, stimulated by people like Karen Silkwood and the Three Mile Island nuclear power accident, organized citizens throughout the country into direct action affinity groups, with consensus decision making and Gandhian nonviolence as its core. Massive acts of civil disobedience took place at nuclear power facilities across the country, followed by worldwide protests against first-strike nuclear weapons, occupying military bases, maintaining peace camps, interfering with manufacture and transport of nuclear bombs and devices, marching, sitting in, blockading and otherwise disrupting business as usual at nuclear sites.
8) Environmental and forest demonstrations, with acts of civil disobedience such as sit-ins, blockades, tree sits and forest occupations, have emerged in the last decade, prompted by the continuing mass clear cuts and destruction of the forest ecosystem and widespread environmental consequences.
In all of these struggles, citizens had reached the conclusion that the legal means for addressing their concerns had not worked. They had tried petitioning, lobbying, writing letters, going to court, voting for candidates that represented their interests, legal protest, and still their views were ignored.
Reasons some protesters choose non-cooperation:
1) Moral conviction: It would be wrong to be an accomplice to a procedure that supports what is morally unacceptable.
2) To increase the likelihood that all protesters are treated equally: Refusing to give names so that everyone committing the same act will be treated equally and fairly in jail and in sentencing. Refusing citation, bail, fines or probation keeps protesters together, increasing the potential for collective bargaining.
3) To extend the action: Going limp at arrest impedes the removal of the protesters, prolonging the disruption of business as usual.
4) To demonstrate that the criminal justice system is part of the problem: It may be a corporation that is damaging the environment, jeopardizing all our lives and our children's future, but it is the criminal justice system that is legitimizing and supporting it.
Civil disobedience is often an effective means of changing laws and protecting liberties. It also embodies an important moral concept that there are times when law and justice do not coincide and that to obey the law at such times can be an abdication of ethical responsibility. The choice of civil disobedience and non-cooperation is not for everyone. We all choose to do what feels right to us personally. However, it is hoped that this article will make such a choice more understandable to those who have wondered about this form of protest.