Antinuclear Movement

The worldwide antinuclear movement is a social movement based on taking political action against and raising awareness of nuclear usage and further proliferation. It revolves around two axes: (1) nuclear weapons and (2) nuclear power. While the roots of the movement lay in the initial reactions of the world to the United States’ dropping of the world’s first wartime nuclear weapon on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945, it has since grown to include those who oppose the maintenance of nuclear arsenals for national security and nuclear power as a source of energy. While the antinuclear movement has enjoyed some minor successes, such as Sweden’s abandonment of its nuclear program during the Cold War, the movement has largely oscillated in and out of relevancy on the world’s stage the risk of nuclear war, and the problems that arise from nuclear energy become apparent and then recede in the face of other issues. Overall, the antinuclear power movement has been far more successful than the antinuclear weapon movement. Although the antinuclear movement reached its highpoint during the Cold War, and it has enjoyed a modicum of popular resurgence in the wake of the disaster at Japan’s Fukushima nuclear power plant in March 2011, it has since receded from the forefront of the political conversation, being replaced by terrorism and other national security issues. This entry discusses both axes of the movement—nuclear weapons and nuclear power—and the future outlook for this movement worldwide.

Nuclear Weapons

Nuclear Power

The antinuclear power movement has had more success worldwide than its cousin. Unlike nuclear weaponry, nuclear power has had far more blatant disasters across the globe that have engendered a more practical conversation about the threats entailed in nuclear energy than in nuclear weaponry. Whether it be the 2011 Fukushima disaster (Japan), the meltdown at Three Mile Island (United States) in 1979, or Chernobyl disaster (Ukraine) in 1986, nuclear power disasters are followed by decreased construction or replacement of online reactors. This effect is furthered by the increasingly high cost of plant construction, the high-risk nature of its contents, and the ever-present problem of fuel storage, and compounded by popular films such as The China Syndrome (1979), these bring new fighters to the antinuclear power cause. While the movement sees its greatest successes from disaster, it arose out of a rejection of the legacy plan of U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower wet out in his “Atoms for Peace” speech. Throughout the 1970s, Europe saw increasingly large protests around already online nuclear power plants. West Germany was a hotbed of antinuclear power outrage. While the West Germany protests may not have been the largest, they were the most frequent and the most violent, with the injured frequently numbering the high double or even triple digits. The antinuclear power movement has been so much more successful than its cousin not because its cause was better but because the threat of a nuclear meltdown was something people actually experienced.

Future Outlook

Ultimately, the antinuclear movement, worldwide, has had some successes in getting governments to abandon their plans for nuclear expansion, whether peaceful or otherwise (e.g., Sweden); some contingent gains in the area of arms reduction (e.g., South Africa); and some spectacular failures (e.g., Japan). Japan, the only country to ever experience the destruction of a nuclear weapon not once, but twice, is also the most nuclear-latent of any country in the world. The future success or failure of the antinuclear movement lies firmly in the geopolitics of East Asia. While North Korea’s nuclear activities may dominate headlines and South Korea’s attempts to revise its 123 agreement with the United States in order to allow for domestic reprocessing of spent fuel may attract the attention of policy wonks, Japan’s fate with regard to Article 9 of its constitution rests on whether or not the country’s antinuclear movement, based on a circle of increasingly small number of hibakusha (atom bomb survivors), can resist the repeated attempts of the Japanese right to extract the country from the U.S. nuclear umbrella and rearm as an offensive power, with domestic nuclear armament capabilities, in East Asia. As history shows, with one outlying exception based on racial fear more than nuclear ethics, once a country obtains nuclear weapons, it becomes exponentially harder for the antinuclear movement to get rid of those weapons. The success of the antinuclear movement rests in prevention rather than removal when it comes to nuclear weapons.

Zachary Kopin

See also Antiwar Movement, History in United States ; Cold War ; Nuclear Treaties ; Nuclear War

Further Readings

Bird, Kai, et al. Hiroshima’s Shadow: Writings on the Denial of History and the Smithsonian Controversy. Stony Creek, CT: Pamphleteer’s Press, 1998.

Buzan, Barry and Lene Hansen. International Security. London, England: Sage, 2007.

Goldblat, Jozef. Arms Control: The New Guide to Negotiations and Agreements. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 2002.

Hersey, John. “Hiroshima.” The New Yorker (August 31, 1946). (Accessed October 2017).