Nuclear weapons, nuclear energy, whom does this concern? Well, the common answer would be the USA, France, United Kingdom, Germany, or Russia; but Australia or South Africa? The majority of people wouldn´t think about these countries, but peace movements are a global phenomenon! This blog will provide a short overview of peace movements seeking the abandonment of anything connected with atoms all around the world. We´ll start in the US, fly over the Atlantic to Europe and Africa, and we´ll also present awards given to people acting on behalf of communities or organizations trying to end a nuclear impact on humankind; eventually, we will find ourselves on the other side of the Indian Ocean, on the last continent in many ways, Australia.
(by Maged Srour, Martyna Michalak, Dario Tordoni, Anna Katharina Feige and Ellen Roj)
Anti-nuclear movements in the United States of America
The aim of this section is to focus on anti-nuclear movements in the U.S. There were two groups with different origins and goals against nuclear weapons and nuclear energy.
Starting in the 1960s and continuing during the 1970s and the 1980s, anti-nuclear protests in the United States have always had an important factor. Nevertheless, before starting with the description and analysis of the topic, it is good to make a general clarifying premise about activism in the U.S. and peace movements in the U.S. in general.
This premise simply aims to make clear that the peace movement as a whole, “the movement” as such doesn´t exist. There were many different ones, and in some cases they even disagreed with each other, so strictly speaking it is not possible to put them under the same title.
Protests in the Cold war era, including the civil rights movement, the student movement, the anti-Vietnam War movement, the women’s movement, the gay rights movement, the environmental movement and of course the anti-nuclear movement. As we can see the tendencies were many and aiming to achieve very different goals. Those decades were a particular moment in the history of the United States during which many Americans protested against certain issues. These issues could be the war going on in Vietnam, or the lack of equality among women and men, or among black and white people. In any case it is not possible to include all of these movements in this text because each single movement was going in a different direction.
The anti-nuclear-energy movement
The anti-nuclear-energy movement became concerned with the proliferation of nuclear energy and its potential damage to the environment. In addition, another question was safety in nuclear plants and the safe levels of radiation both for employees and residents of surrounding areas. The anti-nuclear-energy movement began with protests in the 1960s and it reached its peak in 1979. On March 28, 1979, there was an accident at the Three Mile Island nuclear power plant in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania. This was the worst accident in the U.S. commercial nuclear power plant history, and it should not be surprising that after the event the anti-nuclear-energy movements reached their peak in terms of number of protests. In May, 65 thousand people attended a march against nuclear power in Washington D.C. On September 23, 1979, almost 200 thousand people attended another protest against nuclear power in New York City. The increased tenacious opposition to the nuclear industry had some consequences, for example, it caused significant delays in the licensing and construction of new power plants in the U.S. However, apart from this peak in 1979-1980, the anti-nuclear-energy movement was most of the time weaker and less intense than the anti-nuclear-weapon movement.
The anti-nuclear-weapons movement
The anti-nuclear-weapons movement began as an answer to the testing of nuclear weapons in Nevada and the South Pacific during the 1950s. The perception of a concrete risk of a nuclear fallout and the health hazards that would have resulted, gave stimulus to protests against any further atmospheric nuclear testing.
However, anti-nuclear-weapons´ protests diminished after the 1963 approval of the Limited Test Ban Treaty (LTBT) by the U.S., the USSR and Great Britain, which limited nuclear weapons tests to underground testing facilities. Moreover, the escalation of the Vietnam War led to a shift in the “priorities” of protest movements. Many of the progressive and social-change-oriented components of the movement decided to support the anti-Vietnam protests and the civil rights movement rather than the anti-nuclear campaigns.
One of the most important anti-nuclear movements in the U.S. was the so called “Nuclear Freeze Movement”. Its idea was initiated in 1980 by a disarmament researcher, Randall Forsberg. The U.S. Senate´s failure to ratify the SALT II arms control agreement lead to the birth of the Nuclear Freeze Movement. That agreement had already been negotiated with the USSR, and the failed ratification was perceived pessimistically by Americans, causing huge demonstrations.
The Freeze campaign´s aims were simple and clear: they called on the U.S. and USSR to “adopt a mutual freeze on the testing, production, and deployment of nuclear weapons and of missiles, and new aircrafts designed primarily to deliver nuclear weapons”. The Freeze campaign was very successful in mobilizing people. In 1982, they organized a huge rally at the United Nations, bringing a million people to the Central Park while the UN was debating disarmament in a special session.
The growth and enlargement of the Nuclear Freeze Movement in the U.S. was matched by a growth in peace movement all around the world. The peace demonstrations in Western Europe and the USSR exceeded in terms of numbers and size those that were happening in the U.S. in 1982, 1983 and 1985. Although, they were not directly involved in the decision making processes of governments, we could certainly affirm that the Nuclear Freeze Movement, the movement for peace in the USSR and in Eastern Europe could be “awarded” for having avoided a nuclear war during the 1980s.
The peace movement was based on a sort of “ideological and moral issues”, while the anti-nuclear movement was directed toward the immediate perceived nuclear threat. This reasoning seems to simplify too much the issue but it actually gives as a clear picture of what were the protesters thinking. Nuclear reactors were located in people’s back yards. The opposition to nuclear energy or to nuclear weapons per se was a secondary issue, unless it did not put a real and concrete threat to local population.
Anti-nuclear movements were certainly an important and significant part of all of the movements that were uprising during the decades of the Cold war era. Nevertheless it is quite important to do not make confusion and it is appropriate to split the peace movements into different groups according to the goals and purposes each single group was looking for.
In this article we decided to underline the importance of the anti-nuclear movement and we found out that even inside this particular movement orientations were different. The relations among different groups inside the peace movements in general have always been characterized by “political calculations”. For example even inside the anti-nuclear movement, the two groups – the anti-nuclear-energy movement and the anti-nuclear-weapons movement – were acting according to different political priorities. However, as it was mainly a political “dispute”, it was solved politically; the compromise was peaceful and non-violent and it did not divide the movement drastically.
(researched by Maged Srour, M.A. student of International Relations, Roma Tre)
19 years of women´s protests in Great Britain
In the early morning of January 1, 1983, 44 women climbed the 12-foot high perimeter fence of the United States Air Force base at Greenham Common in Berkshire. After approximately ¼ mile, they reached the already half-built silos for the cruise missiles, climbed them and started to dance and sing. After one hour the police arrived and arrested them.
The photo of the women´s dance got famous just like their movement: the Greenham Common Women´s Peace Camp.
The beginning of the anti-nuclear peace movements of the 1980ties in Europe was mostly the response to the secret decision of the NATO generals made in 1979. According to this decision, American controlled nuclear missiles should be placed in Britain, West Germany, Netherlands, Belgium and Italy. It was a new generation of battlefield nuclear weapons, designed for a war in Europe.
In 1981, a small group of women organized a march from Cardiff in Wales to the US Air Force base in Greenham Common, where nuclear missiles were planned to be sited. Planned as a women´s march, men could also attend it to support them. When they finally arrived, it was a big disappointment for all participants of the long-distance march that simply nobody was there. Neither people to watch nor any press. So, the women decided to stay until people would come to witness their actions. This was the very beginning of the Greenham Common Women´s Peace Camp.
Their aim was to prevent the authorities from stationing the cruise missiles at Greenham, which was nevertheless done in November 1983. At this point the women tried to stop the missile convoy from exiting the camp. Their main duty however was to spark a discussion on a national level about cruise missiles and the threat of nuclear weapons in general.
Whereas, the women´s purpose was always the same – to stop the missiles and to demonstrate against a nuclear war – the women´s causes why and how they came to Greenham were quite different. For many people at this time, a nuclear war was probable and the fear of it motivated them. Attention of other women was drawn to Greenham by the media, while others received one of the chain letters sent from the camp. These letters contained, apart from the appeal to join the camp, a list of things which were needed at Greenham for the everyday life. Women who sympathized with the idea, but were not able to participate in the camp, could send helpful things or simply send a letter to their family members, friends and acquaintances to make the campaign more well-known. Due to their great publicity, more and more women joined the camp, often they brought their children with them. Some stayed for couple of weeks or months at the camp, others came back and protested for years at Greenham. Therefore, the camp existed for 19 years, from 1981 to 2000, supported by various women.
A key element of the women´s strategy to reach their aim was to demonstrate peacefully. Therefore, the camp was established: thanks to its constant existence, authorities and the society should be reminded unceasingly of the danger nuclear weapons pose. The camp was great for publicity and for the women´s team spirit, but life at Greenham was not easy. The base located on the countryside in the middle of nowhere, the women had neither running water, nor electricity or telephones. Apart from this, visitors often passed through asking the same questions over and over again, just like the press. Moreover, the women had to deal with police harassment and authority´s measures like the one Alice Henry describes in an article published in the magazine “off our backs”: “Erratically, the town or authorities would send in a garbage truck to scrunch up all in its path, including tents, personal possessions as well as the wood and plastic trap arrangements that were usual accommodations.”
To learn more about the life at the Greenham Common Women´s Peace Camp, you can listen to women which were there: click here.
Celebratory events were a further key element of the non-violent strategy. Best known is the “Embrace the Base” event, which took place in December 1982: 30 000 women linked hands and completely surrounded the base, weaving flowers and knitted decorations into the wire fencing.
Today, the air base buildings are part of a business park. Between 1989 and 1991, all missiles sited at Greenham were removed, the basis for it was the INF Treaty signed by US President, Ronald Reagan and the Soviet President, Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987. The United States Air Force left the base in 1992, but the camp remained until 2000 after protesters won the right to house a memorial on the site.
There are many aspects which make the women´s peace camp at the Greenham base unique, like the brilliant publicity and perseverance of the women, their strength to face all the difficulties and their great ability to organize events for thousands of people, but also their courage to discuss the traditional women´s gender role within society, as well as in the anti-nuclear peace movements at this time. As Beeban Kidron states in her article “The Women of Greenham Common Taught a Generation how to Protest” (The Guardian, Sep. 2, 2013), the women of Greenham had to win an unrightful struggle. The common perception of women seemed to be that they should stay at home and do whatever they were asked to, but certainly not to speak up for themselves and their cause. Would a camp of men have been harassed in the same way they were? That seems rather unlikely. Kidron described their admirable actions and effects as those of “a community making up its rules as it went along, and yet the lessons have been learnt by a generation.”
The Greenham Common Women´s Peace Camp influenced many people all over the world and is still inspiring.
(researched by Martyna Michalak, student of law, University of Vienna)
- Commitment to a nuclear power phase-out;
- International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War;
- Campaign against uranium mining;
- Program for renewable energy.
- The non-violence;
- Ecological Wisdom;
- Social justice;
- Grassroots democracy.
Nuclear-Peace for Australia: The Anti-Uranium Movement on the Red Continent
Despite the common belief that nuclear weapons, energy and the relating problems belong in a European or American setting, this blog will show how Australian people fight against the uranium production in their country to ensure the conservation of their most precious possessions, the undisturbed nature of the Outback and the health of its inhabitants.
The beginning of a nuclear impact on Australia started with its uranium production for the British military forces in and after WWII. This was followed by tests of nuclear weapons in South and Western Australia in the 1950s by the British armed forces, which lead to severe health problems for the Aboriginal people and armed service personnel, the environment was affected as well. Thus, in 1953, the Australian Atomic Energy Commission, whose aim is the control and promotion of nuclear research and uranium mining, was founded. Since coal is available in sufficient amounts, the use of nuclear energy has never been an issue for the Australian government. On the one hand, the military bases constructed in Australia in the 1960s and 70s tied the country to the US and their nuclear program. And on the other hand, the government was the reason why the French had to abandon their atmospheric testing over the Pacific Ocean.
Following the establishment of the military bases, the anti-uranium movement in Australia originated in the 1970s; the French nuclear tests can be regarded as a further trigger. As the uranium mining became more and more important during 1974 and 1975, the real anti-uranium movement was initiated. Newly founded grass-roots movements soon became the core of Australia´s battle against the nuclear force. One of these groups came to be known as Friends of the Earth and is a demerger from Greenpeace, support for the cause was also provided by the national environmental body of the Australian Conservation Foundation, the Australia party and university student organizations. Soon afterwards, communities became aware of the uranium mining problem and started to support the peace movements, various local movements emerged in the years 1976 and 1977, for example the Movement Against Uranium Mining and Campaign Against Nuclear Energy (CONE). Interestingly, in the initial phase of the movement, the Australian Labor Party moved against uranium mining too, deferring the grass-roots movements.
The reasons against uranium mining in Australia correlate to those around the world, fear of reactor accidents, and the following contamination of the earth and close communities for example; the special case in Australia though can be seen in the awareness of possible impacts on the Aboriginal communities living in close range to the mining sites in the Northern Territory.
In Australia a nation-wide strategy, formulated by local groups and on a national level, exists. Its aims are to inform the general public with leaflets, films, speeches at schools and so on, furthermore, the ALP and trade unions should be influenced, and public protests coordinated. The key strategy is raising awareness about the issue in the Australian people, by informing about the dangers of uranium mining; the trade unions would, if the people were opposed to nuclear energy and mining, be forced to search for ways for making business without the money gained from uranium mining; and most importantly, the ALP depends on the public to gain votes during elections and thus has, to be more precise, had, to follow the majority´s opinion about issues concerning the whole nation. Unlike political parties thriving for donations, the anti-uranium movement wants active participation rather than money, therefore nuclear scientists opposing the view of the pro-uranium council and informing the public about the social, environmental and ethical importance of the nuclear issue are highly involved.
Since Australia is one of the largest countries of the world, a central movement is rather difficult to organize; therefore several sub-movements have been founded and are working within the smaller communities. One crucial group could be the movement of the Australian Aboriginal people, as previously explained, the uranium mines are affecting them severely, thus their participation might be one of the main characteristics. Unfortunately though, this tactic has not been working out due to a relatively easily achieved influence of the government and mining companies. Still, a general opposition of indigenous people against mining on their tribal land is unquestionable and important for the peace movement. One example of indigenous people rising for their rights can be seen in the case of a speaking tour that was held some time ago during which original owners of land in the Northern Territory raised their voices against a nuclear dumping site on their native land. Furthermore, a national environment award was given to Kevin Buzzacott, an Aborigine fighting against the huge Olympic Dam uranium mine close to his home land near Lake Eyre in South Australia.
A small anti-nuclear group has gathered in Katoomba, New South Wales, in the beautiful Blue Mountains, about two hours west of Sydney. The Blue Mountains Nuclear Free Group´s aims are to stop nuclear transports through the Blue Mountains, a safe production of medical isotopes, support the efforts against a dumping ground for nuclear waste in the Northern Territory and stop the construction of a new reactor at Lucas Heights at the southern outskirts of Sydney.
One sample organization fighting actively against uranium mining, nuclear energy and nuclear weapons is the sub-organization Friends of the Earth, Melbourne. In this short video clip, the organization is explaining one reason why Australia has to work against uranium mining: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NgPHAmxgeVg
All in all, despite the controversies of parties being pro and then against, people having to be informed about the nuclear debate as such, and impressionable indigenous people if they are misinformed, the successes of the Australian anti-uranium movement were and still are the prevention of building a reactor in Jervis Bay, stopping France´s nuclear bomb testing, nuclear power is not used in Down Under and the uranium industry has almost been stopped.
(researched by Anna Katharina Feige, M.A. student of English linguistics, and English and American Literature, Augsburg University)
Awards for anti-nuclear activists and organizations
A couple of awards are given for environmental and anti-nuclear struggling. Their aim is to honor and support those people or organizations that work for a future without nuclear power. The Nuclear-Free Future Award and the Right Livelihood Award are two examples, but they are still only known to people directly involved with the subject. Everybody, from all over the world and every occupation, can be nominated for these awards as a means of recognition for their struggles for a better life. The award prize money is an aid for running projects, not for personal use of the laureates.
1. The Nuclear-Free Future Award (NFFA)
The Nuclear-Free Future Award was founded in 1998 by Franz Moll. He got the idea for the Award after the “World Uranium Hearing” in Salzburg in 1992. It is an international award for the next generations given by the Franz-Moll Foundation. It honors and supports initiatives of activists and organizations struggling especially against the use of nuclear power, nuclear weapons and the extraction and use of uranium. Humans haven’t gained “might about our might”, so the slogan of the Foundation and the Award is to leave the uranium in the earth.
The ceremonies of the Award take place all around the world, for example in Germany (2000, 2003, 2008, 2012), the USA (1999, 2001, 2006), Russia (2002) or India (2004). In 2012, Katsumi Furitsu, a doctor from Osaka in Japan, got the Education Award for her commitment concerning the care for and treatment of radiation victims all around the world. She is working for a better, healthier world that is nuclear-free.
2. The Right Livelihood Award
The Right Livelihood Award was founded by Jakob von Uexkull, a swedish journalist and philatelist, when he realized the narrowness and concentration of the Nobel Prize on the industrial countries´ interests. Today, it is also known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize” for outstanding vision and work on behalf of our planet and its people. It is powered by the Right Livelihood Award Foundation and presented every year in Stockholm, in the Swedish Parliament.
Since 1980, the Right Livelihood Award honors and supports people and organizations, who “[offer] practical and exemplary answers to the most urgent challenges facing us today”. The foundations´ aims today are promoting scientific research, education and public understanding of a global balance, eliminating material and spiritual poverty, lasting peace and justice in the world. Behind the name of the Award stands the idea of responsibility for the consequences of human actions with respect to the later generations.
The Right Livelihood Award is an international award, but unlike the NFF Award it has no categories. It is given for environmental protection, human rights, peace and more. Four laureates share one award given with a prize money of 200,000 €. There is also an Honorary Award for those, whose work doesn’t need financial support, but recognition.
A good example of a successful organization’s struggle against nuclear weapons is Trident Ploughshares (TP) in the UK. TP is a campaign to disarm the UK Trident nuclear weapons system in a non-violent, open, peaceful and fully accountable way. Since 1997, after an initiative of the peace activist Angie Zelter, the organization has been operating in small affinity groups with 103 active members. In 2001, the Right Livelihood Award was given to Trident Ploughshares “for providing a practical model of principled, transparent and non-violent direct action dedicated to ridding the world of nuclear weapons”.
The previously mentioned awards are especially important concerning the battle against nuclear energy and weapons. Even though the prize money is relatively little, the awards offer support for the persons and organizations that have dedicated their lives to the idea of fighting against the nuclear issue. By honoring these people with the awards, their accomplishments shall be put into the public eye. We believe that the financial support is not the main argument for giving away these awards; it is the psychological and emotional recognition of their struggles for a better life on earth. Due to meetings and presentations with an international audience of people following the same values, a transnational and international networking of the activists is being achieved. Furthermore, the common consciousness is reinforced through exchanging shared experiences.
The world-famous organization International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, the IPPNW (honored with the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985), supports the public relations of the Nuclear-Free Future Award and Right Livelihood Award. The first priority of their support is to popularize the award in a broader public audience.
(researched by Ellen Roj, M.A. student of History and German studies, Augsburg University)
The aim of this article was to introduce the readers to mostly unknown specificities of nuclear-protest movements all over the world.
The movements should not be regarded as single entities; many of them are transnational and have connections to other movements all over the world. Even though they might be developing campaigns on varying topics such as racism, sexual discrimination, nuclear warfare, nuclear energy, environmental issues, human rights or oppression in general, their shared aim is to bring peace to the people. Obviously, protest movements can´t always be successful because of governmental policies, international pressure or industrial lobbies.
In the United states the protests after the Three Mile Island accident eventually lead to a reduction of permissions to build new reactors. The Greenham Common Women´s Peace Camp is representing the European movements, although this particular example focuses solely on the achievements of women. In South Africa, the impact was a lot less stronger than in the U.S. because of the Apartheid. Nevertheless, the goal of the South African movements was also to give a voice to the people, for example the Koeberg Alert helped students during their struggles for human rights. Until today, the battle for a nuclear power phase-out is still going on. A completely different example was depicted by the Australian anti-uranium mining movements. Although people in Australia, of course, were, and still are, worried about nuclear weapons and energy, their main concern is the impact of uranium mining on their living conditions. At last but certainly not at least, the international awards, given to advocates of the reduction of nuclear weapons and nuclear power, have to be mentioned. The aim of the founders of the awards was to enhance the public awareness and bring people from all over the world together to fight for the one major goal they share: a nuclear free future.
The previous examples shall be regarded as complementing each other. We focused on movements from all continents with diverse approaches towards their purposes. Unfortunately though, it often seems that only after nuclear accidents, the movements seem to get attention, but their effectiveness appears to be restricted. Governments rarely change their policies because of the protest movements, rather due to public pressure growing after catastrophes. Luckily, protest movements can be regarded as being successful in the field of nuclear energy. Demonstrations definitely raise the public awareness whether they have the power to change government policies remains to be seen. The main success is changing the mind of a society over the course of time. The first step towards changing a government´s approach towards the nuclear issue is creating a new consciousness.
Speaking up, debating and keeping the public informed about one´s aim is probably the best way for protest movements to be successful.
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