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The nuclear debate is about public controversies relating to nuclear weapons, nuclear power, and uranium mining.


Nuclear weapons debate

The Fat Man mushroom cloud resulting from the nuclear explosion over Nagasaki.
A graph showing evolution of number of nuclear weapons in the US and USSR and in the period 1945-2005. US dominates early and USSR later years with and crossover around 1978.
U.S. and USSR/Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles, 1945–2005.

There has been considerable debate about the role of nuclear weapons since before the first atomic bombs were dropped in 1945.[1][2][3]

The Little Boy atomic bomb was detonated over the Japanese city of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945. Exploding with a yield equivalent to 12,500 tonnes of TNT, the blast and thermal wave of the bomb destroyed nearly 50,000 buildings and killed approximately 75,000 people.[4] Detonation of the "Fat Man" atomic bomb over Nagasaki occurred on 9 August 1945. The role of the bombings in Japan's surrender and the U.S.'s ethical justification for them has been the subject of scholarly and popular debate for decades. J. Samuel Walker suggests that "the controversy over the use of the bomb seems certain to continue".[5]

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the world’s nuclear weapons stockpiles grew,[6] and nuclear weapons have been detonated on over two thousand occasions for testing and demonstration purposes. Countries known to have detonated nuclear weapons—and that acknowledge possessing such weapons—are (chronologically) the United States, the Soviet Union (succeeded as a nuclear power by Russia), the United Kingdom, France, the People's Republic of China, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.[7]

Nuclear disarmament refers to both the act of reducing or eliminating nuclear weapons and to the end state of a nuclear-free world, in which nuclear weapons are completely eliminated. Proponents of nuclear disarmament say that it would lessen the probability of nuclear war occurring, especially accidentally. In the early 1980s, following a revival of the nuclear arms race, a popular nuclear disarmament movement emerged.[8] In October 1981 half a million people took to the streets in several cities in Italy, more than 250,000 people protested in Bonn, 250,000 demonstrated in London, and 100,000 marched in Brussels.[9] The largest anti-nuclear protest was held on June 12, 1982, when one million people demonstrated in New York City against nuclear weapons.[10][11][12] In October 1983, nearly 3 million people across western Europe protested nuclear missile deployments and demanded an end to the arms race.[13]

Critics of nuclear disarmament say that it would undermine deterrence. Deterrence is a strategy by which governments threaten an immense retaliation if attacked, such that aggressors are deterred if they do not wish to suffer great damage as a result of an aggressive action. Nuclear weapons are said to have induced "nuclear peace" during the Cold War, when both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. possessed mutual second-strike retaliation capability, eliminating the possibility of nuclear victory for either side.

Nuclear power debate

The abandoned city of Prypiat, Ukraine, following the Chernobyl disaster. The Chernobyl nuclear power plant is in the background.
Fishermen near the now-dismantled Trojan Nuclear Power Plant in Oregon. The reactor dome is visible on the left, and the cooling tower on the right.

The nuclear power debate is about the controversy[14][15][16] which has surrounded the deployment and use of nuclear fission reactors to generate electricity from nuclear fuel for civilian purposes. The debate about nuclear power peaked during the 1970s and 1980s, when it "reached an intensity unprecedented in the history of technology controversies", in some countries.[17][18]

Proponents of nuclear energy contend that nuclear power is a sustainable energy source that reduces carbon emissions and increases energy security by decreasing dependence on foreign oil.[19] Proponents advance the notion that nuclear power produces virtually no air pollution, in contrast to the chief viable alternative of fossil fuel. Proponents also point out that nuclear power is the only viable course to achieve energy independence for most Western countries. Proponents also emphasize that the risks of storing waste are small and can be further reduced by using the latest technology in newer reactors, and the operational safety record in the Western world is excellent when compared to the other major kinds of power plants.[20]

Opponents believe that nuclear power poses many threats to people and the environment. These threats include health risks and environmental damage from uranium mining, processing and transport, the risk of nuclear weapons proliferation or sabotage, and the unsolved problem of radioactive nuclear waste.[21][22] They also contend that reactors themselves are enormously complex machines where many things can and do go wrong, and there have been many serious nuclear accidents.[23][24] Critics do not believe that these risks can be reduced through new technology.[25] They also argue that when all the energy-intensive stages of the nuclear fuel chain are considered, from uranium mining to nuclear decommissioning, nuclear power is not a low-carbon electricity source.[26][27][28]

Many mass anti-nuclear power demonstrations took place in the aftermath of the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and a New York City protest in September 1979 involved two hundred thousand people. Some 120,000 people demonstrated against nuclear power in Bonn, in October 1979.[29] In May 1986, following the Chernobyl disaster, an estimated 150,000 to 200,000 people marched in Rome to protest against the Italian nuclear program,[30] and clashes between anti-nuclear protesters and police became common in West Germany.[31]

More recently some environmentalists have adopted a pro-nuclear stance, arguing that nuclear power is a clean and green energy source. These individuals include James Lovelock,[32] originator of the Gaia hypothesis, Patrick Moore,[33] and Stewart Brand, creator of the Whole Earth Catalog.[34][35]

Uranium debate

Ranger Uranium Mine, number 3 pit

In terms of uranium production, Canada is the largest supplier to export markets, followed by Kazakhstan and Australia.[36] Australia has 23% of the world's uranium ore reserves[37] and the world's largest single uranium deposit, located at the Olympic Dam Mine in South Australia.[38]

The years 1976 and 1977 saw uranium mining become a major political issue in Australia, with the Ranger Inquiry (Fox) report opening up a public debate about uranium mining.[39] The Movement Against Uranium Mining group was formed in 1976, and many protests and demonstrations against uranium mining were held.[39][40] Notable Australian anti-uranium activists have included Kevin Buzzacott, Jacqui Katona, Yvonne Margarula, and Jillian Marsh.[41][42][43] Concerns relate to the health risks and environmental damage from uranium mining.

In 1977, the Australian Labor Party (ALP) national conference passed a motion in favour of an indefinite moratorium on uranium mining, and the anti-nuclear movement in Australia acted to support the Labor Party and help it regain office. However, after the ALP won power in 1983, the 1984 ALP conference voted in favour of a "three mines policy".[44]

Australia has three operating uranium mines at Olympic Dam (Roxby) and Beverley - both in South Australia's north - and at Ranger in the Northern Territory. As of April 2009, construction has begun on South Australia's third uranium mine—the Honeymoon Uranium Mine.[45]

See also


  1. ^ Jerry Brown and Rinaldo Brutoco (1997). Profiles in Power: The Anti-nuclear Movement and the Dawn of the Solar Age, Twayne Publishers, pp. 191-192.
  2. ^ Peter deLeon. Review: Freeze: The Literature of the Nuclear Weapons Debate The Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 27, No. 1 (Mar., 1983), pp. 181-189.
  3. ^ Phil Williams (Ed.) (1984). The Nuclear Debate: Issues and Politics, Routledge & Keagan Paul, London.
  4. ^ Emsley, John (2001). "Uranium". Nature's Building Blocks: An A to Z Guide to the Elements. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 478. ISBN 0198503407. 
  5. ^ Walker, J. Samuel (April 2005). "Recent Literature on Truman's Atomic Bomb Decision: A Search for Middle Ground". Diplomatic History 29 (2): 334. doi:10.1111/j.1467-7709.2005.00476.x. 
  6. ^ Mary Palevsky, Robert Futrell, and Andrew Kirk. Recollections of Nevada's Nuclear Past UNLV FUSION, 2005, p. 20.
  7. ^ "Federation of American Scientists: Status of World Nuclear Forces". Retrieved 2010-01-12. 
  8. ^ Lawrence S. Wittner. Disarmament movement lessons from yesteryear Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 27 July 2009.
  9. ^ David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 147.
  10. ^ Jonathan Schell. The Spirit of June 12 The Nation, July 2, 2007.
  11. ^ David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 145.
  12. ^ 1982 - a million people march in New York City
  13. ^ David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 148.
  14. ^ James J. MacKenzie. Review of The Nuclear Power Controversy by Arthur W. Murphy The Quarterly Review of Biology, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Dec., 1977), pp. 467-468.
  15. ^ J. Samuel Walker (2004). Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective (Berkeley: University of California Press), pp. 10-11.
  16. ^ In February 2010 the nuclear power debate played out on the pages of the New York Times, see A Reasonable Bet on Nuclear Power and Revisiting Nuclear Power: A Debate and A Comeback for Nuclear Power?
  17. ^ Herbert P. Kitschelt. Political Opportunity and Political Protest: Anti-Nuclear Movements in Four Democracies British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1986, p. 57.
  18. ^ Jim Falk (1982). Global Fission: The Battle Over Nuclear Power, Oxford University Press.
  19. ^ U.S. Energy Legislation May Be `Renaissance' for Nuclear Power.
  20. ^ Bernard Cohen. "The Nuclear Energy Option". Retrieved 2009-12-09. 
  21. ^ Greenpeace International and European Renewable Energy Council (January 2007). Energy Revolution: A Sustainable World Energy Outlook, p. 7.
  22. ^ Giugni, Marco (2004). Social Protest and Policy Change: Ecology, Antinuclear, and Peace Movements.
  23. ^ Stephanie Cooke (2009). In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age, Black Inc., p. 280.
  24. ^ Benjamin K. Sovacool. The costs of failure: A preliminary assessment of major energy accidents, 1907–2007, Energy Policy 36 (2008), pp. 1802-1820.
  25. ^ Jim Green. Nuclear Weapons and 'Fourth Generation' Reactors Chain Reaction, August 2009, pp. 18-21.
  26. ^ Kurt Kleiner. Nuclear energy: assessing the emissions Nature Reports, Vol. 2, October 2008, pp. 130-131.
  27. ^ Mark Diesendorf (2007). Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy, University of New South Wales Press, p. 252.
  28. ^ Mark Diesendorf. Is nuclear energy a possible solution to global warming?
  29. ^ Herbert P. Kitschelt. Political Opportunity and Political Protest: Anti-Nuclear Movements in Four Democracies British Journal of Political Science, Vol. 16, No. 1, 1986, p. 71.
  30. ^ Marco Giugni (2004). Social protest and policy change p. 55.
  31. ^ John Greenwald. Energy and Now, the Political Fallout, TIME, June 2, 1986.
  32. ^ James Lovelock: Nuclear power is the only green solution
  33. ^ Going Nuclear
  34. ^ Environmental Heresies
  35. ^ An Early Environmentalist, Embracing New ‘Heresies’
  36. ^ "World Uranium Mining". World Nuclear Association. Retrieved 2009-07-24. 
  37. ^ "Supply of Uranium". 
  38. ^ "Uranium Mining and Processing in South Australia". South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy. 2002. Retrieved 2007-01-14. 
  39. ^ a b Bauer, Martin (ed) (1995). Resistance to New Technology, Cambridge University Press, p. 173.
  40. ^ Drew Hutton and Libby Connors, (1999). A History of the Australian Environmental Movement, Cambridge University Press.
  41. ^ Phil Mercer. Aborigines count cost of mine BBC News, 25 May 2004.
  42. ^ Anti-uranium demos in Australia BBC World Service, 5 April 1998.
  43. ^ Jennifer Thompson. Anti-nuke protests Green Left Weekly, 16 July 1997.
  44. ^ Burgmann, Verity (2003). Power, Profit and Protest pp. 174-175. Retrieved 8 December 2009.
  45. ^ Work begins on Honeymoon uranium mine ABC News, April 24, 2009. Retrieved 8 February 2010.

Further reading

  • M. Clarke and M. Mowlam (Eds) (1982). Debate on Disarmament, Routledge and Kegan Paul.
  • Cooke, Stephanie (2009). In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age, Black Inc.
  • Falk, Jim (1982). Global Fission: The Battle Over Nuclear Power, Oxford University Press.
  • Murphy, Arthur W. (1976). The Nuclear Power Controversy, Prentice-Hall.
  • Walker, J. Samuel (2004). Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective, University of California Press.
  • Williams, Phil (Ed.) (1984). The Nuclear Debate: Issues and Politics, Routledge & Keagan Paul, London.
  • Wittner, Lawrence S. (2009). Confronting the Bomb: A Short History of the World Nuclear Disarmament Movement, Stanford University Press.


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