Anti-nuclear movement in the United Kingdom

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On 12 December 1982, 30,000 women held hands around the 6 miles (9.7 km) perimeter of the RAF Greenham Common base, in protest against the decision to site American cruise missiles there.

The anti-nuclear movement in the United Kingdom consists of groups who oppose nuclear technologies such as nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Many different groups and individuals have been involved in anti-nuclear demonstrations and protests over the years.

One of the most prominent anti-nuclear groups in the UK is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). CND's Aldermaston Marches began in 1958 and continued into the late 1960s when tens of thousands of people took part in the four-day marches. One significant anti-nuclear mobilisation in the 1980s was the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp. In London, in October 1983, more than 300,000 people assembled in Hyde Park as part of the largest protest against nuclear weapons in British history. In 2005 in Britain, there were many protests and peace camps about the government's proposal to replace the ageing Trident weapons system with a newer model.

In October 2010 the British government announced eight locations it considered suitable for future nuclear power stations.[1] This has resulted in public opposition and protests at some of the sites. The Scottish Government, with the backing of the Scottish Parliament, has stated that no new nuclear power stations will be constructed in Scotland.[2][3] In March 2012, RWE npower and E.ON announced they would be pulling out of developing new nuclear power plants. Analysts said the decision meant the future of UK nuclear power could now be in doubt.[4]


There are large variations in peoples' understanding of the issues surrounding nuclear power, including the technology itself, climate change, and energy security. There is a wide spectrum of views and concerns over nuclear power[5] and it remains a controversial area of public policy.[6] Nuclear power currently provides around 20% of the UK's electricity.[7]

The UK also has nuclear weapons in the form of Trident missiles which are located on a fleet of submarines, and the funding and deployment of these weapons has also been widely debated.[8][9]

The 1976 Flower's Report on Nuclear Power and the Environment recommended that:

There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of longlived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future.[10]

On 18 October 2010 the British government announced eight locations it considered suitable for future nuclear power stations.[1] This has resulted in public opposition and protests at some of the sites. In March 2012, two of the big six power companies announced they would be pulling out of developing new nuclear power plants. The decision by RWE npower and E.ON follows uncertainty over nuclear energy following the Fukushima nuclear disaster last year. The companies will not proceed with their Horizon project, which was to develop nuclear reactors at Wylfa in North Wales and at Oldbury-on-Severn in Gloucestershire. Their decision follows a similar announcement by Scottish and Southern Electricity last year. Analysts said the decision meant the future of UK nuclear power could now be in doubt.[4]

In May 2012, a new government report showed that, in England and Wales, hundreds of sites could be contaminated with radioactive waste from old military bases, factories, and old planes. This figure is far higher than previous official estimates.[11]

Anti-nuclear protests[edit]

Demonstrators outside the wire fences at Molesworth, early 1980s
8 April 1985, CND placards against the RAF Molesworth fence
Police dismantling a blockade of protestors at the south gate of the Faslane naval base.
Anti-nuclear march from London to Geneva, 2008

The first Aldermaston March organised by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament took place at Easter 1958, when several thousand people marched for four days from Trafalgar Square, London, to the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment close to Aldermaston in Berkshire, England, to demonstrate their opposition to nuclear weapons.[12][13] The Aldermaston marches continued into the late 1960s when tens of thousands of people took part in the four-day marches.[14]

One significant anti-nuclear mobilisation in the 1980s was the Greenham Common Women's Peace Camp. It began in September 1981 after a Welsh group called "Women for Life on Earth" arrived at Greenham to protest against the decision of the Government to allow cruise missiles to be based there.[15] The women's peace camp attracted significant media attention and "prompted the creation of other peace camps at more than a dozen sites in Britain and elsewhere in Europe".[15] In December 1982 some 30,000 women from various peace camps and other peace organisations held a major protest against nuclear weapons on Greenham Common.[16]

On 1 April 1983, about 70,000 people linked arms to form a human chain between three nuclear weapons centres in Berkshire. The anti-nuclear demonstration stretched for 14 miles along the Kennet Valley.[17]

In London, in October 1983, more than 300,000 people assembled in Hyde Park. This was "the largest protest against nuclear weapons in British history", according to the New York Times.[16]

Molesworth peace camp was set up outside RAF Molesworth, which was the focus of large protests at Easter 1985 and February 1986, during one of which Bruce Kent, one of the leaders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, attempted to cut through the fence in full view of the police. A protest presence remained outside the station well into the 1990s recording the movement of cruise missiles.

Faslane Naval Base has nuclear capable missiles and is part of the HM Naval Base Clyde in Scotland. Faslane has attracted demonstrations by Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and Trident Ploughshares. Faslane Peace Camp is a permanent peace camp outside the base gates, and there are frequent demonstrations at the base gates. The Scottish National Party, the Scottish Socialist Party and the Scottish Green Party all oppose the deployment of nuclear weapons, and it is not unusual for members of these parties to be present at rallies outside Faslane. Such events aim to keep the base closed for as long as possible by preventing its staff from arriving for work, and usually involve large numbers of protesters being arrested for non-violent civil disobedience. The Radical Independence Campaign political organisation also opposes nuclear weapons and the Trident nuclear weapons programme.[18][19][20]

Other peace camps were set up at the same time at Naphill, Daws Hill, Upper Heyford, and Lakenheath though none lasted more than a few years.[21]

In 2005 in Britain, there were many protests about the government's proposal to replace the ageing Trident weapons system with a newer model. The largest protest had 100,000 participants and, according to polls, 59 percent of the public opposed the move.[22]

In October 2008 in the United Kingdom, more than 30 people were arrested during one of the largest anti-nuclear protests at the Atomic Weapons Establishment at Aldermaston for 10 years. The demonstration marked the start of the UN World Disarmament Week and involved about 400 people.[23]

In October 2011, more than 200 protesters blockaded the Hinkley Point C nuclear power station site. Members of several anti-nuclear groups that are part of the Stop New Nuclear alliance barred access to the site in protest at EDF Energy's plans to renew the site with two new reactors.[24]

In January 2012, three hundred anti-nuclear protestors marched against plans to build a new nuclear power station at Wylfa. The march was organised by Pobl Atal Wylfa B, Greenpeace and Cymdeithas yr Iaith, which are supporting a farmer who is in dispute with Horizon.[25]

In February 2012, protesters set up camp in an abandoned farm on the site of the proposed Hinkley Point C nuclear power station. They are "angry West Somerset Council has given EDF Energy the go-ahead for preparatory work before planning permission has been granted". The group of about seven protesters also claim a nature reserve is at risk from the proposals.[26]

On 10 March 2012, the first anniversary of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, hundreds of anti-nuclear campaigners formed a symbolic chain around Hinkley Point to express their determined opposition to new nuclear power plants, and to call on the coalition government to abandon its plan for seven other new nuclear plants across the UK. Similar protests took place against new nuclear plants at Wylfa in North Wales and Heysham in Lancashire.[citation needed]

In April 2013, thousands of Scottish campaigners, MSPs, and union leaders, rallied against nuclear weapons. The Scrap Trident Coalition wants to see an end to nuclear weapons, and says saved monies should be used for health, education and welfare initiatives. There was also a blockade of the Faslane Naval Base, where Trident missiles are stored.[27]

Specific groups[edit]

The now-familiar peace symbol was originally the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament logo.

One of the most prominent anti-nuclear groups in the UK is the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). CND favours nuclear disarmament by all countries and tighter international regulation through treaties such as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. CND is also opposed to any new nuclear power stations being built in the United Kingdom. One of the activities most strongly associated with CND is the Aldermaston Marches. Other anti-nuclear groups in the UK include:

Public opinion[edit]

Nuclear weapons[edit]

Historically, public support for unilateral nuclear disarmament has remained at about one in four of the population."[46][47] Between 1955 and 1962, between 19% to 33% of people in Britain expressed disapproval of the manufacture of nuclear weapons.[48] Public support for unilateralism in September 1982 reached 31%.[49] Support fell after the end of the Cold war and even after the collapse of the Soviet Union British nuclear weapons had majority support.[49]

In 2005, Greenpeace commissioned MORI to conduct an opinion poll which asked about attitudes to Trident and the use of nuclear weapons. When asked whether the UK should replace Trident, without being told of the cost, 44% of respondents said "Yes" and 46% said "No". When asked the same question and told of the cost, 33% said "Yes" and 54% said "No".[50]

In the same poll, when asked "Would you approve or disapprove of the UK using nuclear weapons against a country we are at war with?"

  • 9% would approve if that country does not have nuclear weapons, and 84% would disapprove.
  • 16% would approve if that country has nuclear weapons but has never used them, and 72% would disapprove,
  • 53% would approve if that country uses nuclear weapons against the UK, and 37% would disapprove.[50]

However, a more recent poll by YouGov in 2013 found that just 24% of people supported scrapping nuclear weapons if there was an option of a cheaper, less powerful system, and 29% supported scrapping them if there was no cheaper alternative.[51] A 2015 YouGov poll had similar results for the whole UK with 25% supporting scrapping Trident, but that increased to 48% in Scotland.[52]

CND's policy of opposing American nuclear bases is said to be in tune with public opinion.[53]

Nuclear power[edit]

In March 2006, a protest took place in Derby where campaigners handed a letter to Margaret Beckett, head of DEFRA, outside Derby City Council about the dangers of nuclear power stations.

A large nationally representative 2010 British survey about energy issues found that public opinion is divided on the issue of nuclear power. The majority of people are concerned about nuclear power and public trust in the government and nuclear industry remains relatively low. The survey showed that there is a clear preference for renewable energy sources over nuclear power.[54]

According to a national opinion poll, support for nuclear power in the UK dropped by twelve percent following the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster.[55]

It was reported in 2011 that the government's programme to build new nuclear power stations in England would be "delayed by at least three months so that lessons can be learned from the accident at Fukushima in Japan".[56][57]

In July 2012, a YouGov poll showed that 63 percent of UK respondents agreed that nuclear generation should be part of the country's energy mix, up from 61 percent in 2010. Opposition fell to 11 percent.[58][needs update]

Academics and consultants[edit]

In early 2008 a group of scientists and academics forming the Nuclear Consultation Working Group released a report criticising government proposals to build a new generation of nuclear power plants.[59][60] Contributors included:

  • Frank Barnaby, Nuclear issues consultant, Oxford Research Group.
  • Andrew Dobson, Professor of Politics, University of Keele.
  • Paul Dorfman, Founder, Nuclear Consulting Group.
  • David Elliott, Emeritus professor of Technology Policy, The Open University.
  • Ian Fairlie, Independent Nuclear Consultant.
  • Kate Hudson, Chair, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
  • David Lowry, Independent Research Consultant.
  • Jerome Ravetz
  • Andy Stirling, Director of Science at SPRU, University of Sussex.
  • Stephen Thomas, Professor of Energy policy, University of Greenwich.
  • Gordon Walker, Chair of Environment, Risk, and Social Justice, University of Aberdeen
  • Dave Webb, Emeritus Professor, Leeds Metropolitan University.
  • Philip Webber, Research Fellow, Leeds University.
  • Ian Welsh Reader in Sociology, University of Cardiff.
  • Stuart Weir, University of Essex.
  • Brian Wynne, Professor of Science Studies.

Other individuals[edit]


George Monbiot, an English writer known for his environmental and political activism, once expressed deep antipathy to the nuclear industry.[63] He finally rejected his later neutral position regarding nuclear power in March 2011. Although he "still loathe[s] the liars who run the nuclear industry",[64] Monbiot now advocates its use, having been convinced of its relative safety by what he considers the limited effects of the 2011 Japan tsunami on nuclear reactors in the region.[64] Subsequently, he has harshly condemned the anti-nuclear movement, writing that it "has misled the world about the impacts of radiation on human health ... made [claims] ungrounded in science, unsupportable when challenged and wildly wrong".[65]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "Nuclear power: Eight sites identified for future plants". BBC News. BBC. 18 October 2010. Archived from the original on 19 October 2010. Retrieved 18 October 2010.
  2. ^ "Answers to your questions on energy in Scotland". The Scottish Government. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  3. ^ "Official Report 17 January 2008". The Scottish Parliament. Archived from the original on 20 June 2009. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  4. ^ a b David Maddox (30 March 2012). "Nuclear disaster casts shadow over future of UK's energy plans". The Scotsman.
  5. ^ Sustainable Development Commission. Public engagement and nuclear power Archived 17 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Sustainable Development Commission. Is Nuclear the Answer? Archived 22 March 2014 at the Wayback Machine p. 12.
  7. ^ Sustainable Development Commission. The Role of Nuclear Power in a Low Carbon Economy Archived 21 June 2009 at the Wayback Machine p. 1.
  8. ^ UK nuclear weapons plan unveiled BBC News, 4 December 2006.
  9. ^ Helen Pidd. Trident nuclear missiles are £20bn waste of money, say generals The Guardian, 16 January 2009.
  10. ^ Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution (1976). Nuclear Power and the Environment Archived 17 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine p. 202.
  11. ^ Rob Edwards (2 May 2012). "Nuclear waste 'may be blighting 1,000 UK sites'". The Guardian. London.
  12. ^ Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. The history of CND
  13. ^ "Early defections in march to Aldermaston". London: Guardian Unlimited. 5 April 1958.
  14. ^ Jim Falk (1982). Global Fission: The Battle Over Nuclear Power, Oxford University Press, pp. 96–97.
  15. ^ a b David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 147.
  16. ^ a b David Cortright (2008). Peace: A History of Movements and Ideas, Cambridge University Press, p. 148.
  17. ^ Paul Brown, Shyama Perera and Martin Wainwright. Protest by CND stretches 14 miles The Guardian, 2 April 1983.
  18. ^ a b Gordon, Tom (23 November 2014). "'People's vow' unveiled at radical independence conference". The Herald. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  19. ^ Macdonell, Hamish (24 November 2012). "Radicals threaten Salmond and Scottish independence campaign". The Independent. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  20. ^ Carrell, Severin (18 September 2015). "Scotland's Rise alliance ready to challenge SNP in Holyrood". The Guardian. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  21. ^ Peace Camps
  22. ^ Lawrence S. Wittner. A rebirth of the anti-nuclear weapons movement? Portents of an anti-nuclear upsurge Archived 19 June 2010 at the Wayback Machine Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 7 December 2007.
  23. ^ More than 30 arrests at Aldermaston anti-nuclear protest The Guardian, 28 October 2008.
  24. ^ "Hinkley Point power station blockaded by anti-nuclear protesters". The Guardian. London. 3 October 2011.
  25. ^ Elgan Hearn (25 January 2012). "Hundreds protest against nuclear power station plans". Online Mail.
  26. ^ "Anti-nuclear campaigners set up camp at Hinkley C site". BBC News. 12 February 2012.
  27. ^ "Thousands of anti-nuclear protesters attend Glasgow march against Trident". Daily Record. 13 April 2013.
  28. ^ CANSAR
  29. ^ Wright, Oliver (15 December 2014). "Greens, SNP and Plaid Cymru 'may back Labour' - if they scrap Trident". The Independent. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  30. ^ "IF NOT NOW, WHEN? MANIFESTO 2019" (PDF). 2019. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  31. ^ Low Level Radiation Campaign
  32. ^ News and information about the UK nuclear industry
  33. ^ No new nukes!
  34. ^ Welcome to Nuclear Pledge
  35. ^ "Adam Price reiterates Plaid Cymru's opposition to nuclear weapons". Nation.Cymru. 1 May 2022. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  36. ^ Tegeltija, Sam (18 January 2015). "Plaid Cymru to join forces with SNP and Greens in debate over Trident weapons programme". WalesOnline. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  37. ^ Scram: a look back
  38. ^ Nutt, Kathleen (11 April 2021). "Greens in pledge to ban Trident before Scottish independence". The National. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  39. ^ a b "The SNP and Greens to unite on Trident". The Scotsman. 4 April 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  40. ^ a b Green, Chris (2 September 2021). "Trident: SNP and Greens rule out deal to keep nuclear weapons in Scotland". i news. Retrieved 15 August 2022.
  41. ^ Shutdown Sizewell Campaign
  42. ^ Nuclear incident only avoided by eagle-eyed contractor
  43. ^ Stop Hinkley
  44. ^ Anti-nuclear groups fear danger at new reactor
  45. ^ "Nuclear is too little, too late and too dangerous". Archived from the original on 2 February 2008. Retrieved 19 January 2008.
  46. ^ April Carter, Direct Action and Liberal Democracy, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1973, p.64
  47. ^ Andy Byrom, "British attitudes on nuclear weapons", Journal of Public Affairs, 7: 71–77, 2007
  48. ^ W.P.Snyder, The Politics of British Defense Policy, 1945–1962, Ohio University Press, 1964
  49. ^ a b Caedel, Martin, "Britain's Nuclear Disarmers", in Laqueur, W., European Peace Movements and the Future of the Western Alliance, Transaction Publishers, 1985, p.233 ISBN 0-88738-035-2
  50. ^ a b "British Attitudes to Nuclear Weapons" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 January 2012. Retrieved 5 August 2013.
  51. ^ "YouGov".
  52. ^ "Poll: 25 of Brits and 48 of Scots think UK should scrap Trident".
  53. ^ James Hinton "Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament", in Roger S.Powers, Protest, Power and Change, Taylor and Francis, 1997, p.63 ISBN 0-8153-0913-9
  54. ^ Spence, Alexa et al. (2010). Public Perceptions of Climate Change and Energy Futures in Britain Archived 24 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine School of Psychology, Cardiff University.
  55. ^ Bibi van der Zee (22 March 2011). "Japan nuclear crisis puts UK public off new power stations". The Guardian. London.
  56. ^ Rob Edwards (5 April 2011). "UK nuclear plans on hold after Fukushima". The Guardian. London.
  57. ^ Kari Lundgren (28 July 2011). "Centrica Says Nuclear Plants Likely Delayed, Slows Spending". Bloomberg Businessweek.
  58. ^ Schaps, Karolin (2 July 2012). "UK popular support for nuclear power rises -poll". Reuters.
  59. ^ Vidal, John (4 January 2008). "Scientists take on Brown over nuclear plans". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  60. ^ Dorfman, Paul (ed.). "Nuclear Consultation: Public Trust in Government" (PDF). London: Nuclear Consultation Working Group. Retrieved 4 May 2012.
  61. ^ Fears over nuclear waste transport plan
  62. ^ Jon Kelly. Nuclear veterans vow to fight on BBC News, 10 January 2008.
  63. ^ George Monbiot "The nuclear winter draws near", The Guardian, 30 March 2000
  64. ^ a b Monbiot, George (21 March 2011). "Why Fukushima made me stop worrying and love nuclear power". The Guardian. Retrieved 22 March 2011.
  65. ^ Monbiot, George (4 April 2011). "Evidence Meltdown". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 9 April 2011. Retrieved 17 April 2011.

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