Anti-nuclear protests in the United States

Anti-nuclear protest at Harrisburg in 1979, following the Three Mile Island Accident.

There were many anti-nuclear protests in the United States which captured national public attention during the 1970s and 1980s. These included the well-known Clamshell Alliance protests at Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant and the Abalone Alliance protests at Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, where thousands of protesters were arrested. Other large protests followed the 1979 Three Mile Island accident.[1]

A large anti-nuclear demonstration was held on May 6, 1979, in Washington D.C., when 125,000 people[2] including the Governor of California, attended a march and rally against nuclear power.[3] In New York City on September 23, 1979, almost 200,000 people attended a protest against nuclear power.[4] Anti-nuclear power protests preceded the shutdown of the Shoreham, Yankee Rowe, Millstone I, Rancho Seco, Maine Yankee, and about a dozen other nuclear power plants.[5]

On June 12, 1982, one million people demonstrated in New York City's Central Park against nuclear weapons and for an end to the cold war arms race. It was the largest anti-nuclear protest and the largest political demonstration in American history.[6][7] International Day of Nuclear Disarmament protests were held on June 20, 1983 at 50 sites across the United States.[8][9] In 1986, hundreds of people walked from Los Angeles to Washington DC in the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament.[10] There were many Nevada Desert Experience protests and peace camps at the Nevada Test Site during the 1980s and 1990s.[11][12]

On May 1, 2005, 40,000 anti-nuclear/anti-war protesters marched past the United Nations in New York, 60 years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.[13][14] This was the largest anti-nuclear rally in the U.S. for several decades.[15] In the 2000s there were protests about, and campaigns against, several new nuclear reactor proposals in the United States.[16][17][18] In 2013, four aging, uncompetitive, reactors were permanently closed: San Onofre 2 and 3 in California, Crystal River 3 in Florida, and Kewaunee in Wisconsin.[19][20] Vermont Yankee, in Vernon, closed in 2014, following many protests. Protesters in New York State are seeking to close Indian Point Energy Center, in Buchanan, 30 miles from New York City.[20]


The anti-nuclear movement in the United States have undertaken public protests and acts of civil disobedience which have included occupations of nuclear plant sites. Other salient strategies have included lobbying, petitioning government authorities, influencing public policy through referendum campaigns and involvement in elections. Anti-nuclear groups have also tried to influence policy implementation through litigation and by participating in licensing proceedings.[21]

Bodega Bay

Pacific Gas & Electric planned to build the first commercially viable nuclear power plant in the USA at Bodega Bay, a fishing village fifty miles north of San Francisco. The proposal was controversial and conflict with local citizens began in 1958.[22] In 1963 there was a large demonstration at the site of the proposed Bodega Bay Nuclear Power Plant.[23] The conflict ended in 1964, with the forced abandonment of plans for the power plant. Attempts to build a nuclear power plant in Malibu were similar to those at Bodega Bay and were also abandoned.[22]

Women Strike for Peace

Women Strike for Peace during the Cuban Missile Crisis

On November 1, 1961, at the height of the Cold War, about 50,000 women brought together by Women Strike for Peace marched in 60 cities in the United States to demonstrate against nuclear weapons. It was the largest national women's peace protest of the 20th century.[24] About 1,500 women led by Dagmar Wilson gathered at the foot of the Washington Monument and President John F. Kennedy watched from a window at the White House. The protest helped "push the United States and the Soviet Union into signing a nuclear test-ban treaty two years later".[24][25]

Montague Nuclear Power Plant

On 22 February 1974, Washington's Birthday, organic farmer Sam Lovejoy took a crowbar to the weather-monitoring tower which had been erected at the Montague Nuclear Power Plant site. Lovejoy felled 349 feet of the 550 foot tower and then took himself to the local police station, where he presented a statement in which he took full responsibility for the action. Lovejoy's action galvanized local public opinion against the plant.[26][27] The Montague nuclear power plant proposal was canceled in 1980,[28] after $29 million was spent on the project.[26]

Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant

See also: Paul Gunter and Macy Morse

Seabrook power plant was proposed as a twin-reactor plant in 1972, at an estimated cost of $973 million. When it finally won a commercial license in March 1990, it was a single reactor which cost $6.5 billion.[29] Over a period of thirteen years more than 4,000 citizens, many associated with the Clamshell Alliance anti-nuclear group, committed non-violent civil disobedience at Seabrook:[30]

Diablo Canyon Power Plant

Seabrook's Clamshell Alliance inspired the formation of California's Abalone Alliance, a coalition that included sixty member groups by 1981. The Abalone Alliance staged blockades and occupations at the Diablo Canyon Power Plant site between 1977 and 1984.[41] Nearly two thousand people were arrested during a two-week blockade in 1981, exceeding Seabrook as the largest number arrested at an anti-nuclear protest in the United States.[41] Specific protests included:

In April 2011, there was demonstration of 300 people at Avila Beach calling for the closure of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant and a halt to its relicensing application process. The event, organized by San Luis Obispo-based anti-nuclear group Mothers for Peace, was in response to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.[47]

Trojan Nuclear Power Plant

There was opposition to the Trojan Nuclear Power Plant from its inception, and this included non-violent protests organized by the Trojan Decommissioning Alliance. The Alliance organized the first major direct action protest at Trojan in August 1977, and a second round of protests took place that November. Scores of demonstrators were arrested, and in December 1977 a jury found 96 protesters not guilty of criminal trespass. There was another protest in August 1978, which led to about 280 arrests.[48] In the 1980s and early 1990s, Portland activist Lloyd Marbet and his group, Forelaws on Board, "became Trojan's leading opponents".[48]

Washington events, August 1985

Each of the 2,500 pews in the cathedral was covered with a cloth panel, decorated by The Ribbon International anti-nuclear group.
Assembly of the Ribbon gets underway at the United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.

The interfaith service for peace and nuclear disarmament, held on August 3 at the Washington National Cathedral, was attended by 5,000 people. Cathedral staff reported that it was the second-largest crowd ever hosted in the building.[49] Over 4,000 handmade cloth panels were on display during the service. Each pew was decorated by The Ribbon International group, and additional cloth ribbons were draped and tied in various locations around the building. Twenty bagpipers in Highland dress led a procession of 200 people carrying ribbons into the cathedral. The service also included dancing, meditation, and a performance by the Howard University Gospel Choir.[50][51] Survivors of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings were in attendance both at the church service and during The Ribbon event the next day.

When all 27,000 individual cloth panels were joined together on August 4, it created a ribbon 18 miles (29 km) long.[52] Don Wilcox of The Craft Report described it as "the largest collaborative craft event in American history".[53] The Ribbon wrapped around the Pentagon building, through the Pentagon parking lot, down the foot paths alongside the Jefferson Davis Highway and Washington Boulevard, crossed the Potomac River into Washington D.C. at the Arlington Memorial Bridge, and travelled into the National Mall area. The Ribbon then went past the Lincoln Memorial, along the south side of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, continuing east along the National Mall, and around the U.S.Capitol Building. It then turned west along the north side of the National Mall, went around the Ellipse by the White House, passed the Lincoln Memorial, crossed the Potomac River again and returned to the Pentagon. When the chain of panels was completed, hundreds of balloons were released near the Lincoln Memorial. The entire route was lined with people, and crowds gathered at the three designated speaking areas (the Pentagon, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Capitol). Singers, including Pete Seeger and Tom Chapin, rotated between the three stage areas, performing anti-war songs.[54][55]

Three Mile Island accident

President Jimmy Carter leaving Three Mile Island for Middletown, Pennsylvania, April 1, 1979

Even before the Three Mile Island accident, the nuclear industry was facing considerable adverse public opinion. A "sizeable and tenacious opposition movement had caused significant delays" in the licensing and construction of new power plants in the United States. The TMI accident stimulated a rise in anti-nuclear sentiment.[56]

The American public were concerned about the release of radioactive gas from the Three Mile Island accident and many mass demonstrations opposing nuclear power took place across the country in the following months. The largest one was held in New York City in September 1979 and involved two hundred thousand people; speeches were given by Jane Fonda and Ralph Nader.[4][57][58] The New York rally was held in conjunction with a series of nightly “No Nukes” concerts given at Madison Square Garden from September 19 through 23 by Musicians United for Safe Energy.

In the previous May, an estimated 65,000 people, including the Governor of California, attended a march and rally against nuclear power in Washington, D.C.[3][43]

Black Fox Nuclear Power Plant

Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant

Rocky Flats Nuclear Weapons Plant

The Rocky Flats Plant was a United States nuclear weapons production facility near Denver, Colorado that operated from 1952 to 1992. It was under the control of the United States Atomic Energy Commission (AEC) until 1977, when the AEC was replaced by the Department of Energy (DOE). Weapons production ended in 1989 after FBI agents raided the Rocky Flats plant. Operators of the plant later pleaded guilty to criminal violations of environmental law. The Plant was subject to many public protests:

Rancho Seco Nuclear Power Plant

In 1979, Abalone Alliance members held a 38-day sit-in at Californian Governor Jerry Brown's office to protest continued operation of Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station, which was a duplicate of the Three Mile Island facility.[72] In 1989, Sacramento voters voted to shut down the Rancho Seco power plant.[73]

Protest against the Arms Race

On June 12, 1982, one million people demonstrated in New York City's Central Park against nuclear weapons and for an end to the cold war arms race. It was the largest anti-nuclear protest and the largest political demonstration in American history.[6][7]

Seneca Women’s Peace Camp

Camp Poster

The Seneca Women's Encampment for a Future of Peace and Justice was located in Romulus, in Seneca County, New York, adjacent to the Seneca Army Depot. It took place mainly during the summer of 1983. Thousands of women came to participate and rally against nuclear weapons and the “patriarchal society” that created and used those weapons. The purpose of the Encampment was to stop the scheduled deployment of Cruise and Pershing II missiles before their suspected shipment from the Seneca Army Depot to Europe that fall. The Encampment continued as an active political presence in the Finger Lakes area for at least 5 more years, supporting anti-nuclear education and the connections between eco-feminism, non-violence, the need for civil disobedience and ideas of perma-culture, and sustainability.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant

In the 1970s and 1980s there were many protests at Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant which attempted to block access to the plant.[74]

On August 27, 2013, Entergy announced in a press release that it would close Vermont Yankee by the end of 2014, and the plant ceased operations on Dec. 29, 2014.[91]

San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station

On June 7, 2013, Southern California Edison announced it would "permanently retire" Unit 2 and Unit 3, ending their attempt to restart the plant at a reduced capacity.[94]

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

The Livermore Action Group organized many mass protests, from 1981 to 1984, against nuclear weapons which were being produced by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Peace activists Ken Nightingale and Eldred Schneider were involved.[95] On June 22, 1982, more than 1,300 anti-nuclear protesters were arrested in a nonviolent demonstration.[96] More recently, there has been an annual protest against nuclear weapons research at Lawrence Livermore. In August 2003, 1,000 people protested at Livermore Labs against "new-generation nuclear warheads".[97] In the 2007 protest, 64 people were arrested.[98] More than 80 people were arrested in March 2008 while protesting at the gates.[99]

International Day of Nuclear Disarmament

International Day of Nuclear Disarmament protests were held on June 20, 1983 at 50 sites across the United States. Many of the protests were against corporations involved in nuclear weapons production. Almost a thousand members of the Livermore Action Group were arrested at one demonstration.[8][9]

Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament

In 1986, hundreds of people walked from Los Angeles to Washington DC in what is referred to as the Great Peace March for Global Nuclear Disarmament. The march took nine months to traverse 3,700 miles (6,000 km), advancing approximately fifteen miles per day.[10]

Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Plant

Yankee Rowe Nuclear Power Plant, shut down in 1992, was subject to years of protests by environmentalists.[100][101][102]

Nevada Test Site

Members of Nevada Desert Experience hold a prayer vigil during the Easter period of 1982 at the entrance to the Nevada Test Site.
See also: Corbin Harney

From 1986 through 1994, two years after the United States put a hold on full-scale nuclear weapons testing, 536 demonstrations were held at the Nevada Test Site involving 37,488 participants and 15,740 arrests, according to government records.[103] These are just a few details:

Y-12 Weapons Plant

April 2011 OREPA rally at the Y-12 entrance

Since 1988, Oak Ridge Environmental Peace Alliance has organized non-violent direct action protests at the Y-12 National Security Complex, in an effort to close down the weapons plant. Sister Mary Dennis Lentsch, a Catholic nun, has been arrested many times for protesting at the Oak Ridge facility. She has said, "I believe the continuing weapons production at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, is in direct violation of the treaty obligations of the United States and consequently, is a violation of Article 6 of the US Constitution”.[113] In 2011, Rev. Bill Bichsel, an 84-year-old priest, received a prison sentence of three months for trespassing on federal property at the Y-12 complex.[114] In 2012, there have been protests about the proposed new Uranium Processing Facility, which is expected to cost $7.5 billion.[115]

In July 2012, Megan Rice, an 82-year-old nun and two fellow pacifists entered the Y-12 complex and spray-painted antiwar slogans on a building that houses nuclear bomb fuel. The anti-nuclear activists, who got past fences and security sensors before dawn on July 28, spent several hours in the Complex, conducting a Christian peace ritual, before they were stopped by a lone guard. The security breach prompted private experts to criticize the Department of Energy’s safeguarding of nuclear stockpiles. The agency is to reappraise security measures across its nuclear weapons program.[116]

Naval Base Kitsap

There have been anti-nuclear protests at Naval Base Kitsap for many years.[117] Recent protests include:

White House Peace Vigil

The White House Peace Vigil, June 2006

Thomas, Concepcion Picciotto and Ellen Thomas are the founders of the longest running anti-nuclear peace vigil in the US at the White House Peace Vigil, Lafayette Square, Washington, D.C.[121][122]


See also


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