Greenpeace and Nuclear Energy

Kyle Gilbert
March 18, 2015

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2015

Fig. 1: Example of a nuclear plant. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Fermi, a Nobel Prize winner and Italian mathematician physicist, immigrated to the United States after he became the first to recognize the potential of nuclear fission around 1934. Soon after, in 1942, he created the first controlled, self- sustaining nuclear chain reaction. [1] The United States implemented its first nuclear bomb test in New Mexico in 1945. During the next 30 years, public concern ignited over the possibility of the fallout and repercussions of a nuclear meltdown and the use of this energy for weapons of mass destruction. Today, various groups actively lobby against nuclear power including the group Greenpeace who emerged in the early 1970's. This group, made up of anti-Vietnam ecologists, actively contested nuclear testing in the North Pacific. [2] Greenpeace, centered in Amsterdam with a large presence in the United States, has evolved into an environmental organization that actively campaigns for pro-earth issues and raises public awareness through the use of media. It raises money through its large membership, charging various fee rates and also takes donations. The organization boasts about 2500 employees, with an estimate employment cost in the 250 million dollar range alone. With their manpower, both employee and volunteer, and supported with their fees and large donations, Greenpeace actively lobbies against the harms of nuclear power both in safety and environmental concerns. In their cause to protect against the perceived harm of nuclear energy, they argue that the possible benefits of nuclear energy are far outweighed by the known risks.

Greenpeace Activism on Nuclear Energy

Greenpeace achieves its goals in the United States through Greenpeace Fund (with total revenue of over 12 million in 2012) and Greenpeace, Inc. (with total revenue of over 30 million in the same year). Greenpeace uses direct action, public education and awareness, and political lobbying to impact the continued research and use of nuclear energy. The tactic of direct action, attracting global attention through media and the internet, can quickly raise the profile of an issue much better than a well- researched paper report. [3] In October of 1990, four Greenpeace activists occupied the Novaya Zemlya islands in an effort to block Soviet testing of nuclear weapons. [4] Part of the Greenpeace effort, “Let’s Disarm the Sea”, the activists achieved drawing attention to the negative risks of nuclear testing. Many nuclear plants (such as the nuclear plant in Fig. 1.) have hosted Greenpeace direct action protests. A more recent action occurred in a French nuclear plant in July of 2013. Thirty activists, dressed in red, proved that there were security flaws at the Tricastin plant. Carrying signs, they taunted that then President Francois Hollande would be the president of a nuclear catastrophe. This action also represented a type of lobbying by entering the political arena.

Political lobbying by Greenpeace can be both effective, although limited in comparison to industry lobbying. [5] Greenpeace believes it has a strong scientific case outlining risks for use of nuclear energy, but their lobbying voice is limited by the extent of their ties and networking to access those with political decision-making. Nevertheless, Greenpeace continues to lobby with the public and political figures for its case to limit nuclear energy.

Fig. 2: Patrick Moore (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Greenpeace is very effective in raising awareness about nuclear energy risks and educating the public. They have a magazine, a powerful website and over 2.5 million members around the world who can participate in pressure campaigns. They also have a powerful scientific and market research to fuel these education endeavors.

Greenpeace Anti-Nuclear Advocate Defects

While Greenpeace has a very healthy group of supporters against nuclear energy, as more is known about nuclear energy, there have been defectors from that cause. Patrick Moore, notably one of the cofounders of Greenpeace, now believes nuclear power is the energy of times to come. Moore (pictured in Fig. 2.) states that although nuclear energy can undeniably be used for evil such as nuclear weapons, it can be used for good such as nuclear medicines. He also asserts that it is available in large- scale continuously as opposed to wind and solar energy. Moore also contends that nuclear energy may be the source that helps combat devastating climate change. He contends that the world cannot ban a technology that is dangerous in an all or nothing mindset. [6] Moore's withdrawing from support of Greenpeace's stance against nuclear power, clearly draws attention to the contrasting controversial opinions. As scientists and the public learn more about it, nuclear energy can be better understood both for its good usages and how to carefully utilize what is proving to be a valuable resource.


As nuclear energy becomes more understood, the arguments against its use or for it continued research continues to transform. As in the case of cigarette use or the benefits of digital communication, the more education received enlightens possibly an opposite, or at least an adjusted understanding. Nuclear power is having impact in many arenas and Greenpeace has undeniably influenced the thoughtful and careful exploration of the energy. As recent as February, 2015, Greenpeace continued its watch on nuclear safety issues when a Belgian nuclear plant was found to have unsafe cracks. Not only did Greenpeace lobby for it being taken offline immediately, but they called for immediate inspections of all nuclear plants worldwide. They stated that there is eminent danger with aging nuclear plants that must be addressed to avoid unnecessary catastrophe. [7] Because of the issues that have been raised with nuclear power safety, the United States may be lagging in the next generation research of nuclear power behind countries such as China, Russia, India, France and South Korea. Although Greenpeace is a staunch opponent of nuclear energy, others assert that apart from its use with nuclear weapons, nuclear energy can have a profound positive impact in medicine, providing energy, and in short, can be a sustainer of civilization as opposed to the agent that destroys mankind or the environment.

© Kyle Gilbert. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] E. Fermi, "Artificial Radioactivity Produced By Neutron Bombardment," in Nobel Lectures Physics 1922-1941 (Elsevier, 1965), p. 407.

[2] G.-P. Pagé, "Greenpeace's Campaign Strategy," Peace Magazine, Jul-Sep 2004, p. 13.

[3] B. Wheeler, "The Campaign Group: Greenpeace," BBC News, 30 May 08.

[4] C. Goldberg, "Soviets Free Greenpeace Ship in Arctic A-Test Protest," Los Angeles Times, 14 Oct 90.

[5] B. Wheeler, "Labour and the Nuclear Lobby," BBC News, 23 May 07.

[6] P. Moore, "Going Nuclear," Washington Post, 16 Apr 06.

[7] "Cracks in Nuclear Reactors Prompt Call for Worldwide Inspections," Wisconsin Gazette, 17 Feb 15.