Government Struggles with Nuclear Weapons

Chae Uhm
March 27, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH241, Stanford University, Winter 2017


Fig. 1: Mushroom cloud above Nagasaki after atomic bombing on August 9, 1945. Taken from the north west. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

There are two types of antinuclear movements in America one that challenges the use of nuclear energy and the other that opposes the use of nuclear weapons. [1] Here I aim to focus on various ways people attempted to halt further developments of nuclear weapons.

Chronology of Anti-Nuclear Weapons Measures

Although the US bombing of Nagasaki (Fig. 1) and Hiroshima in 1945 marked the end of World War II, it also revealed a glimpse of destructive power of nuclear weapons to the public. The atrocities the nuclear weapons brought upon Japan influenced many Americans to first become more aware of and then reconsider the use of nuclear weapons. In response to the ever-rising anti-nuclear weapons sentiments, Congress founded the United States Atomic Energy Commission that aimed to regulate the peacetime development of nuclear energy and weapons. [2] The Commission was established to promote not only the just use of nuclear weapons as defense mechanisms, but also to ensure world peace.

However, the Atomic Energy Commission lost much of its power with the rise of Cold War tensions during the 1950s. Yet, the will to advocate the right use of nuclear energy persisted, as seen in President Dwight D. Eisenhower's Atoms for Peace speech delivered to the United Nations in 1953. [3] In his famed proposal, the President first spoke about the destructive power of nuclear weapons and then the merits of using nuclear energy. In addition, Eisenhower promised to deliver books, pamphlets, and other informational texts about the underbelly of nuclear weapons to various public institutions to publicize the atrocities people experience from nuclear weapons. [3]

Then in 1963, President John F. Kennedy signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty that prohibited all nuclear weapon testing above ground. This audacious proposal was stimulated by the rising anxiety over nuclear experiment disasters as well as the development of hydrogen bombs. Signed by Soviet Union, United Kingdom, and United States, the Treaty sought to slow down the nuclear arms race and once again, to advocate world peace. [4] Further information about the Treaty is available from Kim. [5]


The movements against the use of nuclear weapons do develop beyond the 1960s. However, various cultural and political issues including but not limited to the Vietnam War, the assassination of President Kennedy, the Civil Rights Movement, Second-wave feminism shifted the public's attention slightly away from the antinuclear movements. Thus, I focused on the movements that preceded 1970s in this paper. A detailed analysis of antinuclear movements including and beyond 1970s has been given by Hong. [6]

© Chae Uhm. 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] V. L. Daubert and S. E. Moran, "Origins, Goals, and Tactics of the U.S. Anti-Nuclear Protest Movement," The Rand Corporation, N-2192-SL March 1985.

[2] A. Buck, "The Atomic Energy Commission," U.S. Department of Energy, July 1983.

[3] D. D. Eisenhower, "Draft of Presidential Speech Before the General Assembly of the United Nations," 28 Nov 53.

[4] "Summary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT)," Center for Nonproliferation Studies, September 1996.

[5] S. Kim, "Partial Test Ban Treaty," Physics 241, Stanford University, 5 Mar 16.

[6] L. Hong, "American Anti-Nuclear Activism in the 1970s," Physics 241, Stanford University, 1 Jun 2016.