Controversial Topic: Nuclear Energy

Controversial Topic: Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy refers to the use of nuclear reactions such as nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, and nuclear decay in order to produce power. This controversial topic concerns both its perceived impact on the environment and its capacity for weaponization. This history of nuclear energy centers on the expansion of war-making capabilities and, specifically, the creation of weapons capable of mass casualty and mass destruction. But over time, nuclear energy has also become an important part of the power grid in the United States and the world. Today, the global debate over nuclear energy concerns its safety, environmental impact, capacity for civil energy production, and its global proliferation as a source of potentially catastrophic weaponry. This controversial topic continues to generate debate, which also makes it a popular subject for a persuasive essay.

Today, there is widespread disagreement about the role of nuclear energy in a civil society, both in terms of its military implications and its potential for energy production. Among the key positions taken on the debate topic:

  • Military leaders, defense leaders, elected leaders and academics who support the maintenance of an American nuclear weapons stockpile argue that this is an essential deterrent for those states that might otherwise make war on the United States and its allies, and believe that nuclear power must be a part of America’s military, defense and security infrastructure, whether or not the goal is to ever deploy such weaponry;
  • Military and defense leaders, as well as activists, who view nuclear proliferation as a general threat to the perpetuation of life on earth, and who believe that, given the availability of nuclear power among the world’s most powerful nations, any escalation to nuclear war could produce a scenario called mutual assured destruction. Those who hold this view argue that nuclear disarmament should be a continued goal among the world’s superpowers;
  • Nuclear energy companies, industry groups, and political leaders who view nuclear energy as a safe and sustainable way of producing electricity that reduces carbon emissions relative to the use of fossil fuels; and
  • Environmental groups, activists, and academics who view nuclear power as an inherently hazardous energy solution that can carry grave consequences for people, wildlife, and the ecologies surrounding nuclear energy operations, particularly in the event of a nuclear accident. These groups argue that, regardless of the carbon emission reduction, the environmental threat of nuclear waste, decaying nuclear material, and the possibility for catastrophic accidents outweigh these benefits.

Nuclear energy is an issue which is only further clouded by the complex state of geopolitical relationships and global alliances, which often dictate which nations are viewed as qualified to possess nuclear power and which are viewed as unqualified to possess nuclear power. Nations in the developing sphere are typically more likely to fall into this latter category due to their presumed governmental instability, their unwillingness to adhere to global treaties, and the threat they are perceived to represent to neighbors or the global community. Further, the threat of nuclear conflict is a defining feature of numerous regional and global disputes such as those that persist between North and South Korea, India and Pakistan, or Israel and Iran. The persistence of such tensions, the proliferation of nuclear capability, and the precarious state of world affairs all must factor into any debate over the implications of nuclear energy.

Crimson Education—help with college admissions…
Crimson Education—help with college admissions…

A Brief History of the Issue

In 1896, a French physicist named Henri Becquerel discovered radioactivity while examining the trait of phosphorescence in uranium salts. One year later, British physicist J.J. Thomson discovered the electron, and therefore became the first person to identify a subatomic particle. These two watershed moments initiated the field of nuclear physics, which consequently launched four decades of experimentation on the way to nuclear fission.

The Pursuit of Nuclear Fission (1898-1939)

Over time, this experimentation became increasingly dedicated to producing energy. Among the landmark moments on the way to true nuclear energy:

  • 1903: Married French physicists Marie and Pierre Curie are, alongside Bacquerel, awarded a Nobel Prize for their experiments aimed at isolating the elements of polonium and radium. The Curies are noted as the first scientists to publicly employ the phrase “radioactivity” in relation to this work.*
  • 1905: German physicist Albert Einstein publishes his landmark Annus Mirabilis papers, which helped to form much of the basis for modern physics. Within, Einstein posits his famous theory on the equivalence of matter and energy (better known by the equation E = mc2), and in doing so, establishes the scientific basis for nuclear energy.
  • 1932: New Zealand-British physicist Ernest Rutherford, working off of Einstein’s theory, discovers that “splitting atoms” with a proton accelerator could release massive amounts of energy. That same year, his doctoral student James Chadwick discovers the neutron.
  • 1934: French physicist and daughter to the famous Marie and Pierre Curie, Irene Joliot-Curie works alongside her husband Frederic on experiments that involve bombarding materials with neutrons, which ultimately leads to the discovery of induced radioactivity, and the capacity to create radium-like elements.*
  • 1938: Italian physicist Enrico Fermi deploys this mode of experimentation to bombard uranium with neutrons, ultimately discovering transuranium elements-which are characteristically less stable and more prone to decay than uranium.
  • 1938: German chemists Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman, and Austrian physicists Lise Meitner and Otto Robert Frisch discover that it is possible to use neutron bombardment to completely rupture the nucleus of an atom. They call the process “nuclear fission.” Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard, among others, recognizes that the release of additional neutrons by a fission reaction could create a nuclear chain reaction.
  • 1939: Frederic Joliot-Curie confirms the finding surrounding fission and declares his support of their experimental claims in public. This declaration would set the stage for the Atomic Age.

*Marie Curie, Irene Joliot-Curie, and Frederic Joliot-Curie would all ultimately die of illness related to radioactive exposure. Though Pierre Curie was killed suddenly when he inadvertently stepped in front of a streetcar in 1906, it is believed that his level of exposure would also have eventually claimed his life.

The Manhattan Project (1942-1946)

As the timeline above demonstrates, the pursuit of nuclear energy was only made possible by the work of chemists, physicists and scientists the world over. Ironically, the following decade of nuclear experimentation would be stimulated by fracturing global relations and the growing ambition of nations to make war on one another.

When the escalation of global tensions unfolded into war in 1939, the respective powers of the world petitioned their governments to fund further experimentation into nuclear fission, especially for the purposes of weaponization. In the United States, this marked the initiation of the so-called Manhattan Project. In fact, when Hitler rose to power in Germany, scores of the best and brightest scientists working in Germany, many of them Jewish, fled the country, including Max Born, Albert Einstein, Gerhard Herzberg, Enrico Fermi, and Robert Oppenheimer. Many of those who departed Germany would become central to nuclear programs in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

The Manhattan Project, conducted with support from the United Kingdom, was overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, weapons design was overseen by the above-noted nuclear physicist Robert Oppenheimer, who presided over the Los Alamos Laboratory in New Mexico. Production and experimentation was conducted across an additional 30+ sites across the U.S. and would, in total, cost the U.S. roughly $2 billion.

Among the key developments of this program were the production of plutonium by University of California, Berkeley researchers in 1940 and the construction of the first man-made nuclear reactor, Chicago Pile-1, in December 2, 1942.

In between these two events, the Japanese bombed the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, thus drawing the United States directly into the global conflict. America’s commitment to creating viable nuclear weaponry accelerated dramatically as the U.S. sent soldiers to fight in both the Pacific and European theaters of World War II.

Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1945)

Four years after America entered the war, on May 8, 1945, Germany surrendered. In July of 1945, the United States conducted the Trinity Test in a New Mexico desert. This was the world’s first nuclear detonation, and amply demonstrated both the functionality of the new weapon and its capacity for mass destruction.

With its attention now fully dedicated to the war in the Pacific, and with its new weaponry tested, the United States issued the Potsdam Declaration demanding unconditional Japanese surrender. Refusal, said the declaration, would bring about “prompt and utter destruction.”

The Japanese refused surrender. With consent from the United Kingdom, on August 6th, the U.S. detonated a nuclear weapon over the Japanese city of Hiroshima. On August 9th, a second nuclear weapon was detonated over the city of Nagasaki. The devastation was enormous, claiming the lives of an estimated 129,000 to 226,000 people. The casualties were largely civilian, with roughly half perishing in the bombings and the other half dying from injuries and illness over the next several months.

To the present day, Hiroshima and Nagasaki are the only instances in which a nuclear weapon has been deployed as a tactic of war.

The Atomic Age (1940s-1950s)

Japan surrendered to the Allies on August 15th, bringing about the end of World War II. But it was only the beginning of the Atomic Age. As the Allied powers divided the spoils of their victory, the United States and the Soviet Union squared off for influence over the known world. In a protracted conflict known as the Cold War, the two superpowers vied to control global spheres of influence on every populated continent.

Part of this conflict involved a rapid and massive development of nuclear capability on both sides. The United States viewed its massing of nuclear weapons as a crucial deterrent against Russia, one that might either prevent full-scale war between the two powers or provide the opportunity for a sizable response to a major act of aggression. Between 1946 and 1958, the United States would detonate 23 nuclear weapons on its test site on Bikini Atoll in the Marshall Islands.

As American and Russian interests came to blows on the Korean peninsula in the early 1950s, the promise of civilian nuclear energy came into direct conflict with the heightened danger of weaponization. When President Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his Atoms for Peace program in 1953, characterized by a growing emphasis on the privatization of nuclear energy for civilian purposes, the United States entered into an increasingly complex relationship with nuclear power.

The promise and peril of this technology became hard to separate, prompting deep philosophical exploration of the opportunities made possible by nuclear power (including medical innovation and energy production) and the terrifying possibilities opened up by this same scientific frontier (including nuclear proliferation, nuclear warfare, accidental nuclear environmental disasters, and the looming threat of mutual assured destruction).

Growth in the use of nuclear energy dovetailed with heightened anxiety in ways that infiltrated the American psyche of the time.

The Beginning of the Opposition (1960s and 1970s)

1961 marked the first major accident at an American nuclear reactor, when an uncontrolled chain reaction created a steam explosion, killing three crew members and causing a meltdown at a nuclear power reactor maintained by the U.S. Army at the Idaho National Laboratory. Events like this, combined with growing anxiety over the potentially catastrophic human and ecological costs of nuclear testing, coalesced into the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963. Entered into first by the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union, the Test Ban Treaty did not stop nuclear proliferation but it did slow the process. While the world’s powers continued to either pursue or expand their nuclear capabilities, the enactment of the ban “did coincide with a substantial decline in the concentration of radioactive particles in the atmosphere.”

At present day, there are 123 states who are a party to this treaty. Though adherence has generally been strong, there is evidence that both the United States and Soviet Union, as well as other parties such as Israel and South Africa, may have occasionally violated this treaty by conducting secret underground tests.

And even with the weapon’s test ban in place, public concern over the environmental risks of private nuclear energy surged through the 1970s. Indeed, “By the mid-1970s anti-nuclear activism gained a wider appeal and influence, and nuclear power began to become an issue of major public protest. In some countries, the nuclear power conflict ‘reached an intensity unprecedented in the history of technology controversies.’”

As the decade wore on, American nuclear armament generated increasingly vocal opposition from within the United States. An anti-nuclear movement formed around a set of intersecting concerns about the humanitarian impact, environmental danger, and existential threat constituted by nuclear weaponry.

Three Mile Island (1979)

On March 28, 1979, a partial meltdown of a reactor at the Three Mile Island Nuclear Generating Station outside of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania resulted in a radiation leak which consequently released radioactive gases and radioactive iodine into the environment. The most significant accident in the history of U.S. commercial nuclear power, Three Mile Island was a consequence of both poor computational design and human error. Opponents of nuclear power viewed this event as evidence that their concerns were well-founded.

In the aftermath, it was found that both poor design and poor training contributed to the accident. Though there were no immediate human casualties, fears persisted that the release of radioactive materials into the environment would have negative health consequences for those in the vicinity of the power plant. Today, there is no clear evidence that occurrences of cancer are any higher in this region, and therefore, no causal connection between the meltdown and this particular health consequence can be ascertained.

However, the anti-nuclear movement galvanized around indisputable evidence that such an accident could occur. Amazingly, Three Mile Island transpired just under two weeks after the cinematic release of a film entitled The China Syndrome. The film, starring Hollywood notables Jane Fonda, Michael Douglas and Jack Lemmon, captures the growing public anxiety over the possibility of a nuclear accident. In the film, a television reporter (Fonda) and her cameraman (Douglas), capture a major accident at a nuclear power plant.

At the time of its release, the movie was derided as unrealistic by members of the nuclear industry. However, in reflection, the events in the prescient film are eerily similar to those which would take place in real life just twelve days later. Indeed, at one point in the film, Fonda expresses fear that an explosion “could render an area the size of the state of Pennsylvania permanently uninhabitable.”

Three Mile Island would bring that exact possibility into public consideration. Fonda would, herself, become a highly visible activist against nuclear power in the immediate aftermath of both the film and the Three Mile Island meltdown.

After two decades of steady growth in the commercial nuclear sector, the 1970s had already signaled a slowdown in the industry. Three Mile Island marked a complete turning point in both public perception and commercial ventures. This was seen as a major contributing factor to a broad-based decline in the construction of nuclear reactors throughout the United States.

Chernobyl (1986)

On April 26, 1986, a combination of human errors and ongoing testing issues resulted in a pair of explosions and, consequently, a nuclear chain reaction, at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant near Pripyat in Russian-controlled Ukraine. The result was the worst disaster in the history of commercial nuclear power, and, at the time, the only such event to score 7 of 7 on the International Nuclear Event Scale (INES), which rates the severity of nuclear accidents.

Two crew members were killed in the explosion, and 28 workers would die from exposure to radiation in the immediate aftermath of the incident. (Another 10 of these workers died from cancer-related deaths in the next decade). For a full eight days after the accident, the plant spewed radioactive materials into the environment with significant exposure to Russia, the Ukraine, Belarus, and parts of Western Europe.

Authorities were forced to establish a 10 kilometer exclusion zone, which was subsequently expanded to 30 kilometers. An estimated 107,000 people were evacuated, most from the Pripyat area. As containment efforts persisted, the total number of displaced peoples ultimately topped 335,000. The consequences for the surrounding populations and environment were disastrous. Estimates for how many casualties occurred in the ensuing years from radiation exposure range from 4,000 in the impacted Soviet states and up to as high as 16,000 when accounting for the full European content.

By the end of 1986, the facility had been contained within a “sarcophagus,” aimed at enclosing the damaged reactor, and preventing the escape of radioactive materials. However, nuclear clean-up continues at the Chernobyl site even to present day. Cleanup is slated for completion in 2065.

However, the exclusion zone surrounding Chernobyl remains largely uninhabited (with the exception of a few dozen residents). This area has been reclaimed by forest, and scientific estimates hold that this forest would not be considered safe for inhabitance any sooner than 300 years from now. Less conservative estimates hold that the timeline could in fact be thousands of years.

Fukushima Dailchi Nuclear Disaster (2011)

On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and subsequent tsunami caused a shutdown of the Fukushima Dailchi Nuclear Power Plant in the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan. First knocked offline by the earthquake, and subsequently flooded by the tsunami, the plant’s reactor cores lost power and failed to provide the coolant necessary to reduce decay heat. As a consequence, the plant suffered three nuclear meltdowns, three hydrogen explosions, and a subsequent release of radioactive contamination into the environment.

Operators struggled for days to contain the escape of radioactive materials into the environment. An evacuation zone would ultimately encompass 20 kilometers and displace an estimated 154,000 residents. Moreover, a significant amount of radioactive contamination spilled into the Pacific Ocean in the period following the incident. That said, fast response time by emergency workers and the consequential evacuation of citizens helped to prevent significant loss of life.

The Fukushima disaster is the only other nuclear accident, alongside Chernobyl, to score a 7 of 7 on the INES Scale.

The health hazards and environmental consequences of this disaster are under ongoing investigation, but as of a decade later, also remain unclear. Cleanup of the site continues to present day and is expected to continue for the next 30 to 40 years.

Some experts anticipated that the 2000s would bring about something of a nuclear renaissance. The need for updates and safety improvements in many facilities merged with hope that nuclear energy could serve as one solution to offsetting the carbon emissions caused by fossil fuels. Many in the energy sector anticipated major growth and new construction in the commercial nuclear industry.

But the Fukushima nuclear disaster impeded significantly on this optimism, and rendered a new wave of fears over the human and environmental hazards of nuclear energy. As a result, this expected surge in nuclear construction did not occur, at least not immediately. In fact, Japan, recognizing that significant lapses in safety standards helped precipitate Fukushima, would consequently shut down every one of its nuclear plants for evaluation. Some plants have come back online while others have been permanently shuttered in favor of new facilities.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Nuclear energy Debate

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential figures concerning the issue of nuclear energy in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. Our Rankings produced a list that included both recent officers in key global organizations and alliances and some of the best-known innovators from the field of nuclear physics.

Top Ten Historical Influencers in the Nuclear Energy Debate
1Mohamed ElBaradei
2Werner Heisenberg
3Enrico Fermi
4Albert Einstein
5Yukiya Amano
6Otto Hahn
7Edward Teller
8Kurt Diebner
9Henry L. Stimson
10James Lovelock

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Nuclear Energy

Using our own backstage Ranking Analytics tools, we’ve compiled a list of the most influential books on the topic of nuclear energy in the U.S. between 1900 and 2020. This list is composed both of texts that explore the benefits of nuclear power and those that explore its dangers. The collection of books here illustrates the unique duality of this topic, in which environmental concerns can be seen as both an argument in favor of, and against, the use of civilian nuclear energy.

Top Ten Most Influential Books About Nuclear Energy
RankBook Title
1The Revenge of Gaia
2World Nuclear Industry Status Report
3Contesting the Future of Nuclear Power
4Nuclear or Not?
5Our Choice
6Greenhouse Solutions with Sustainable Energy
7Deploying Renewables 2011
8The Truth About Chernobyl
9Normal Accidents
10Smyth Report
Back to Top

The Current Controversy

The last few years have seen some uptick in nuclear energy production, though in most cases, this production is matched with the process of shuttering and replacing outdated facilities. Accordingly, “as of 2018, there are over 150 nuclear reactors planned including 50 under construction. In January 2019, China had 45 reactors in operation, 13 under construction, and plans to build 43 more, which would make it the world’s largest generator of nuclear electricity.”

That said, as of today, the United States retains the largest fleet of nuclear reactors. These reactors supply 20% of America’s overall energy, and 50% of its carbon-free electricity. Such is to say that a significant portion of America’s energy production is dependent upon nuclear power.

Globally, civilian nuclear power accounts for roughly 10% of the world’s power, and is second only to hydroelectricity as the world’s largest source of carbon-free power. As of January 2021, there were 442 civilian fission reactors around the world, with an additional 53 reactors under construction and 98 more planned.

While nuclear power has become ingrained in much of the world’s energy supply, fears persist over the weaponization of nuclear power. Global alliances such as the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) are designed to provide collective regulatory oversight on the stockpiles and production efforts of all nation states. This oversight is particularly important in the face of countless potential flashpoints across the globe.

As the materials and technology for the production of nuclear weapons have become more accessible, an increasing number of nations have acquired access to weapons capable of mass destruction. In some instances, those nations are viewed as “rogue states,” those who frequently run afoul of international laws and alliances, and therefore are seen as capable of nuclear escalation.

Relations between states like North and South Korea, Israel and Iran, or India and Pakistan, for instance, continue to be sources of tensions and concern given the nuclear ambitions and/or capabilities of the nations in question. These concerns are only further magnified by fears that rogue non-state actors might also be capable of harnessing and deploying nuclear attacks, including those affiliated with terror or militia groups.

So even as the prospect of nuclear warfare between the United States or one of its adversarial powers such as China or Russia remains generally low, the threat of nuclear warfare in one of these regional contexts does loom within the scope of possibility.

Back to Top

A Quick Overview of Our Method

Our goal in presenting subjects that generate controversy is to provide you with a sense of some of the figures both past and present who have driven debate, produced widely-recognized works of research, literature or art, proliferated their ideas widely, or who are identified directly and publicly with some aspect of this debate. By identifying the researchers, activists, journalists, educators, academics, and other individuals connected with this debate-and by taking a closer look at their work and contributions-we can get a clear but nuanced look at the subject matter. Rather than framing the issue as one side versus the other, we bring various dimensions of the issue into discussion with one another. This will likely include dimensions of the debate that resonate with you, some dimensions that you find repulsive, and some dimensions that might simply reveal a perspective you hadn’t previously considered.

On the subject of nuclear energy, this requires us to consider the topic as both a civilian and military matter. Therefore key terms include “nuclear energy,” “nuclear power,” and “nuclear safety” as well as “nuclear weapons,” “nuclear security,” and “nuclear testing.” We also considered influencers from the “anti-nuclear” movement.

Our InfluenceRanking engine gives us the power to scan the academic and public landscape surrounding the nuclear energy issue using key terminology to identify consequential influencers. As with any topic that generates public debate and disagreement, this is a subject of great depth and breadth. We do not claim to probe either the bottom of this depth or the borders of this breadth. Instead, we offer you one way to enter into this debate, to identify key players, and through their contributions to the debate, to develop a fuller understanding of the issue and perhaps even a better sense of where you stand.

For a closer look at how our InfluenceRankings work, check out our methodology.

Otherwise get started with a look at the key words we used to explore this subject:

Back to Top

Key Terms

Nuclear Energy

Nuclear energy is the catch-all for the global use of nuclear reactions to create electricity for civilian use. The influencers identified here are a combination of experts and officials that have both consulted on and carried out policies around the globe and within the American nuclear energy sector.


  • Mycle Schneider is a Paris-based nuclear energy consultant, nuclear energy expert without education in nuclear energy, and anti-nuclear activist. He is the lead author of The World Nuclear Industry Status Reports. He has advised members of the European Parliament on energy issues for more than 20 years. In 1997 he received the Right Livelihood Award.
  • Rita Baranwal is the current Assistant Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Energy, the head of the Office of Nuclear Energy within the United States Department of Energy. She was confirmed to that position by the Senate on June 20 and sworn in on July 11, 2019. She previously served as the Director of the Gateway for Accelerated Innovation in Nuclear initiative at Idaho National Laboratory starting in that role in August 2016.
  • Peter Bruce Lyons was confirmed by the US Senate as the Assistant Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Energy on April 14, 2011. He was appointed to his previous role as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Nuclear Energy in September, 2009. As Assistant Secretary, Dr. Lyons was responsible for all programs and activities of the Office of Nuclear Energy. He retired from the Department of Energy on June 30, 2015.

Nuclear Power

Nuclear power is a keyword that carries something of a double meaning in this topic area. While it generally refers to the generation of power using nuclear reactions, it can be used to refer either to power such as that which drives an electrical grid or to power such as that demonstrated by the detonation of a hydrogen bomb. Therefore, selected influencers include physicists and engineers who have explored and advised on the implications of both dimensions.


  • William Howard Arnold is an American nuclear physicist, with primary areas of expertise in nuclear power, nuclear fuel, and nuclear waste disposal. He was president and manager of the first privately owned uranium-enrichment facility in the United States, Louisiana Energy Services. He was responsible for reactor physics design of the first series of Westinghouse Corporation commercial nuclear reactors, and served as president of the Nuclear International Division of Westinghouse Corporation. He designed nuclear reactor cores for civilian power reactors, for space power and propulsion, and for production of nuclear materials. He managed multidisciplinary groups of engineers and scientists working in reactor core design, and led work that promoted the use of centrifuge technology in uranium enrichment.
  • Malcolm Charles Grimston is a British advocate of nuclear power, and is also a scientific author, based at the Centre for Energy Policy and Technology at Imperial College London. He has featured extensively on British television and radio in context of the latest new-build power stations for nuclear power in the United Kingdom.
  • Jerzy Czarnecki was a Jewish holocaust survivor who became a nuclear engineer, expert in nuclear power stations and nuclear pollution control. In Poland, he was employed at WAT as a professional officer until 1968; in Switzerland, he worked at the Hauptabteilung für die Sicherheit der Kernanlagen . In the last years of his life, he engaged in reviving the memory of Shoah, in the Ukraine and in Switzerland, and a movie was made on his life and perpetuation activities.


As nuclear power rose in stature and visibility, it began to attract a backlash from those who feared both the dangers of an accidental environmental catastrophe and the possibility of nuclear warfare. This movement reached a fever pitch in the 1960s and ’70s, especially in the wake of the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979. Influencers include environmentalists, activists, and survivors of nuclear warfare.


  • David Noonan is an Australian environmentalist and member of the anti-nuclear movement in Australia. Noonan is a former anti-nuclear campaigner for the Australian Conservation Foundation, and has been a prominent spokesperson during campaigns against the expansion of uranium mining in Australia and against the establishment of nuclear waste storage facilities. He has a science degree and a Masters in Environmental Studies.
  • Richard Greeman is a Marxist scholar long active in human rights, anti-war, anti-nuclear, environmental and labor struggles in the U.S., Latin America, France, and Russia. Greeman is best known for his studies and translations of the Franco-Russian novelist and revolutionary Victor Serge. Greeman also writes regularly about politics, international class struggles and revolutionary theory. Co-founder of the Praxis Research and Education Center in Moscow, Russia, and director of the International Victor Serge Foundation, Greeman splits his time between Montpellier, France and New York City.
  • Sunao Tsuboi is a Japanese anti-nuclear and anti-war activist and former teacher. He is a hibakusha, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, and is the co-chair of Nihon Hidankyo, a Japan-wide organisation of atomic and hydrogen bomb sufferers. In 2011 he was awarded the Kiyoshi Tanimoto peace prize. He lives in Nishi-ku, Hiroshima.
  • Terumi Tanaka is a Japanese anti-nuclear and anti-war activist and former professor. He is a hibakusha, a survivor of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, and is the secretary general of Nihon Hidankyo, a Japan-wide organisation of atomic and hydrogen bomb sufferers. He lives in Niiza, Saitama.

Nuclear Weapons

This keyword refers to the specific use of nuclear power to create and stockpile weapons. The first nuclear weapons developed, and to date the only used in actual warfare, are those deployed by the United States against the Japanese during World War II. The influencers cited here are weapons designers, scientists, and researchers who have opposed the proliferation of such weapons.


  • Ray Kidder was an American physicist and nuclear weapons designer. He is best known for his outspoken views on nuclear weapons policy issues, including nuclear testing, stockpile management, and arms control.
  • Chaudhry Abdul Majeed was a Pakistani nuclear chemist, nuclear weapon and reactor expert. He is known as one of the pioneers of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon programme, and has worked closely with former Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission Chairman Munir Ahmad Khan’s plutonium reprocessing project. He rose to prominence when he was apprehended by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies in a joint operation in late October 2001. Majeed was also one of the founding members of Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood’s Ummah Tameer-e-Nau organisation; an NGO which caused an international embarrassment for Pakistan.
  • Bruce Gentry Blair was a nuclear security expert and a research scholar at the Program on Science and Global Security at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. Joining the program in May 2013, he focused on technical and policy steps on the path toward the verifiable elimination of nuclear weapons, specifically on deep bilateral nuclear arms reductions, multilateral arms negotiations and de-alerting of nuclear arsenals. He was co-founder of Global Zero, an international non-partisan group consisting of 300 world leaders, over 150 student chapters and millions of supporters worldwide dedicated to achieving the elimination of nuclear weapons.
  • Helen Mary Caldicott is an Australian physician, author, and anti-nuclear advocate who has founded several associations dedicated to opposing the use of nuclear power, depleted uranium munitions, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons proliferation, and military action in general.

Nuclear Security

Nuclear security refers to both the domestic and global agencies and groups entrusted to regulate and monitor nuclear ambitions, capabilities, and stockpiles throughout the world. Many of these influencers are regulators and security officers in the United States.


  • Frank Graham Klotz served as Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and Administrator for the National Nuclear Security Administration of the U.S. Department of Energy. He was confirmed for the position on April 8, 2014 and retired on January 20, 2018.
  • Bonnie Jenkins formerly served as the U.S. Department of State’s Coordinator for Threat Reduction Programs in the Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation in the Obama Administration. She was also the U.S. representative to the G7 Global Partnership Against the Spread of Weapons and Materials of Mass Destruction and chaired the Global Partnership in 2012. She was the Department of State lead on the Nuclear Security Summit, and coordinated the Department of State’s activities related to the effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials. Jenkins formerly coordinated the Department of State’s Cooperative Threat Reduction programs and helped to ensure a coordinated approach when promoting these programs internationally. Jenkins engaged in outreach efforts and regularly briefed United States Combatant Commands about WMD programs in their area of responsibility, worked closely with relevant international organizations and multilateral initiatives, and with nongovernmental organizations engaged in CTR-related activities.
  • Lisa E. Gordon-Hagerty is the current United States Under Secretary of Energy for Nuclear Security and Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration. Earlier in her career, she had served in various other leadership positions in the Department of Energy and the National Security Council.

Nuclear Testing

Nuclear testing refers to the process of detonating nuclear weaponry in a test setting. While this is done ostensibly to determine functionality, such testing has also historically functioned as a demonstration to others of nuclear capability and a show of power that might even function as a deterrent to would-be aggressors. Many of the influencers cited here have participated in the creation or enforcement of the Test Ban Treaty that went into effect in 1963.


  • Barry Commoner was an American cellular biologist, college professor, and politician. He was a leading ecologist and among the founders of the modern environmental movement. He was the director of the Center for Biology of Natural Systems and its Critical Genetics Project. He ran as the Citizens Party candidate in the 1980 U.S. presidential election. His work studying the radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons testing led to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963.
  • Louise Marie Zibold Reiss was an American physician who coordinated what became known as the Baby Tooth Survey, in which deciduous teeth from children living in the St. Louis, Missouri area who were born in the 1950s and 1960s were collected and analyzed over a period of 12 years. The results of the survey showed that children born in 1963 had levels of strontium-90 in their teeth that were 50 times higher than those found in children born in 1950, before the advent of widespread nuclear weapons testing. The findings helped convince U.S. President John F. Kennedy to sign the Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty with the United Kingdom and Soviet Union, which ended the above-ground testing of nuclear weapons that placed the greatest amounts of nuclear fallout into the atmosphere.
  • Lassina Zerbo is the Executive Secretary of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization, a position which he assumed on 1 August 2013. He previously served as Director of the organization’s International Data Centre . He is a national of Burkina Faso. Zerbo has been instrumental in cementing the CTBTO’s position as the world’s centre of excellence for nuclear test-ban verification, as well as in driving forward efforts towards the entry into force and universalization of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty.
  • Ray Klebesadel is a scientist, now retired, who was a member of the gamma-ray astronomy group at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico that discovered cosmic gamma-ray bursts using data from the Vela satellites, which were deployed by the United States after the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963, to police the ban on nuclear tests in space. The unexplained gamma-ray flashes were first found in 1969, in data collected in 1967. Klebesadel has said that contrary to popular belief, the data was never classified. The discovery was published in 1973 as an Astrophysical Journal Letter, co-authored by Ian Strong and Roy Olson also of LANL, entitled “Observations of Gamma-Ray Bursts of Cosmic Origin”. It was published again in 1976 in the Scientific American.

Nuclear Safety

Nuclear safety is a topic of importance in light of the fact that most nuclear disasters in recent history have been both accidental and accompanied by evidence of safety and training lapses. Influencers here are regulators and scientists charged with the responsibility of shaping and enforcing safety procedures in both civilian and military contexts.


  • Edwin Lyman is Senior Global Security Scientist with the Union of Concerned Scientists . He specialises in nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism, and nuclear power safety. He has published many articles in journals and magazines, written many reports, and has been cited in many news stories. Before joining UCS in 2003, Lyman was president of the Nuclear Control Institute. He has a doctoral degree in physics from Cornell University.
  • David A. Lochbaum was the Director of the Nuclear Safety Project for the Union of Concerned Scientists . A nuclear engineer by training, he worked in nuclear power plants for nearly two decades. Lochbaum has written numerous articles and reports on various aspects of nuclear safety and published two books.
  • John Henry Large was an English consulting Chartered Engineer primarily known for his work in assessing and reporting upon nuclear safety and nuclear related accidents and incidents, work which has often featured in the media.

Influential Organizations Involved in the Nuclear Energy Controversy

If you would like to study this topic in more depth, check out these key organizations...

Proponents of Nuclear Energy

Opponents of Nuclear Energy

Interested in building toward a career on the front lines of the nuclear energy debate? As you can see, there are many different avenues into this far-reaching issue. Use our Custom College Ranking to find:

Interested in diving into another one of our controversial topics? Check out The 30 Most Controversial Topics Today!

Get more study tips, learning tools, and study starters with a look out our Complete Library of Study Guides.

Or jump to our student resource library for tips on everything from studying to starting on your career path.

Subscribe to the Academic Influence channel at YouTube
Subscribe to the Academic Influence channel at YouTube