Jim Falk, Global Fission: The Battle over Nuclear Power, Melbourne, Oxford University Press, 1982, pp. 410. $29-95, $14.95 (paper)

Published in Politics, Vol. 18, No. 1, May 1983, p. 143
Pdf of review

The worldwide movement against nuclear power was, arguably, the most significant grassroots social movement in the 1970s. Yet in spite of the prominence of the public debates over nuclear power which raged in nearly every industrialised capitalist country, documentation of the movement and analysis of its dynamics has been rather meagre. Global Fission contributes a great deal towards filling this gap. The author, Jim Falk, is highly qualified to study the anti-nuclear power movement, with extensive personal involvement in the anti-uranium movement in Australia plus relevant academic experience.

There are two basic aspects to Global Fission. First, it presents a detailed account of the struggles over nuclear power in countries around the world, especially in the United States, various European countries, and Australia. The chronicle includes development and promotion of nuclear power, but focusses on the history and effect of the opposition, including legal intervention, lobbying, publicity, demonstrations and occupations. For this documentation alone the book is a valuable contribution.

The second aspect to the book is a focus on the relation of the state to the promotion of and to the opposition to nuclear power. Nuclear power by its nature - highly expensive, potentially quite dangerous, and dependent on experts - is ideally suited for systems of centralised political and economic power. Not surprisingly therefore, the chief driving force behind nuclear power has been the state itself.

Falk structures his accounts of anti-nuclear struggles around their relations to the state promoting nuclear power, leading to valuable insights into the dynamics of the struggle. In the United States, the legal and regulatory systems provide avenues for citizen intervention, and the result has been delay of plants and more stringent safety requirements leading to nuclear cost escalations which have crippled the industry. In countries such as France and Britain, with strong centralised state apparatuses, the nuclear opposition has been linked with regionalist movements. In other countries, anti-nuclear struggles have proceeded via referenda or parliamentary forums. Falk also includes a valuable discussion of the questioning of nuclear developments in communist countries and in Western socialist parties. His treatment is important in understanding what appears likely to be the first major enterprise promoted by powerful states around the world which has been halted by decentralised citizen efforts which cut across traditional class and political boundaries.

Falk's account does have its weaknesses and omissions. Its two main aspects get in each other's way: the detail of anti-nuclear history obscures the general themes, while the structuring of the history around relations to the state makes the history disjointed. In the history itself, Falk deals almost exclusively with events, and gives little feeling for the internal dynamics of the anti-nuclear power movement, including conflicts, splits, misjudgements and failures. Only a little of the conscious development of anti-nuclear strategy is mentioned. Also not treated are the different social interests served by the anti-nuclear struggle. For example, nuclear power has been widely opposed by humanists, social scientists and writers and widely supported by engineers. This split represents a significant divergence of interests of the intellectuals and the technical intelligentsia (using Alvin Gouldner's terminology). Finally, Falk's analysis could have been considerably enriched by taking into account some of the extensive literature on social movements.

Brian Martin
Mathematics, The Faculties

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