Nuclear-free New Zealand
The dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan in 1945 ended World War II but started the nuclear-arms race.
From 1946 to 1996, France, the United States, and the United Kingdom used parts of Micronesia and Polynesia to test nuclear weapons. The small Pacific atolls and islands were overseas territories of these powers, and were chosen because they were far away … from them. Both atomic and hydrogen bombs were tested. However, the tests were not remote from the Pacific peoples who lived there, and the radioactive contamination their homelands received will endure for thousands of years.
New Zealand’s involvement
Until 1958, New Zealand supported nuclear testing in the Pacific. It sent two frigates to observe and monitor British nuclear testing at Kiritimati (Christmas Island) and Malden Island (in what is now the Republic of Kiribati).
Public and governmental concern about the environmental impacts of nuclear power and atmospheric nuclear weapons testing gradually grew.
In 1966, France relocated its nuclear weapons testing programme to its Polynesian territories, beginning with tests at Moruroa atoll in 1966. New Zealanders were outraged and the government made formal protests. In 1973, the government sent a navy frigate in support of a protest fleet and took France to the International Court of Justice. France stopped atmospheric nuclear testing in 1974, but took its testing underground, continuing until 1996.
In 1981, an umbrella group called Peace Movement New Zealand (later Aotearoa) was formed, and the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone Committee was founded. Throughout New Zealand, many districts declared themselves nuclear free. By 1988, 72 percent of the population lived in the 105 nuclear-free districts.
The burgeoning of the peace movement in the early 1980s took the anti-nuclear issue into mainstream New Zealand politics. By 1984, most political parties had similar anti-nuclear stances. The election of a Labour government in July 1984 owed much to the anti-nuclear vote. Its anti-nuclear policies became law in 1987 when the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament, and Arms Control Act was passed. This legislation made New Zealand the first Western-allied country to officially ban nuclear-armed and powered warships from its territory.