1987 – New Zealand goes nuclear free

After a long and arduous 14-year campaign, in 1987, the government of New Zealand passed the Disarmament and Arms Control Act which made New Zealand a nuclear free country.

In 1963, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) called for a nuclear free zone in New Zealand, backed by an 80,000-signature petition. Despite this, in July 1966 the New Zealand government allowed France to conduct its first nuclear test off the coast of New Zealand. The test sparked outrage, and in 1972 activists collected a new 10,000-name petition calling for a test ban.

That same year, Greenpeace and CND sent a yacht, Vega, to the nuclear test zone. One year later, more people joined the protest, accompanying the Vega for its second voyage. This time, the French met protestors more forcefully, ramming the Vega and badly beating up its captain.

Images from the protest spread worldwide and generated support for the activists’ cause. In response to French aggression, in June 1973 the International Court of Justice ordered the end of nuclear testing in the Mururoa Atoll – a ruling the French ignored.

Meanwhile the government of New Zealand continued to support nuclear power and welcome nuclear warships into their ports. In response, protesters took to the streets and the high seas. A new coalition was formed – the Campaign for Non-Nuclear Futures (CNNF), made up of over 20 environmental and antinuclear groups including CND and Greenpeace.

CNNF continued to organize protests against visiting nuclear vessels, and a brand-new type of opposition took root in the form of citizens declaring houses, boroughs, and city councils nuclear free areas. Local governments began drafting nuclear free legislation, and by 1984, about 86 legal nuclear free boroughs existed.

With no policy changes by 1985, Greenpeace’s Rainbow Warrior made another voyage to protest the French nuclear testing, but the French government bombed the vessel, provoking national and international outrage.

After a long and arduous campaign, in 1987, the government of New Zealand passed the Disarmament and Arms Control Act, making the country nuclear free. Although CND’s goal was achieved, it continues to fight for the disarmament of the entire Pacific to the present day.



Nuclear-free New Zealand protestors (Ministry for Culture and Heritage). Photo source: Alexander Turnbull Library