In about three decades, from the early 1950 to the early 1980s, the public perception of nuclear energy went through a complete reversal. Initially, nuclear energy had been regarded as a great hope for the future, as it had been described in the “Atoms for Peace” speech given by president Eisenhower in 1953. Shortly afterwards, in 1954, Lewis Strauss spoke of nuclear power as “energy too cheap to meter“. In 1957, Walt Disney launched a successful book and a movie titled “Our friend, the atom” describing the gifts of prosperity, health and peace that the new atomic technologies would bring to us.
The 1960s were a period of rapid growth of nuclear energy but, with the 1970s, the general opinion on the technology was rapidly changing with the growing concern about the absurd numbers of nuclear weapons stockpiled by the superpowers, USA and URSS. With tens of thousands of warheads available, the world was in the grip of the “MAD” strategy: mutually assured destruction. As a consequence, in the 1970s, there started to appear a diffuse movement of opposition to nuclear weapons.
Initially, the anti-nuclear movement had nuclear weapons as its main target. Gradually, however, the tide turned against nuclear power as well; an industry that was perceived to be strictly linked to military applications. We tend to think that the turning point in the public perception was with the Chernobyl incident, in 1986, but opposition to nuclear power had started much earlier. One of the most successful pre-Chernobyl anti nuclear campaigns was created in Denmark in 1975 by Anne Lundberg and Søren Lisberg who created the slogan “Nuclear Power? No Thanks” written around the “smiling sun” symbol.
It would be way too much to attribute the problems of the nuclear industry to a slogan and to a smiling sun but, surely, the “Nuclear? No Thanks” message had an effect in generating widespread opposition to nuclear energy. Indeed, the symbol is a true masterpiece of communication: simple, clear, and effective. Its negative message against nuclear energy is balanced with a symbol of hope, the smiling sun, that carries an optimistic message while hinting to a solution to the energy problem. No wonder that it has been so successful and that, in various forms, it has accompanied the environmental movement along its whole history. The “Nuclear? No thanks” logo is still with us more than 30 years after its first appearance.
It is surprising that this incredibly successful logo was the result of the work of two young persons who had no previous experience in graphic design or media communication. Apparently, the idea came as “a gift from God” as Søren Lisberg, one of the designers, says in this interview that he has kindly accepted to give for the blog “Cassandra’s Legacy”.
Here is the interview (questions are in italics)
1. First of all, Mr. Lisberg, thanks for kindly agreeing to answer my questions. So, to start this interview, could you tell us something about yourself? You are well known for having invented the “Nuclear? No thanks” slogan, together with Anne Lund, back in 1975. But we would like to know a little more about your background, how you came to know Anne Lund, how the idea of making the symbol&slogan came. And, after that, what was your career, and what are you doing now?
Anne Lund and I designed the “Nuclear power? No Thanks” slogan in April 1975 and the first printed versions were sold on May 1st 1975, on the International Workers day. About me, I am currently 58 years old, working with children – I am a pedagogical teacher in my everyday job. I met Anne when we both had committed ourselves in the anti-nuclear movement which, in Denmark, was called OOA (Information on nuclear power). The idea for the logo “Nuclear power? – No thanks, ” was born because we needed something that would allow ordinary people to show their opposition to nuclear power in a friendly and sober way. The slogan should convey happiness and the sun was chosen as the symbol because the sun is earth’s force – without our sun, life on Earth would not exist – so a happy sun with a friendly text. The very words “no thanks” I remember from my grandmother who taught me to say thanks and no thanks to be polite. I have not made other logos and my career has been with the children – and my commitment to how we treat Mother Earth. I have found much inspiration in pedagogy from Florence (region Emilia) and I have been on a study tour down in Italy. Besides wonderful art, Italy has a unique view of children, which many in Denmark share, including myself.
2. Could you tell us something about the intellectual background of when the “Nuclear? No thanks” slogan was invented? What was the status of the green movement, how was nuclear energy perceived at that time, what you thought it could be accomplished with that action, etcetera.
In Denmark, the population has never voted on nuclear power, but our movement OOA and the small label “Nuclear power? – No thanks,” together with the majority of the population convinced politicians of taking the sane action of not introducing nuclear power in Denmark. We had at that time, in 1975, a high school named Tvind in Denmark, students in that school built the world’s largest wind turbine of the time, inaugurated in front of 400 people on Tvind May 29, 1975. So, in Denmark there was an incipient awareness of where we should get our energy from in the future if we said no to nuclear power, we could suggest other sources of energy – it was wind, solar, wave energy. Our struggle against nuclear power put us in contrast with many people but, to our great fortune, there was also an engineer who could help us in our reasoning against nuclear power. We held public meetings at schools and libraries, spent our free time to talk and argue against nuclear power.
3. Could you tell us something specific about how the slogan/symbol was conceived? Where you influenced by other symbols, ideas? Had you tried other, different ones before coming up with this specific one?
As previously written the idea came as a godsend – we were not inspired by any other slogan, we had no other ideas in play, only a short dialogue about the sun and the friendly no thanks. Anne suggested the yellow color because in shops in Denmark we are always greeted by a black lettering on yellow background.
4. What was that made you focus on nuclear as a target of action? Did you conceive possible alternatives, (say, “Coal? No thanks” or, maybe “Concrete? No thanks”)?
When we, then and now, focus on nuclear power it is due to the hazard of the technology, (the accidents that occurred in the world have unfortunately proven us correct here). The problems of storing the radioactive waste was and is another problem. With regard to coal, this is also a big problem, especially emissions of CO2, therefore we in Denmark have also bet big on wind energy and Denmark has just adopted a plan which aims to make the country independent of fossil fuels. But this plan is not ambitious enough to be much more than what our government and the EU plan – but it’s a step.
5. More than 30 years after that the slogan “Nuclear? No thanks” was conceived, how do you judge it? Do you think it was effective? Would you do that again? And what is your judgement on the present situation; about nuclear energy, the overall energy situation and the future for humanity?
The slogan “Nuclear power? – No Thanks” celebrates its 36th birthday in April 2011 and I think it has fully proven its worth: it is viable, it is meaningful and it has been translated into 45 national and regional languages, sold 20 million copies, in addition to appearing on banners, t-shirts, stickers, etc. The Danish National museum has exhibited copies of the logo, as well as the great museums in Berlin, Amsterdam, London, which have collections of the slogan. A Basque group of mountain climbers placed a flag with a Basque version of the Smiling Sun on top of Mt. Everest. In Århus a 12 meter large out-door wall painting of the Smiling Sun is still kept in good shape. On your question “if I would do it again” my answer is clearly yes – the world today shows us that something must be done before it is too late (Japan). I often wonder – why do we spend so much energy ? – does it make us happy ? – will our world be still there in the future? – will our children be smarter ? The people in this world must seriously discuss the problem of energy wasting – we must educate our children to think about energy and we must tell our politicians that they must make decisions that benefit the next three generations and not just our own.
As a final comment from me, Anne and I have never earned a dollar on the slogan “Nuclear ? – No thanks”. All the money earned has gone to the battle against nuclear power over large parts of the earth.