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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 December 2005, 15:09 GMT
The other smiley
By Denise Winterman
BBC News Magazine

It was designed by a child, and rarely seen anywhere more influential than pinned to denim jacket lapels and stuck in the back window of old Citroen 2CVs. As the nuclear power debate heats up again, how did this badge become such an icon?

Many things from the 1970s are ingrained in the public consciousness: Wonder Woman, Star Wars, Bagpuss and the Wombles, to name a few.

But few things from that era have become as instantly recognisable across the world as a simple anti-nuclear badge with the message "Nuclear Power? No Thanks".

The badge has come to represent one of the most controversial themes of recent times - nuclear energy. Designers admire it, collectors covet it and even the nuclear power industry admits it has been a formidable campaign tool.

But who is behind this curious example of late 20th Century "eco fashion"?

The design originates from a competition run in Danish schools in the mid-1970s to design a logo for the country's Organization for Information on Atomic Energy (OOA).

One child's winning picture was adapted by a member of the OOA in April 1975. The logo was adopted by the World Information Service on Energy (Wise) in the late 1970s and proved popular from the start, selling faster than anyone could have predicted.

The sun symbol is driven by sentiment and the nuclear industry is driven by substance
Ian Hore-Lacy, World Nuclear Association
"I think its popularity comes down to the fact that it is a clear, strong and simple message," says Peer de Rijk, who works at Wise headquarters in Amsterdam.

"It is immediately understandable, whatever nationality you are. Everyone knows the sun and most have a positive feeling towards it."

Even the nuclear industry acknowledges the logo's power and success.

Ian Hore-Lacy, of the World Nuclear Association, says the smiling sun epitomises the difference between the nuclear industry and its opponents.

"The sun symbol is driven by sentiment and the nuclear industry is driven by substance," he says.

"It is a happy design and we understand why it is popular. But while it would be nice to get all the power the world needs from the sun, the nuclear industry deals with the reality of making sure the demands for electricity are actually met.

"The sentiment the symbol represents is a constant problem for the industry, as politicians are often driven by it and make decisions based on it."

Badges
Badges still maintain an allure for some protesters
Millions of badges were produced, along with stickers, posters and T-shirts. The design was translated in 47 languages, including Cornish, Esperanto and Basque, to meet demand from across the world.

For its first five years, Wise was entirely funded by sales of the badge. The revenue paid salaries, office rent and for campaigns.

The notion of showing "social commitment" by wearing a badge is not new, but it peaked in the 1970s and 1980s, says Frank Setchfield, of the Badge Collectors Circle. The smiling sun badge tapped into the Zeitgeist, he says.

"Badges were an important tool, in a way they aren't today because there are so many media outlets," says Mr Setchfield. "This anti-nuclear badge was a great design, with clever use of colour. This, and the cultural feeling among some people at the time, meant it just exploded."

Today, badge sales still earn about 10,000 euros a year. And with nuclear power back on the political agenda in Britain, Wise says there has been a resurgence in interest and orders.

The fact the design is simple and has never changed has helped it remain popular for so long, says Nick Belson, a design consultant.

Copyright enforced

"The design has a rather naive quality that makes it stand out," he says. "Nowadays everyone seems to want to reinvent things to keep up with the times and uses more and more radical techniques. This design hasn't fallen victim to that."

The badge makers, meanwhile, have retained a tight leash on copyright, fearing it could be misused by political parties or private business. The design is a registered trade mark in Denmark and many other countries.

Wise has won 20 cases in the last five years against companies misusing it, taking action last month, for example, against a car company in Austria that used the symbol, but changed the wording to High Gas Prices. No Thanks!

"It simply was not the sort of campaign we wanted the symbol to be associated with, " says Mr De Rijk.


In the early 80s this adorned the whole side of a shop on a main road outside Huddersfield Town centre.
Digby, Charlotte, North Carolina, USA

It's always seemed ironic to me that this anti-nuclear power badge features a picture of the biggest nuclear reactor in our solar system - the sun! I am glad that a debate is starting again on nuclear power though - governments have put off the decision about this country's future energy needs for way too long.
Alastair Bruce, London, UK

I aways thought it was amusing and wondered why the sun was smiling, I felt this was perhaps because it was a getting the last laugh being a nuclear reactor itself. Some of my friends at school got "Peace Through NATO" badges to form a counter group.
James Hawtin, London

Fans of this badge may be interested to know there is a very faded mural of it on the side of a house in Dartmouth Park, North London. Time for a fresh lick of paint, perhaps?
Hannah, Kentish Town, London

Is there a badge that we can get if we supoort nuclear power?
LU, Cambridge

How do all these tree huggers expect us to have light and heat when all the power stations close down ? Yeah badges will be a great help when were sitting in perpetual darkness !! Viva la resistance
Goldie K, Edinburgh

It might be of interest, as a historical footnote, that feminist & gay campaigners adapted the badge to produce a version where the words read 'Nuclear Family ? No thanks'. I recall wearing it on various student demonstrations in the late 1970s
Andy , Brighton, UK

Bring back the badge! And get solar panels on your roofs!
Kate, Manchester

until now i had never seen this badge. i thought they were talking abut the classic yellow smilie face badge- now THERE is a universal symbol that everyone understands and recognizes.
robert gold, kochi, japan

A friend modified his "Nuclear Power, No Thanks" car sticker so it read "Nuclear Powered, No Tank".
Huge, Bedford, UK

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