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Nuclear Free

1984 – 1990+

On 10 July 1985, an act of terrorism shook the New Zealand nation and the Navy was called upon to undertake a massive salvage operation when French foreign intelligence services agents bombed and sank Greenpeace’s flagship, Rainbow Warrior. One crew member, Fernando Pereira, was killed. The attack was codenamed Operation Satanique. Only months earlier, New Zealand Prime Minister David Lange had become famous for his outstanding performance at an Oxford Union debate, successfully arguing that ‘nuclear weapons are morally indefensible’. The French had continued to test nuclear weapons.

When the Rainbow Warrior was bombed, it had been preparing to embark on another protest voyage against French testing in the Pacific. The aim of the attack was to neutralise the ship and prevent it from leading the protest. However, it only served to strengthen the anti-nuclear protest movement both in Aotearoa New Zealand and abroad. The relationship between NZ and France further deteriorated and a United Nations settlement saw France pay New Zealand $13 million. Only two French agents, Alain Mafart and Dominique Prieur, were ever held accountable, and they were released early from serving their sentences.

A naval response to the bombing occurred within two hours of the event. The salvage would continue for weeks. The ship was beyond repair.

In 1987, New Zealand passed the New Zealand Nuclear Free Zone, Disarmament and Arms Control Act in continuation of its nuclear-free status policy. Anti-nuclear legislation remains a cornerstone in New Zealand politics. Aotearoa New Zealand remains nuclear free to this day.

Explore the resources on this website to learn more about what happened during this time period.

Photos & Documents

Rainbow Warrior Technical Drawings

Navy Divers Photograph

Rainbow Warrior Newspaper Articles

La Bombe dress photograph

Anti-nuclear legislation letters of support

David Lange poster

Nuclear Free Independent Pacific poster

Hate mail letter


Anointed video

The Grand Illusion documentary

Billy T James comedy segment video

The Rainbow Warrior Affair documentary

Nuclear Reaction – public sentiment

Niuklia Fri Pasifik documentary

Lieutenant Commander Hugh Aitken video interview

Admiral James Ace Lyons video

Hotu Painu documentary

Nuclear Reaction – parliament

Nuclear Reaction – NZ Credibility


Geoffrey Palmer podcast

Rainbow Warrior Story audio recordings

Highlights of the 1980s Oxford Union Debate

Insight radio programme  – This was 1985

French Nuclear Tests radio clip audio recording

Archival audio in ‘Bomb Gone’ from the RNZ collection at Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision.