Due to recent mismanagement of the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), in 2005, at the end of the University of California’s contact to manage the labs, the contract for, and the control of, the national nuclear research facilities will be open for public bidding. Never before has the possibility for the University of California to lose control of the labs been faced. To some, this signifies a dark day for the University, as the change in policy is the result of a series of unfortunate events that reflected poorly on it. To others, these events are seen as an opportunity for the University to remove itself from involvement in nuclear research, an area many feel has no role in the education system.
The possibility of disaster related to nuclear weapons – accidental or intentional -puts the University in a peculiar position. Groups such as the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation and the University of California at Santa Cruz group !Escrache! argue that University involvement in nuclear research implies some responsibility of the University should a nuclear incident occur. Having conducted the research that led to the availability of the nuclear arms that the U.S. used in such an accident, it would appear that the University could be held liable.
The possibility of environmental or social damage as a result of a nuclear incident is not of the University of California’s concern, nor do I think that it should be. Groups such as the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation argue that the University of California should dissolve its ties with the Department of Defense, but fail to include in their argument who should take over these contracts and continue nuclear research.
They argue as if the University’s dissolving its nuclear research contract would halt nuclear research. Unfortunately, this is not the case. And while I agree it would be in the best interest of society to dissolve the nuclear program, this is a fantasy. If the University discontinues its nuclear research programs or loses control of the nuclear labs, the most likely successor will be a private defense contractor. So far, Lockheed Martin, among others, has expressed interest in controlling the labs.
Thus, the University of California retaining control of the nuclear labs is the best-case scenario. The military-industrial complex in America is stronger than ever. Over 50 years ago in his inauguration speech, President Eisenhower warned against the dangers to the country of an overly powerful military-industrial complex. We need to look no further than the current administration to see the adverse effects of close governmental ties to industry. In the wake of the current war on Iraq, Halliburton, the company Vice President Cheney formerly headed, was awarded a contract to extinguish the oil fires in Iraq.
Furthermore, George H.W. Bush and many people who held high positions in his administration, now have close ties to military companies who are benefiting from the ambiguous war on terror. Should control of the nuclear labs fall into the hands of a private defense contractor, there is every reason to believe that members of these companies will work toward increased spending on nuclear research and development.
This is exactly what we wish to avoid. Through the University of California maintaining control of the labs, we can maintain at least one degree of separation between the research and production of nuclear arms, which is one small step in ensuring nuclear funding stays as low as can be hoped for. And more importantly, that the use of nuclear arms does not come to pass.
James Beach is a senior philosophy major.