How many students are aware that the University of California manages two nuclear weapons laboratories for the federal government? Who reading this is aware of the United States’ new nuclear weapons program called the “Reliable Replacement Warhead”? The RRW is a multi-billion dollar nuclear bomb design effort spearheaded by UC’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. How many Nexus readers are aware that UC’s Los Alamos National Laboratory has already dumped the near-equivalent to 1.4 million 55-gallon drums of toxic and radioactive waste in unlined pits and may continue to do so provided that Congress allows the lab to manufacture plutonium bomb cores for the new arsenal? How many UCSB students are familiar with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, a United Nations pact mandating the nuclear powers to work in good faith toward the cessation of the arms race and toward nuclear disarmament?
Most students are unaware of these facts, even though they are immediately connected to them by their status as students at the University. The UC is the largest single nuclear warhead lab management contractor in the world, bigger than any corporation or foreign government agency. Our University runs the two nuclear warhead research and design labs for the U.S. government and has since their inception.
But should it continue to? Is it the University’s proper role to blindly carry out the mission of nuclear weapons development for the federal government? Should the U.S. manufacture new nuclear weapons? Should UC oversee this work? Should UC enter into for-profit business arrangements with corporations like Bechtel Corporation to pursue these nuclear contracts? Why do the UC Regents support these labs? Is it proper for members of the board of regents such as chair Richard C. Blum or UC Vice President S. Robert Foley to have personally profited off contracts for construction and services at UC’s nuclear weapons labs? Can we really trust the Regents to know what’s best? They might be overseeing the labs, but who’s overseeing them?
Does any of this sound fishy or just plain wrong? If so, what should be done? A group of students on this campus have come up with part of the solution: to form a UC student lab oversight committee through Associated Students and to carry out student oversight over these facilities. Student oversight means that we further democratize the University and bring student opinions and ideas to bear on the regent’s nuclear bomb business. It would mean that students research the nuclear weapons programs and UC’s involvement, educate the campus community about this huge issue – it’s huge, because as you probably don’t know, approximately 20 percent of UC’s total operations budget is for nuclear weapons management, thus proving the need for education, no? – and lobby and organize through the legitimacy vested in our student government for compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, for reductions in the nuclear arsenal, for a saner foreign policy and, ultimately, for a more democratic university refocused on solving the most pressing problems facing our generation, problems that won’t be solved with nuclear bombs.
Forming a student oversight committee is an excellent step toward these goals. Last week, the A.S. Legislative Council narrowly failed to pass a bill that would have created this committee (“A.S. Passes Virginia Tech Bill, Denies 9/11 Forum” Daily Nexus, April 19). The majority voted in favor of the bill, but lacked the two-thirds majority needed to enact it. Hopefully the bill can be polished and passed soon. Nuclear weapons are not some esoteric issue unrelated to our needs as students. UC’s weapons labs are intimately connected to issues of University funding, governance, mission and accountability. As UC students we should help to make our institution more democratic and shape it, so that it can in all its capacity shape a better world.