Chanting “UC Nuclear Free” as they marched toward Cheadle Hall yesterday, about 80 people protested the University of California’s ties to nuclear research and weapons development, eventually leaving a subgroup of 15 to embark on an indefinite hunger strike and tent-city style campout.

Starting from Storke Plaza, the group wound its way to the campus administration building to present a list of demands to Executive Vice Chancellor Gene Lucas, while a few UC Police Dept. officers looked on.

Strikers demanded that the UC cease involvement with two nuclear labs it currently co-manages, Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Northern California. Both labs would receive orders to develop components for nuclear weapons to replace the current stockpile – that is if Congress approves the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program, which will soon be on the agenda for discussion.

“Billions of dollars are going into a new generation of bombs, misappropriated money that could be used for people without food and shelter,” said hunger striker Carleigh O’Donnell, a third-year global studies major. “The UC is being forced to partner with awful military-industrial businesses such as Bechtel National Inc. and they have used the UC’s image of education to disguise their true nature and intentions.”

The protest came a day after the U.S. Department of Energy announced that the UC will continue to manage and operate Lawrence Livermore Laboratory under a limited liability corporation, in conjunction with Bechtel National, Inc., BWX Technologies, Inc. and the Washington Group International as well as several other organizations.

Lawrence Livermore Labs won the DOE’s design contest in March for the next generation of nuclear weapons – a move that protesters say violates Article VI of the 1970 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which calls for the eventual disarmament of single nations in favor of international control of nuclear arms.

Beginning yesterday, approximately 15 students from UCSB and 15 more UC-wide embarked on a hunger strike, pledging not to eat solid foods until the UC Board of Regents’ meeting next Wednesday and Thursday in San Francisco or, for the more extreme protesters, until the UC decides to cease involvement with the labs and nuclear weapons production, said Nuclear Age Peace Foundation Youth Empowerment Director Will Parrish. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organization that focuses on abolishing nuclear weapons through efforts to strengthen international laws and by training new peace leaders.

The UC has managed Lawrence Livermore since its inception in 1952, and receives substantial funding from the DOE in return. Aside from helping to maintain the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile, the lab studies other uses for nuclear technology and engages in other non-nuclear research.

“We are delighted at the opportunity to continue playing a role in supporting [Lawrence Livermore National] Laboratory’s mission of scientific achievement in the interests of national security and global cooperation,” UC President Richard Dynes said in a statement released Tuesday. “The laboratory today is a premier research facility addressing challenges in areas ranging from homeland security to biotechnology to energy and the environment.”

Yesterday evening, eight tents and about 20 people began their campout on the grass in front of Cheadle Hall. The tent city will remain on campus until the Regents’ meeting – or perhaps longer. Every night at 8 they will show a film relating to their cause.

In another effort to persuade UCSB officials to support their cause, rally participants dumped paper origami cranes made by local elementary school students on the doorstep of Cheadle Hall yesterday afternoon. The cranes commemorate the story of a young Japanese girl who was poisoned with radiation from the 1945 U.S. bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In line with an old Japanese tradition, the girl, Sadako Sasaki, folded over 1,000 origami cranes in the hopes of being granted a wish – for her to overcome leukemia.

During the scene at Cheadle Hall, students called for members of the administration to comment on the UC’s involvement with nuclear weapons production, but the administration declined. A handful of members of the UCSB administration, including Chancellor Henry T. Yang, met with protestors Tuesday to discuss the group’s plans for the protest in an effort to prevent any problems.

After yesterday’s protest, Dean of Students Yonie Harris said she was worried about the well being of hunger-striking students.

“I’m very concerned with the health risks students are undertaking in this protest,” Harris said. “I do think that they are acting out of good principles, but the administration and I have tried to inform them of the risks involved in such an act.”

Yang, who could not attend the protest yesterday, echoed Harris’ concerns about the students involved in the hunger strike but said he is happy to engage students’ concerns about UC involvement with nuclear weapons.

“Our campus prides itself on being a place of free speech and open expression,” Yang said after the protest. “We consider it our responsibility to foster a free and open academic environment for our students, faculty and staff to learn, study, discuss, and debate issues such as UC’s role in the management of the national laboratories. The Regents are open and receptive to input from all members of our UC community … We are a campus that takes a stand for free speech, but we do not intend to allow such a protest to jeopardize the health and safety of our students.”

Daniel Jolles, a first-year business economics major present at the strike said although he would not personally be abstaining from eating food, he would provide any support necessary to ensure the welfare of the hunger strikers.

“These are our brothers and sisters putting their lives on the line for things that we all believe in but are afraid to stand up to,” Jolles said. “They are so brave and although I personally won’t be hunger striking, I plan to support them anyway I can.”

The DOE’s decision to put the UC and three other businesses in charge of Lawrence Livermore has been met with unanimous approval by the UC Board of Regents, UC President, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrat Representative Ellen Tauscher of California’s 10th district, according to the UC Office of the President website.

Media and communications manager for the laboratory, Lynda Seaver, said the recent renewal of their contract with the UC is a positive step for education, science and employment opportunities.

“The [Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory] is very pleased about the new management contract signed with the University of California,” Seaver said. “This is a very good thing for Livermore Labs and for the University of California, helping to continue the partnership between the lab and the educated minds of the universities.”