It’s time to re-think UC’s management of Los Alamos and Livermore nuclear weapons labs
Dear faculty member,
As you know our University of California co-manages the Lawrence Livermore (LLNL) and Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL) for the US government. UC has done so since these labs were established. You are also no doubt aware of the mission of these laboratories: national security. Therefore it might surprise you to learn that several dozen UC students and community members have initiated a hunger strike in opposition to UC management of these labs. The students have pledged to go without solid food until the UC Regents withdraw from their contracts to operate LLNL and LANL. As a supporter of the hunger strikers I have taken upon the task of informing you that their goal is to push the Regents to fully sever ties with the nuclear weapons complex and that the hunger strikers are seeking your support. Before I return to the hunger strikers, however, let me address some aspects of UC’s nuclear labs you may not be up to speed on.
UC is not the best manager for this mission
The mission of LLNL and LANL is changing. LLNL just succeeded in designing a new nuclear weapon, called the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). Los Alamos is, as you read this, preparing the manufacturing infrastructure for the production of plutonium bomb pits, the core component of the bomb. In other words, these labs are leading an effort to design and build a whole new generation of nuclear warheads under direction of the National Nuclear Security Administration. Furthermore, there is a scoping process underway for the US nuclear weapons complex, called “Complex 2030,” which would pour many billions of dollars into the US nuclear weapons infrastructure far into the future.
Surprisingly, this is occurring in the absence of anything approaching a national consensus on the need for a new nuclear weapons program or the need for a capacity to produce weapons en masse. National defense is certainly a priority, but do new nuclear weapons equal true security? The Navy and Air Force have stated on several occasions that they see no pressing need for a new weapons design added to the arsenals, especially given our adherence to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. Members of the US Congress are understandably weary of dedicating many billions (RRW and pit production will take many billions of dollars over the span of several decades) to these efforts. The environmental costs from nuclear weapons manufacturing and deployment are inevitably going to be high. The American people are unequivocal about their support for a gradual move toward a vastly smaller nuclear weapons arsenal and engagement with other nations on treaties toward disarmament (there are numerous scientific polls demonstrating this popular opinion). Finally, the international community is increasingly worried about these developments in the US. Various other nations see US nuclear weapons policies, and RRW and pit productions advancement in particular, as hypocritical and contrary to global security.
As a signatory of the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States is obligated to working in good faith toward the cessation of the arms race and toward nuclear disarmament. As the preeminent nuclear power the US could lead the way toward large-scale nuclear disarmament, if the political will were present. One recent study on the RRW program released by the American Association for the Advancement of Science states that the program will “[lead] to concerns among friends and allies about the possible adverse nonproliferation impacts of U.S. nuclear policy and posture. In particular, unless explicit and credible efforts to counter those assumptions are made, some countries could view an RRW program as contrary to both the spirit and letter of the NPT.” In fact, many nations and NGOs already view the US as violating this treaty, and a powerful legal case can be made for this. RRW and pit production, the two driving programs of US nuclear weapons proliferation – which UC is being dictated to carry out – are by no means inevitable, and with your support can be defeated.
There is an alternative to RRW, pit production and “Complex 2030”: to not commit billions to these programs, not pursue new nuclear weapons, and to promote nuclear disarmament on whatever practical scales possible. California and its university can be a major power in choosing and executing this option. Just as our state shows great leadership in legislating environmental standards and shifting the national discourse on other critical issues like higher education, law enforcement and health and safety, so too can California contribute in an unparalleled way to our future national security.
How? Currently UC management of LANL and LLNL only fulfills a couple purposes for the labs. Perhaps the most instrumental is that it creates a pipeline for UC-trained scientists to work at the labs. We really do produce the best science for the mission, even when the mission is wrong. The second, and possibly most important function of UC management is that it provides university’s stellar reputation to the mission of nuclear weapons design and manufacturing. After all, it is often assumed that if the UC is doing it, it must be good for the state and nation.
UC has been forced to take a sideline role in the national labs after the recent competitions for their contracts. Bechtel Corporation is now the entity calling the shots at these facilities, as it is in truth the leading corporation in the limited liability partnerships formed with UC to operate LANL and LLNL. As such, the UC does not really manage the labs. Rather, the UC Regents help to select the executive officers who manage the labs. But in no way does the university – its faculty, students or majority of administrators – exert any substantive influence or oversight of the labs. The single most important fact is that in its capacity as manger of the labs, the UC has zero say whether the labs pursue RRW and pit production. Such a situation, combined with the new weapons mission means that it is time for UC to withdraw from LANL and LLNL. The single most positive impact our state’s university can have in this context is to withdraw from the laboratories, and to do so based on the grounds that the RRW program and preparations for plutonium pit production are violations of the NPT, that they endanger our national security, and will waste billions of our tax dollars. To put it simply, the direction that the nuclear weapons complex is headed in is not in the interest of the people of California and the nation, nor is it in the interests of the vast majority of the UC’s students, staff and faculty. It’s time for a principled stand.
The student hunger strike and your role?
The student-led hunger strike calling for severance from the weapons labs has been initiated by more than 40 students at UC Santa Barbara, UC Santa Cruz, UC Berkeley, and now a professor at UC San Francisco. Many of the students and community members have dedicated themselves to going without solid food until the Regents withdraw from the labs. You can learn more about their campaign here: http://nonukeshungerstrike.blogspot.com. Their stand is a principled one based on facts, deep analysis and moral clarity. However, it is a stand that can only succeed if persons in positions of power express support and do what they can to ensure their success.
If you believe, like us, that current US nuclear weapons policies are counterproductive then we ask that you support our ultimate goal in any capacity you can. If you believe, as we do, that given UC’s now marginal but legitimizing (read “rubber stamping”) role in laboratory management, that the best thing our University can do at this point is to withdraw from the labs and reject the missions they are pursuing, then please join us. Or, if you believe that the mission at these labs now demands faculty input, regardless of your stance on UC’s management role, please get involved.
While we do not know the most effective means by which you could support us, we have several ideas:
1. Discuss this issue with your students. Dialogue is important, especially given the wide range of opinions and serious lack of information around this issue.
2. Draft, introduce or support a resolution in the Faculty Senate either (1) supporting the hunger strike and calling for severance from LANL and LLNL, or (2) Questioning RRW and pit production at the labs and therefore bringing the Faculty’s intellectual authority to bear on this critical and timely issue.
3. Make a public statement in support of the UC student hunger strike for lab severance.
4. Make a public statement in opposition to RRW, pit production and Complex 2030.
5. Contact the UC Regents and your campus administrators and inform them about our position, demand, and reasoning.
6. Join the hunger strike.
Graduate student, UC Santa Barbara
Member, Associated Students DOE Laboratory Oversight Committee (DOELOC)