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Vigil calls for UC to cut ties with weapons labs

By Judith Scherr Daily Planet staff
Saturday August 04, 2001

Some 140,000 people died as a result of the atomic bomb dropped Aug. 6, 1945 on Hiroshima, Japan. Others were burned, blinded, became diseased and scarred for life. 

Bay Area anti-nuclear activists say they haven’t forgotten. And they don’t want others to forget. They say they also haven’t forgotten that it was the University of California’s Los Alamos Lab that built the bomb. 

Physicians for Social Responsibility, Women for Peace, the Circle of Concern and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom are holding a vigil Sunday to commemorate the bombing. 

The vigil is on the grounds of UC Berkeley, because the campus is part of the University of California system. Vigil organizers are calling on the university to cut its ties with the Los Alamos laboratory and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, where nuclear weapons are researched and designed. 

A UC spokesperson, however, defends the labs’ role as a “public service.” He argues that possession of a nuclear arsenal is, in fact, a deterrent to their use. 

Margaret Olney of Berkeley has helped organize the annual vigil every year since its beginnings in 1979. “We want to stop the university from managing the weapons labs,” she said. “By managing the labs, it gives all its prestige to building the weapons.” 

The coalition of anti-nuclear groups has demanded that the university sponsor televised public debates on its role in overseeing the weapons work. UC Berkeley held the first of three forums in the spring. It wasn’t televised, however. 

The forum was a good beginning, Olney said, but there are a number of topics still to be addressed in the public arena: What’s the effect of fear of nuclear war as the main deterrent? she asked. “What’s the relationship between inner and outer violence? and, how much is spent on weapons that could be spent on more productive things?” 

Jeff Garberson, University of California spokesperson on laboratory issues, explained the long history of the university’s involvement with the labs. In Berkeley, the Radiation Laboratory was set up by the university on the campus in 1929. (Today the national labs in Berkeley are off campus and do not do nuclear weapons research or design, according to lab personnel.) 

The Los Alamos Lab was founded in World War II and is credited with creating the first atomic bomb. The Lawrence Livermore Laboratory was set up in 1952, during the cold war. 

Why does the university manage the labs? “In a historic sense, the United States needed someone with expertise in managing complex laboratories,” Garberson said. “The university felt as a public service it should respond to the government (request.) We’re proud of the public service, done for a nation which wants this work to be done and done well.” 

The vigil is Sunday at the west entrance to the UC Berkeley Campus. At 1 p.m., there will be a silent vigil, remembering Hiroshima and Nagasaki; at 2 p.m., there will be speakers from physicians for social responsibility, the Berkeley City Council, and the Circle of Concern. For information, call 849-3020 or 848-8055.