UC Should Forsake Its Nukes

By David Krieger MinutemanMedia.org
Friday June 04, 2004

We’ve all heard about the inspections that took place in Iraq to find weapons of mass destruction and programs to make them. As we know, none were found in Iraq. 

That wouldn’t be the case if the inspectors were to come to the University of California at Berkeley. They would find that programs to research, design, develop, improve, test, and maintain nuclear weapons have been going on under the auspices of this university for more than 60 years. They would find that the University of California provides oversight to the nation’s two principal nuclear weapons laboratories: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory. They would find that today these weapons laboratories are engaged in attempting to make new, more usable nuclear weapons: “bunker-busters” and mini-nukes. 

For a fee, the University of California has provided a fig leaf of respectability to the research and development of the most horrendous weapons known to humankind. It is ironic that our government cannot tolerate the possibility of Iraqi scientists creating such weapons, but at the University of California such a horrid use of science is called “a service to the nation.” 

Two of the weapons developed at the Los Alamos Laboratory were used on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These were relatively small weapons but caused the deaths of more than 200,000 persons, mostly innocent civilians, by incineration, burning, blast and radiation poisoning. There are no guarantees that the nuclear weapons being developed today under UC auspices will not be used again. In fact, the odds are that they will be used again, by accident or design. 

There are three reasons the UC should get out of the nuclear weapons business: 

First, UC is a great university, and no great university should lend its talents to making weapons capable of destroying cities, civilizations and most life on Earth. A university exists to examine the amazing wonders of our world, to collect and categorize knowledge, and to pass important knowledge from the past on to new generations. How can a great university allow itself to be co-opted into helping create weapons of mass destruction? 

How can the UC Board of Regents justify this as “a service to the nation”?  

Second, there is no moral ground on which nuclear weapons can rest. These are weapons of mass murder. They cannot discriminate between combatants and civilians. They kill indiscriminately. By continuing to develop and improve these weapons, the United States, economically and militarily the strongest country in the world, is signaling to other nations that these weapons would be useful for them as well. 

Third, the International Court of Justice has stated that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons is illegal under international law. It allowed only one possible exception in which the “very survival of a state” was at stake. In such a situation, it said that the law was unclear, but under any circumstance the use of nuclear weapons would not be legal if it failed to discriminate between civilians and combatants or caused unnecessary suffering. There is no evidence that nuclear weapons could be used without violating these precepts. 

Sir Joseph Rotblat, a Manhattan Project scientist and Nobel Peace Laureate, has written: “If the use of a given type of weapon is illegal under international law, should not research on such weapons also be illegal, and should not scientists also be culpable?” 

It is time to heed the words of Professor Rotblat and to bring nuclear weapons under control. If the scientists and engineers at the laboratories are unwilling to give up their role in creating and improving nuclear weapons, then at least the UC community can send a message to the rest of the country and the world that it is no longer willing to participate in the management of laboratories making weapons of mass murder. 

The motto of the University of California is “fiat lux,” meaning “let there be light.” It is unlikely that the light the founders of the university had in mind was the flash “brighter than a thousand suns.” They meant the light of knowledge, truth and beauty. The University of California should end its association with the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories when the contract expires in 2005. 


David Krieger is president of the Santa Barbara-based Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org) and the author of Nuclear Weapons and the World Court and Choose Hope, Your Role in Waging Peace in the Nuclear Age.