The University of California decided on Jan. 30 to extend its contract with the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for one more year. The Berkeley laboratory is just one of three national laboratories that the UC has managed for the United States Department of Energy for over 50 years.
The extension of this contract came about after a decision made by the UC Regents on Jan. 15 that empowers Dynes to extend contracts with each laboratory for up to two years. These contracts were put up for bid by the U.S. Department of Energy and Congress after reports emerged in early April about possible security lapses which included missing security badges and hard drives.
Although no formal decision was made at the Jan. 15 meeting, the regents also voted to allow Dynes to hire outside companies to help prepare for the possibility of competing for all three contracts.
In light of these recent events, many students and faculty have urged Dynes and the regents to take this opportunity to disassociate the UC system from the laboratories. These protests are part of a long standing debate that questions the appropriateness of the UC’s involvement with laboratories that perform research on and build weapons of mass destruction. Both the Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos laboratories perform such research.
In their most recent efforts to dissuade Dynes from renewing the contracts of each laboratory, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, which initiated a UC Nuclear Free campaign, have decided to have students and faculty from all UC schools participate in a ‘100 letters in 100 days’ campaign. In one such letter Urs Cipolat, professor of interdisciplinary studies at UC Berkeley, describes his reasoning for calling for an end to UC nuclear research.
‘The University of California, as a leading educational institution, has a moral responsibility toward current and future generations to point out the fatal risks of a security policy based on nuclear weapons, and to challenge current policies,’ Cipolat wrote.
Cipolat was hopeful that in the long run the letters could make a difference in Dynes’ decision.
‘I think those hundred letters will not have that much impact in the short term,’ Cipolat explained. ‘However I think that when it comes to the long term, we have the power to make a difference.’
Cipolat also expressed his fear of possible legal repercussions in creating weapons of mass destruction.
‘The UC system may get itself into trouble,’ Cipolat said. ‘They might create for themselves potential lawsuits in the future.’
William Parker, vice chancellor of research at UCI, disagrees and maintains the legitimacy of creating nuclear weapons.
‘For 50 years the argument has been that we are doing this as a public service for the federal government,’ Parker said.
Parker explained the benefits of UC involvement in these laboratories.
‘There has always been a debate as to the appropriateness of the university managing the research of nuclear weapons,’ Parker said. ‘But the fact remains that the university can do it better as opposed to private companies who are only in it for profit purposes.’
Parker made it clear that only about 45 percent of the research done at these laboratories is confidential nuclear research. The other 55 percent is public research which in many cases, allows graduate students to have access to the latest technology in their respective fields.
UC officials assured students and faculty that the money used to prepare a bid and organize a competitive contract will be funded by the federal government and the laboratories’ own budgets. Therefore, it will have no affect on the current budget cuts to the schools themselves.