For more than five years the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, through its Youth Empowerment Initiative, has conducted a UC Nuclear Free Campaign. The purpose of the campaign is to educate and inform students at the University of California that their University has provided management and oversight to United States nuclear weapons laboratories since the beginning of the Nuclear Age, and that every weapon in the United States nuclear arsenal has been designed and developed under the auspices of the University of California. The Foundation has worked to motivate the students to examine the relationship between their University and the most devastating weapons of mass destruction ever created. We have encouraged the students to speak out for severance of the University’s relationship with the nuclear weapons laboratories.
Over the years that we have engaged with the UC students, we have found that many students do not even know that their University provides management and oversight to the nuclear weapons laboratories. Often, when students learn of the relationship, they are surprised that their University would use its prestige to provide legitimacy to the design and development of weapons capable of destroying cities, countries and civilization. Such a relationship seems incompatible with the University’s mission of education, teaching and public service.
Recently, a group of students at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) came up with the idea that there should be a Student Oversight Committee for the nuclear weapons laboratories. They wrote up a bill to create such a committee and presented it to the Legislative Council of the UCSB Associated Students. On April 18, 2007, the bill was heard for the first time. A number of students spoke in favor of it. I was present at the meeting and had a chance to speak to the Council and add my support for the bill. Many of the students present had been to past meetings of the UC Regents, and could report first-hand that the Regents do not seem to take seriously student input in relation to the management and oversight of the nuclear weapons laboratories.
At the initial vote of the Legislative Council, there was a majority in favor of establishing the Student Oversight Committee, but not the two-thirds majority needed for it to pass. The students supporting the bill were disappointed but undaunted. They came back the next week in larger numbers and made their case even more powerfully. Will Parrish, the Foundation’s Youth Empowerment Initiative Director, spoke to the Council about the history of devastation caused by the US nuclear weapons program. He emphasized the effects of the 67 US tests in the Marshall Islands. The radiation released there was equivalent to the detonation of one Hiroshima bomb daily for 12 years, and continues to cause untold suffering to the islanders.
At the April 25, 2007 meeting of the Legislative Council, the students supporting the bill brought Shigeko Sasamori, a survivor of the Hiroshima bombing, to address the Council. Ms. Sasamori told her story, and emphasized that she was speaking out so that her fate and that of her city would never be visited on other people and their cities in the future. A fourth year student, Cricket Clarke, brought Japanese paper cranes, a symbol of peace, and shared the story of Sadako, a young girl in Hiroshima who had died from leukemia caused by radiation from the atomic bomb dropped on her city. In the end, the Council voted unanimously to create the Student Oversight Committee.
Now the students will seek to provide their own oversight of the nuclear weapons laboratories, and report to their fellow students on their findings. Under the authority of the UCSB Legislative Council, they will investigate what goes on in the laboratories and examine the ethical issues involved in the design, development, testing, manufacture, deployment and use of new nuclear weapons. Thus, the students will amplify their voices regarding what their University supports. They will be able to make recommendations on the appropriateness of supporting the nuclear weapons laboratories. If the Student Oversight Committee takes its responsibility seriously, which it certainly seems poised to do, it will be in a position to challenge the authority and complacency of the UC Regents on the oversight of these laboratories that are so central to the US nuclear weapons program.
The Student Oversight Committee will also be in a position to speak nationally on the issue of nuclear dangers. It can be a voice for youth in the much needed debate on the future of US nuclear policy. The current generation of college students is on a collision course with potential nuclear catastrophe. Sane nuclear policies, led by the United States, could dramatically reduce the risks of future nuclear devastation. As the bill creating the Student Oversight Committee pointed out, “as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the United States is required ‘to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament….’”
The creation of the Student Oversight Committee is a breakthrough moment. The students are making it known to University authorities and to national authorities that they want a voice in shaping their future. Surely, they are entitled to that. Other UC campuses are taking steps to establish their own Student Oversight Committees. Student leadership in providing oversight to the nation’s nuclear weapons laboratories may help to awaken the nation to the dangers of current US nuclear policies and projects that threaten our common future.
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation (www.wagingpeace.org), and a leader in the global effort to abolish nuclear weapons.