Student Pugwash USA Educational Seminar
“Nuclear Weapons: Science and Policy”
July 13-17, 2003; American University; Washington, DC


I am not a defense intellectual or degreed scientist. I am a young concerned citizen who recognizes patterns of aggression and violence done in may name and perpetrated by leaders of a country I call home. I imagine that many of you all fit a similar self-description simply based on your being here today. I thank you and commend you all for stepping outside of the matrix of corporate media, cold war theology, and public apathy. One of the mottos and mantras that I’m beginning to use with the young interns and volunteers at the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation is think for yourself, see for yourself, and help others. By being here today, you’re taking the crucial steps of gathering information toward thinking for yourself.

Today’s theme, the role of academia and scientists in the development of nuclear weapons, is a large one. The increasing militarization of US colleges and universities is a national trend that influences the courses available to students, faculty hiring, the presence of military recruiters on campus, internship and fellowship opportunities, and potentially many aspects of your high school, undergraduate, graduate, professional, and adult lives. In the interest of time, I’ll focus my comments on the University of California system which along with such prestigious campuses as Berkeley, UCLA, and UCSB includes 2 pillars of the US nuclear weapons complex: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Los Alamos National Laboratory. These are massive institutions involved in cutting-edge, multi-disciplinary scientific research. Billions of dollars flow through them annually as do thousands of employees, including UC faculty and students. The individuals who make decisions regarding this contract are not faculty or students. UC has Regents which are essentially like a Board of Directors. For the most part, they are wealthy, influential people who have made significant financial contributions to political campaigns. The California governor appoints them; the state legislature approves them. They serve 12-year terms. It is easy to be overwhelmed and confused by the role these labs serve, but the key point to remember is that the lab’s historical and current core purpose involves the research and development of nuclear weapons.


So we have to ask ourselves is it appropriate for an institution of higher learning with the creed to nurture values and morals within its many students to be in the nuclear weapons business? To help you develop your own personal answer for that question, I want to share with you my list of 5 myths about the role of academia in nuclear weapons development. These are ideas that I’ve heard during UC Regents meetings, read in newspaper articles and lab reports, and heard expressed by lab representatives during panel discussions just like this one.

#1 Public Service, Prestige, and National Security

Many people believe that managing nuclear labs boosts UC’s status and prestige in comparison to other research institutions. This belief is based on the notion that nuclear weapons are vital to our national security. Also, the belief is based on the notion that UC performs a public or community service by managing nuclear labs. UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale who worked on the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty delivered a lecture in February of last year titled “Rethinking National Security.” Based on his over 20 years of experience in the international peace and security field, he lectured on how the US has been hypocritical in our efforts to stop the proliferation of nuclear weapons while maintaining our own stockpile. I wonder what Carnesale has to say now that his university system is being considered as a site to develop new nuclear weapons? Whatever his answer, one way to refute the service and status myth is by drawing attention to the dangers and pitfalls of nuclear weapons development: the toxic waste by-products that we do not yet know how to store safely and that will be here for tens of thousands of years, the indiscriminate nature of nuclear weapons damaging all life in their path whether military target or civilian population, and the many victims of the nuclear age, not just those who perished from the Hiroshima and Nagasaki blasts and the hibakusha who survived the blasts and suffer from radiation exposure but also those who suffer from underfunded health care and public education systems and an overfunded military.

Philip Rogaway is a professor in the department of computer science at UC Davis. This excerpt is from an article that appeared in the UC Davis student newspaper January 16, 2003:

“…For years I have been troubled by the fact that the university I am a member of plays this unique role in the U.S. weaponry. I have always believed that the UC should terminate this role. Running weapons laboratories is at odds with the mission of an open institution of higher education, as the bulk of what the labs do is neither in the open nor education-related. Our stewardship of the labs is also inappropriate from the point of view that we are a community that spans a wide range of political orientations, ethical views and nations of citizenship. It violates UC Davis’ Principles of Community.

A 1996 study by the University Committee on Research Policy concluded that our management of the weapons labs does not fulfill the conditions of appropriate public service. It advocated phasing out this role. The report was severely attacked by UC officials. Their objections generally ignored the central ethical question of whether it was appropriate for a university to manage U.S. weapons laboratories.

The 1996 report was one of several that have been done over the years, consistently taking a dim view of our role in the labs. In 1990, 64 percent of faculty voted to phase out UC management of the weapons labs. In 1996, 39 percent of faculty voted to do so. Regardless, this is not a question in which UC faculty have any say, and the DOE contracts have always been renewed, regardless of faculty sentiment.

Now Los Alamos and its UC management are again in the news. Amid FBI, DOE and Congressional investigations of widespread theft and fraud, UC President Richard Atkinson recently announced the resignation of Los Alamos’ Director John Browne and Deputy Director Joseph Salgado. Employees are accused of purchasing numerous personal items on government funds, and management is accused of dismissing those who had been investigating the incidents. The scandal is the third to hit Los Alamos in recent years… It has been reported that DOE Secretary Spencer Abraham is considering putting out for bid the UC’s contract to run Los Alamos, or even canceling it early. This would be a nice outcome, even if it should come to pass for the wrong reason…The question isn’t if we manage the labs poorly or well. We shouldn’t be managing weapons labs at all. It is unfit business for a university.”

#2 Freedom of Academic Exploration

When I think of universities, I think of places where ideas flourish, where you can explore concepts that may not seem to have immediate application and you’re free to be ahead of your time. Some people use this rationale to justify university-managed nuclear weapons research. Universities have an air of transparency, openness, and accountability which clash with the realities of classified, top-secret federally-funded weapons research.

#3 Cash Cow

There is the belief that the nuclear weapons labs bring in a lot of money. The figure is close to $3 billion, but these dollars stay at the labs. The university receives an administrative fee which pales in comparison to the total contract amount. The last I heard the figure for the administrative fee was close to $17 million. This point has a lot to do with concerns over rising student fees. The University of California is a public university system. The state and federal education budgets have a greater impact on student fees than whether or not UC manages nuclear weapons labs.

#4 UC is better than a defense contractor

Matthew Murray is the UC student Regent. His position allows for a student voice at the highest level of decision-making in the UC system. Last Friday, Matthew wrote an email on the nuclear topic to a group of students I work with:

“…I should be fair and say right off that I detest nuclear weapons, I am despondent about our nation’s current attitude in engaging the international world, and I wish we could rid ourselves and the world of nuclear arms. That said, it doesn’t seem likely that that will happen any time soon, and I am currently inclined to think that I’d rather have UC managing the nation’s labs than another less qualified university, or even worse a private company, where notions of academic skepticism, peer reviewed research, and openness to the public are nowhere near as strong as in the university setting.

That said, I do not think UC should compete for the labs no matter the circumstances. Our involvement with them has always been considered something we do as a public service and participating in a competition for their management would frame our relationship with the federal government in a different light, one that does not sit well with me.”

I disagree with Murray on one simple point though – UC is not better than a defense contractor. As an institution that provides weapons developers with the smokescreen of academic integrity and the cheap labor of thousands of students, UC is a defense contractor. I understand where Murray is coming from in his statement about the abolition of nuclear weapons seeming far off; still, I find hope in his belief that UC should not bid to continue managing the development of nuclear weapons and that a nuclear weapons-free world is our ultimate goal.

#5 Historical Momentum

I have heard UC spokesman cite the reasoning of historical momentum to explain the UC-DoE contract. They are saying that because UC was there in the beginning, UC will always be there. This is by far the pro-lab supporters’ weakest argument, basically saying that people and institutions can’t change. Here is one example of an individual who changed his mind. His name is Joachim Piprek. He is a professor in UCSB’s Computer Engineering Department. This excerpt is from a letter dated March 20, 2003.

“History has reached a turning point. The Bush administration has started an unprovoked and illegal war – against international law, against the outspoken will of the world community, and against the will of about half the American people, who openly opposed a war without UN mandate.

Germany has started two terrible world wars which killed over 60 million people. Despite the fact that I was born ten years after the last one ended, I was never proud of being a German. My family lives in Dresden, a city that was almost completely destroyed in one night of allied bombing in 1945. More than 40,000 civilians were burned alive that night. I grew up with pictures of war and I was hoping that humankind will learn from history and that this will never happen again to anybody. War always kills innocent people, on both sides. Today, the memory of war is still alive in Europe and the vast majority of Europeans oppose this new war, no matter what their government says. As a German who came to the US ten years ago to live his dreams, I feel a strong moral obligation to stand up for peace, here and now.

As many researchers in the US, I am involved in military research projects which pay for part of my current salary. These projects are financed by the Pentagon to ensure the superiority of US military technology. We now see very clearly that this technology will not be used to maintain peace but to wage unjustified and aggressive wars. I can no longer participate in such research in good conscience.

I therefore declare that I will immediately stop my contributions to research reported to the Pentagon…I know that this decision will hurt my career, however, this is a small price to pay compared to the many lives of Iraqi citizens (50% children under 15) and US soldiers (100,000 body bags have been shipped by the Pentagon) as well as the lives of US citizens who will be killed in future terror attacks. All these lives and billions of our tax dollars are intentionally sacrificed by the Bush administration in order to gain access to Iraqi oil.

Is this the American Dream?”


As Nobel Laureate Joseph Rotblatt expressed last night, there have been significant changes and setbacks in nuclear weapons policy just within the last year. These setbacks involve efforts to resume nuclear testing and develop new low-yield tactical nuclear weapons, the stated intent to use nuclear weapons in an offensive capacity against named countries, and traditional nonproliferation language co-opted and used as justification to attack.

In about 3 months, a new UC president, Richard Dynes, will begin his term. During Dynes term, UC will decide whether or not to compete to continue managing the Los Alamos National Laboratory. If UC chooses not to compete, they can send a clear message to the world that nuclear weapons development does not belong in a university setting. Living in California, I feel compelled to work on this UC-DoE issue. There may be a similar opportunity for you where you live. Let’s work together on this and honor the decades-long stand for peace by Pugwash!