On my way to the Los Alamos National Laboratory a few years ago, I found it listed in a New Mexico phone book—under “University of California.”
Since the early 1940s, UC has managed the nation’s top laboratories for designing nuclear bombs. Today, California’s public university system is still immersed in the nuclear weapons business.
Sixty-five years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki on Aug. 6 and 9, 1945, the University of California imprimatur is an air freshener for the stench of preparations for global annihilation. Nuclear war planners have been pleased to exploit UC’s vast technical expertise and its image of high-minded academic purpose.
During most of WWII, scientists labored in strict secrecy at the isolated Los Alamos lab in the New Mexico desert, making possible the first nuclear weaponry. After the atomic bombings of Japan, UC continued to manage Los Alamos. And in 1952, when the government opened a second nuclear bomb generator, the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory east of San Francisco, UC won the prize to manage operations there, too.
A few years into the 21st century, security scandals caused a shakeup. UC lost its exclusive management slots at Los Alamos and Livermore, but retained major roles at both laboratories.
In mid-2006, the Los Alamos lab went under a new management structure, widened to also include Bechtel and a couple of other private firms. A year later, a similar team, likewise including UC and Bechtel, won a deal to jointly manage Livermore.
At Los Alamos, I learned that the new management team was, legally speaking, an LLC, a limited liability corporation. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around the concept of “limited liability” for managers of a laboratory that designs nuclear weapons.
Weird, huh? But not any stranger than having the state of California’s top system of higher education devoted to R&D for designing better ways to blow up the planet.
Yes, those laboratories do some nifty ecological research and other laudable things. But nuclear weapons remain central to the labs’ mission. And, lofty rhetoric aside, the federal government is pouring billions more dollars into the continuous high-tech pursuit of nuclear weapons “modernization.”
Last spring, the White House announced plans for this decade that include investing $80 billion “to sustain and modernize the nuclear weapons complex”—in addition to “well over $100 billion in nuclear delivery systems to sustain existing capabilities and modernize some strategic systems.”
In fact, the U.S. government is now on a jag to boost spending for its nuclear arsenal. As the Livermore-based organization Tri-Valley CAREs noted weeks ago, “the 2011 budget request for nuclear weapons is the largest in our nation’s history; bigger than under George W. Bush and a whopping 40 percent higher than the amount spent for nuclear weapons activities on average during the Cold War.”
Credit where due: the UC-managed laboratories for nuclear bombs have been on the cutting edge of digital advancement. Their record recalls a comment from Martin Luther King Jr., who noted the proliferation of “guided missiles and misguided men.”
When I interviewed Los Alamos press officer Kevin Roark, he explained that “this laboratory has been at the forefront of computing research and development” from the Manhattan Project days of slide rules and punch cards to the lab’s present-day computers, with one able to do upwards of 100 trillion calculations per second.
An official website of the University of California boasts that “UC has been involved in the management of these laboratories since their inception—a relationship spanning seven decades—as a public service to the nation.” With a lab on the UC Berkeley campus included in the mix, “the three laboratories have a combined workforce of more than 21,000 and operate on federally financed budgets totaling more than $4 billion.”
For sure, there’s plenty of money sloshing around to reward the masters—and academic servants—of the nuclear weapons industry. But should the University of California be managing laboratories that design the latest technologies for nuclear holocaust?
Norman Solomon is national co-chair of the Healthcare Not Warfare campaign and the author of many books, including ‘War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.’ He lives in Marin County.