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UC regents open discussion on laboratories

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By Roger Snodgrass

Meeting in San Francisco Wednesday, the University of California Board of Regents heard disagreements about the university’s role in the nation’s nuclear weapons program.Criticism came this time not only from students, who are often vocal during regents’ meetings, but also from California Lt.-Gov. John Garamendi, a Democrat and an ex officio member of the board, who said he was “deeply disturbed” by what he heard.An audio webcast of an open session of the Committee on Oversight of the Department of Energy laboratories began with a complaint by the board’s faculty representative, Michael Brown. Also the chair of the Academic Senate and an advisory member of the laboratory oversight committee, Brown said the faculty was concerned about the federal government’s plan currently under discussion to increase pit manufacturing from 50 to 80 nuclear triggers a year at Los Alamos National Laboratory, and that the university was locked into a long-term contract with the DOE  from which it could not escape.Later, in the brief segment of the three-day meeting, the regents heard a report led by Norm Pattiz, the new chairman of the board of the limited liability corporations that own Los Alamos National Laboratory and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Pattiz is the chairman and founder of Westwood One, the largest radio network in the country.He reported that the National Nuclear Security administration was pleased at the “proactive approach of the lab and their communication network” during recent public hearings in New Mexico on the transformation of the nuclear weapons complex. He also passed along compliments from meetings in Washington that “our two lab directors are extremely highly regarded.”During Pattiz’ report, Garamendi was recognized. Posing a series of 20 or more probing question, Garamendi began by wanting to know who was actually in charge of the partnerships that run the weapons labs.Pattiz said that the governing boards, one for each lab, were composed of six members, three from the university and one each from the three principal industrial partners.“In a tie-breaking situation,” he said, the university’s chairmanship, “gives us the ability to prevail.”So, when there is bad press about lapses of security, Garamendi concluded, “the university will be splattered by the mud, because we are in charge.”During the ensuing discussion, UC Vice President Robert Foley affirmed that the contract was binding on the university.“We knew going in that we had given up the right to unilaterally withdraw from the contract,” Foley said.While the contract might be extended for as many as 20 years or as few as seven, he added, “The university does not have a guaranteed right to withdraw during that time.”Garamendi also established from an answer to his questions that certain top managers of the weapons laboratories were employed by the limited liability corporations, but that UC paid their compensation.Meanwhile, a student group protested a number of university issues during the meeting, including the university’s involvement in making parts for nuclear weapons, according to news reports today.Pattiz promised to schedule a full discussion on issues related to the laboratories “at the appropriate time.”