Nuclear waste

CITY ISSUES: The Nuclear Free Berkeley Act is outdated, and we applaud the efforts by one city official to repeal parts of it.

Members of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission, who say the threat of nuclear war is still real, are up in arms in response to Berkeley City Councilmember Gordon Wozniak’s efforts to repeal parts of the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act.

However, the act is a relic of a bygone era. Passed by a voter referendum in 1986 under the cloud of the Cold War, the act bars the city from dealing with organizations with ties to nuclear energy or weapons, including the federal government. While we understand the significance of such symbolic measures and how important it is for the city to stand up for its values, officials have pursued the message of the act beyond reasonable lengths.

What once stood as a symbolic gesture, in line with what may have been a popular trend at the time, has since proven to be a road block. The city, for example, cannot invest in U.S. Treasury bonds, notes and bills. The act also complicates the city’s procurement of simple necessities — police radios, library scanners, computer software — and places restrictions on interactions with UC Berkeley.

Between 2008 and 2009, for example, the measure stood in the way of Berkeley Public Library’s efforts to receive maintenance services for its self-checkout system because the company that had to perform the maintenance did not meet the act’s nuclear-free standards. The library ultimately received a waiver, but the process of approval took nearly four months.

We acknowledge that the city may often grant waivers for certain projects — according to chair of the Peace and Justice Commission George Lippman, no project with UC Berkeley has been turned down in his more than three years with the commission. But if officials are able to circumvent the act by allowing for these waivers, it seems that the city’s nuclear-free stance is actually quite penetrable.

Thus, we recognize the merit behind Wozniak’s efforts. The citizens of Berkeley must now, 25 years later, decide the act’s fate because it was the voters who passed the measure originally. If the majority once again embraces the act, then so be it. We hope, though, that voters would see that the limitations imposed by blanket nuclear-free provisions outweigh any potential good.

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  • On Aug. 6, 2005, I joined then-Prime Minister Koizumi and 55,000 others at Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, site of the atomic bombing 60 years before. That bomb was a tiny fraction of the nuclear arsenal threatening the world still today. It’s not in the daily news, so for too many people, it’s “out of sight, out of mind,” but if you care about ANY of the threats to the world today — global warming, economic crises, wars — the reality is, the nuclear threat today still dwarfs them all.

    Japanese peace activists take great inspiration from Berkeley, including our Nuclear Free Act. It’s not just an anachronism of another era — it’s an inspiration for the CURRENT generation of activists in many places around the world, who have NOT forgotten the threat.
    During a visit to Nagasaki, I was asked to meet with a group of _hibakusha_, survivors of the atomic bombing in 1945. These elder citizens expressed zero animosity toward me as a citizen of the country that dropped the Bomb on their city, but they were earnest about the need to eliminate nuclear weapons, hoping it might still happen during their remaining years of life. If you want to step on the hearts of these gentle, suffering souls, repeal the Nuclear Free Berkeley Act. If you have an ounce of humanity, leave it in place. Having served on the Peace and Justice Commission for seven years including three as chairperson, I can tell you the Act doesn’t really harm Berkeley at all; that argument is all smoke and mirrors.

  • BTownEmbarrassment

    Yes, this whole issue is ridiculous. The peace and justice commission doesn’t understand that they cannot have a meaningful effect on the bottom line of the companies involved, but obviously they make it impossible for the city to operate in a reasonable manner.

    The library check-out scanner matter is illustrative, the company involved is 3M.
    3M for Christ’s sake! The money that goes to 3M from the library deal is a drop in the bucket compared to what they get from a single gov’t contract. Berkeley has no effect on 3M.

  • Guest

    “if officials are able to circumvent the act by allowing for these waivers”
    We could make stickers to put on the street signs saying “(Just kidding!).”