Berkeley City Council asks university to halt management of Livermore and Los Alamos labs

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Berkeley City Council approved a letter Tuesday requesting that the University of California cease managing the national weapons labs in Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratories.

The city’s Peace and Justice Commission drafted the letter, addressed to the UC Regents and other entities that cooperate in management and research at the laboratories. The letter cites the 1986 Nuclear Free Berkeley Act, a portion of the Berkeley Municipal Code that prevents the city from contracting with or investing in groups that engage in nuclear weapons work, and asks that the university no longer manage those labs in light of the “nuclear danger to the world.”

Councilmembers Gordon Wozniak and Laurie Capitelli voiced criticism of the letter at Tuesday’s council meeting.

“It was rather ironic that we were asking the university for a favor, and the attitude was, while I’ve got you on the phone, please stop managing the labs, because we have a nuclear-free ordinance,” Capitelli said.

In September and November, the City Council granted two waivers exempting UC Berkeley from the NFBA. The waivers greenlighted funding for the startup incubator Skydeck and enabled the city to store a sizable cache of emergency medical supplies with UC Berkeley.

The NFBA requires that council grant waivers whenever the city enters an agreement with UC Berkeley due to the university’s continuing relationship with Lawrence Livermore and Los Alamos National Laboratory. The Peace and Justice Commission administers the NFBA and recommends grants or denials of waivers.

“We asked the City Council from here on out, when a waiver is granted that bears on the university, a letter be sent to the university stating our opposition to their continued management of the labs,” said Peace and Justice Commission Vice Chair George Lippman.

Both Wozniak and Capitelli support focusing efforts on encouraging the federal government to reduce or eliminate weapons stockpiles.

Wozniak previously attempted to have the NFBA’s restrictions on investments and contracts removed. He suggested splitting the city’s boycott of the labs from the university.

“If they want to keep this clause, it should only apply to the national labs, and there should be a blanket exemption to the campuses that don’t do any weapons work,” Wozniak said.

Jasmina Vujic, UC Berkeley professor of nuclear engineering and director of the Berkeley Nuclear Research Center, described the university’s role in the national labs, however, as a moderating influence on the private companies that help manage the labs.

Capitelli also called adjusting the NFBA an issue to be visited sometime in the future. Changing the code would require a ballot measure brought either by the City Council or by a citizens’ initiative.

Nonetheless, the item passed unanimously in the council, despite concerns brought up from various council members that the letter be properly focused.

Gautham Thomas covers city government. Contact him at [email protected].

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