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Protest disrupts UC board meeting

Hunger strikers and their backers protest the university's involvement in the development of nuclear weapons. Thirteen are arrested.

May 18, 2007|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — A group of student hunger strikers and their supporters disrupted a meeting of the University of California Board of Regents on Thursday to protest UC's participation in the development of nuclear weapons.

Thirteen protesters who linked arms and refused to move were arrested and hauled out of the regents' meeting room at UC San Francisco by university police.

The hunger strikers, including six who say they have consumed only water for nine days, contend that the public university should not be involved in managing two national laboratories that have a part in developing a new generation of nuclear weapons.

"UC provides a mantle of legitimacy to the nuclear weapons complex under the guise of the advancement of knowledge," said Mark Valen, a UC Santa Cruz student who is on the hunger strike but was not arrested. "If UC pulled out and said this was not in line with its mission statement of academic rigor and public service, that would make a huge statement."

For decades, UC managed two federal facilities central to the development of nuclear weapons: the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory near Berkeley.

The federal government recently put management of both labs up for competitive bids, and consortiums that include UC, Bechtel Corp. and other companies won both contracts, which are worth as much as $125 million a year combined.

The two laboratories have embarked on what is called the Reliable Replacement Warhead Program, which would use new technology to develop weapons to replace the existing stockpile of nuclear warheads. Those warheads are 20 years old on average.

UC President Robert Dynes defended the university's role in the program, saying that keeping academic researchers involved was better than leaving the program to the military and private corporations.

"The quality of the science and technology in the nation's weapons labs has been the reason the United States has maintained safe and reliable nuclear weapons," he said. "I would rather be inside the tent having influence on the nation's weapons and homeland security than outside."

The group of about 60 anti-nuclear protesters began the day by attending the regents' public comment period, during which some of them were allowed to address the board briefly. Organizers of the protest said about 40 students have been on some form of hunger strike for the last nine days.

"We are not starving for fun," protester Adrian Cole told the regents. "You don't need to be a subsidiary to Bechtel. This is your opportunity to get out of the nuclear weapons industry."

Later in the meeting, some of the demonstrators began shouting protests against the nuclear program. Regent Norman Pattiz sought to quiet the demonstration by assuring them that the regents had heard their message.

"I want you to know that you are not alone in your concern on this subject," he said. "Many of us on the regents share your concern. For those of you who have been on a hunger strike, I hope you will go and have some lunch. We need to go forward with the business of the university."

Despite his plea, the noisy protest continued, and the regents ordered the room cleared. The 13 protesters, who were taken out one by one, were arrested on suspicion of trespassing and failure to disperse.

"No hard feelings," one of the protesters told police as they pulled him to his feet.

In separate action, the regents postponed a decision on the controversial issue of whether to ban tobacco companies from funding research at UC.

The board agreed to delay a vote until its next meeting, in July, because one of the proponents of a ban, Regent John Moores, was unable to attend Thursday's session.

richard.paddock@latimes.com

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