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'Schools of Mass Destruction': Report Details 49 US Universities Abetting Nuclear Weapons Complex

"Why would an institution of higher learning support weapons that cause terrible humanitarian consequences?"

An activist with a mask of U.S. President Donald Trump marches with a model of a nuclear rocket during a demonstration against nuclear weapons on November 18, 2017 in Berlin

An activist with a mask of U.S. President Donald Trump marches with a model of a nuclear rocket during a demonstration against nuclear weapons on November 18, 2017 in Berlin, Germany. About 700 demonstrators protested against the current escalation of threat of nuclear attack between the United States of America and North Korea. The event was organized by peace advocacy organizations including the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), which won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2017. (Photo: Adam Berry/Getty Images)

Nearly 50 universities across the United States are abetting the "nuclear weapons complex" with involvement that is at times "direct and unabashed."

That's according to a new report released Wednesday by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN), "Schools of Mass Destruction: American Universities in the U.S. Nuclear Weapons Complex." The report calls out 49 educational institutions, describes their direct and indirect involvement, and recommends steps the universities, students, and faculty can take to address the issue. 

The report names prestigious universities including Stanford, Georgetown, and MIT. The cited universities have reportedly engaged in four different avenues of complicity in nuclear weapons production, defying their own mission statements and international law.

In return, the report says, "universities receive funding, access to research facilities, and specific career opportunities for students."

The complicity, according to ICAN, falls into one of four categories: direct management, institutional partnerships, research programs and partnerships, and workforce development programs.

From the report's profiles on Georgetown University and the University of Nevada - Reno:

  • Georgetown is listed as a university partner on the website of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. According to administration at Georgetown, the university has a formal agreement with the laboratory and collaborates in the areas of neuroscience, physics and cancer, with the lab hosting graduate students for summer internships. The Lawrence Livermore lab provides design and engineering for several nuclear warhead types and conducts simulated experiments to evaluate warheads.
  • The University of Nevada - Reno developed a new Graduate Certificate in Nuclear Packaging in partnership with the Department of Energy. A Nevada National Security Site engineer was the first to complete the program. The Nevada National Security Site is the location of nearly 1,000 tests of nuclear weapons in past decades, leading to serious health impacts for nearby residents and participating military personnel. Currently, staff at the site conduct simulated experiments to test the reliability and performance of nuclear weapons. The site also hosts "subcritical experiments" that allow for the evaluation of nuclear weapons materials under certain conditions, but do not cause a "self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction."

Those universities are not the "most complicit." That dubious honor goes to the University of California,  Texas A&M University, Johns Hopkins University, and University of New Mexico. In a Twitter thread, ICAN highlighted those schools' involvement:

The report comes as Trump administration policies have given rise to fears of a new arms race. As the report notes, 

In the United States, the Trump administration has expanded plans to upgrade the nation's nuclear weapons arsenal. Over the next ten years, the Congressional Budget Office estimates U.S. taxpayers will pay nearly $500 billion to maintain and modernize its country's nuclear weapons arsenal, or almost $100,000 per minute.

Also noted in the publication is the administration's withdrawal earlier this year from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and its 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), which calls for "diversifying" the country's nuclear arsenal.

That gives greater urgency to the call for the schools to sever their partnerships—and the clear support for the United Nations Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, ICAN says, should be seen as an opportunity for action.

"U.S. universities must reconsider connections to the nuclear weapons complex due to the devastating humanitarian and environmental impacts of nuclear weapons and because current U.S. policies make their use more likely," says the report.

A first step is for schools to be more transparent about their involvement in the nuclear weapons complex but that's not enough. "Universities would not willingly participate today in research enabling the production of chemical and biological weapons. Nuclear weapons are morally equivalent to these other weapons of mass destruction."

Students and faculty can take action as well. ICAN suggests sharing the report to increase awareness, demanding the institutions make their research transparent, and calling on the schools to become part of the effort to  ban nuclear weapons by dropping their involvement. 

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