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Explosive proposition

CUs bid to join secretive Los Alamos nuke weapons lab electrifies critics

The University of Colorado is facing a storm of criticism over its potential involvement in Los Alamos National Laboratory, the birthplace of the atom bomb.

In May, CU allied with defense contractor Lockheed Martin, the University of Texas and 18 other universities in a bid to take over operations at the secretive New Mexico lab that manages the nation's aging stockpile of nuclear weapons and is developing next-generation warheads.

Roughly 70 students, faculty and staff at the CU-Colorado Springs campus recently signed a petition protesting the university's participation, on the grounds that nuclear weapons are immoral.

"It's happened so fast, and there's been so little talk about this," says Amy McDowell, a sociology student who is leading opposition to the idea. "This is such a big issue."

Students also have protested at CU-Boulder, and their campus student government has condemned the proposal.

The Department of Energy announced that it wanted new contractors for the lab following several security lapses under the watch of the University of California, which has managed the lab since 1943. UC united with Bechtel Corp. in an effort to keep the lab, its $2.2 billion annual budget and 15,000 employees.

CU is eager to join the Lockheed/UT-led consortium, says Jeff Cheek, an assistant vice president for the CU system.

The university may reap $2 million to $4 million in research projects, he notes, and also would enjoy new opportunities for faculty and students, which, in turn, may increase CU's competitiveness for science grants as university researchers.

None of CU's researchers have expressed an interest in doing classified, weapons-related work, Cheek says.

-- Michael de Yoanna

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