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Making Bombs With Harvard's Bucks

The University's Large Investment in Nuclear Arms

By Michael J. Abramowitz

Controversy has brewed for years on campus over the propriety of various Harvard investments, especially those in companies doing business in South Africa, marketing infant formula in the third world, and those relying extensively on nuclear power. Following a nationwide trend toward greater concern over nuclear weapons, University officials took a tentative first step in 1982 toward reevaluating another class of investments: those in firms helping to build nuclear weapons.

As they had for the first time the year before, members of Harvard's governing Corporation considered a series of shareholder resolutions asking companies in the University's $1.7 billion portfolio to limit their work related to nuclear weapons. In the past, the Corporation had voted against similar resolutions, following the recommendations of the student-faculty-alumni Advisory Committee on Shareholder Responsibility (ACSR). Both groups argued that nuclear arms policy was the province of the government, not the private investor. But this year, the ACSR recommended approval of several of the largely symbolic anti-nuclear arms production resolutions. The Corporation went half the distance, abstaining on strong messages to three major companies.

One crucial problem facing student activists and others who want the University to quit the nuclear industry is simply the difficult task of identifying which companies in the Harvard portfolio are connected to the building of bombs. For while a firm is either in or out of South Africa, some corporations are tied to the sprawling weapons industry in a very indirect fashion. In addition, these ties are often only minute portions of a huge company's overall operation.

This sort of diversity can be seen by looking at the three companies for which Harvard had to cast proxy votes last year on nuclear weapons-related issues: The General Electric Co., The Du Pont Co. and The American Telephone and Telegraph Co. (AT&T).

GE: The Pinellas Plant

In addition to its civilian electronic, energy and transportation activities, G.E. is one of the nation's top five defense contractors and actually produces nuclear weapons components. Harvard owns more than $20 million in G.E. stock, according to the most recent University financial report.

At the government-owned Pinellas Plant in St. Petersburg, Fla.--which G.E. runs for a yearly fee of more than $2 million--company employees design, develop and produce neutron generators, testing devices and other "special electronic and mechanical components" for the U.S. nuclear weapons program, says the Investor Responsibility Research Center (IRRC) in a recent report on ethical questions related to G.E.'s nuclear work.

Like the other two companies discussed by the Harvard Corporation this year, G.E. has ties to the Department of Defense but does most of its contracting for nuclear projects through the Department of Energy (DOE). With five major laboratories and 13 production-testing plants nation-wide, the DOE supervises warhead and material production, disposal of nuclear waste from defense activities, and a good portion of nuclear research and development.

U.S. planning has dictated since the late 1940s that the government buy or build the needed facilities and then hire private firms or universities to do the work, says James S. Cannon, a spokesman for the DOE's defense programs division.

Du Pont: Savannah River

Du Pont operates Savannah River, near Aiken, S.C., on a non-profit basis for the government. Built by the chemicals giant in 1950 at the behest of the DOE's ancestor, the Atomic Energy Commission, the plant produces plutonium and tritium for nuclear weapons production. Harvard owns almost $5 million of Du Pont stock.

Du Pont technicians also conduct research at Savannah River on various parts of the nuclear fuel cycle and manage the only two facilities in the country which can reprocess plutonium and uranium from nuclear waste produced by the defense program.

Spokesman for all three companies and Cannon of the DOE say there have been no significant safety problems at any of the government-affiliated plants. But a recent IRRC report notes increasing widespread concern in the scientific community that low-level radiation escaping from the nuclear plants results in cancer after prolonged exposure.

AT&T: Sandia Labs

Western Electric, a subsidiary of AT&T, runs Sandia, which is one of the oldest facilities in the government's nuclear arms program. Built in 1945 as part of the Manhattan Project and operated by the University of California, the lab has been managed on a non-profit basis by the Bell System since 1949. Harvard owns about $20 million in AT&T stock.

At facilities in three western states--a laboratory in Albuquerque, N.M., another in Livermore, Ca., and a test site in Tonopah, Nev.--Sandia workers perform research on the "conception, design, development and testing of nuclear weapons systems," according to a company statement.

Researchers at Savannah River and Sandia also conduct extensive work for non-military purposes. Sandia, for example, oversees a large solar energy program, and its nuclear programs have civilian as well as defense applications, says Rod Geer, a spokesman for the labs. Du Pont uses nuclear materials at Savannah River for testing cancer therapy.

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