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Underground Nuclear Tests

November 05, 1987

In view of the $210-million damage of the Oct. 1 earthquake, the seven quake-related deaths and injuries to many others followed by more than 20 aftershocks registering 3 or more on the Richter scale, I anticipated an outpouring of public indignation at the news on Oct. 23 that "an underground nuclear weapons test jolted the Nevada desert floor and sent tremors through tall buildings in Las Vegas." (Part I, Oct. 24).

The blast, the 13th announced U.S. nuclear test this year, was "more than 11 times the force of the atomic bomb that devastated Hiroshima in World War II."

But there was no outpouring. The Times carried the story on page 14. TV announcers gave the story a perfunctory mention. There were no editorials, no public outcry.

Some 10 million people in Southern California are living in a geographic area laced with faults, some not even identified. California and Nevada are the most vulnerable states in the union subject to earthquake roulette. We have been repeatedly alerted, if not outright alarmed, by the media that at some time in the indeterminate future we can expect an 8-plus shaker of monumental impact.

But we took the nuclear earthquake in stride--the same way we accepted reassurances 40 years ago that the elimination of our Red Car rapid transit system was the way to go; the certainty, Rachel Carson be damned, that chemical pesticides were not dangerous; the guarantees of the Tobacco Institute that smoke had not been proven to affect human health; that Los Angeles didn't have to comply with the Clean Water Act of 15 years ago like every other city in America and provide secondary treatment for sewage because we had a canyon off Santa Monica Bay to dump it in; that Agent Orange was American as apple pie.

The ravages of nature are beyond our control. But nuclear tests not far removed from a vulnerable area are man-made earthquakes. Some might call it another example of the Reagan Administration arrogantly ignoring public opinion.

But that apparently is a rush to judgment. There has been no public outcry regarding the Oct. 23 test.

Perhaps the public has become so inured to disinformation, misinformation or simply no information at all, so accepting of Big Brother's mandate that we no longer cry out.

We can look forward to still more of the 672 tests to protect us from the enemy since 1952. Why not? Who was it that said, "We have met the enemy and he is us?" Who cares?

EDWARD HELWICK

Culver City

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