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X-ray Lasers

March 15, 1992

As a science writer who has followed closely the Strategic Defense Initiative, I have a somewhat different view than that of William Broad ("Teller's War," reviewed by Lee Dembart, Feb. 16).

It's certainly true that the X-ray laser represented the point of departure for early Reagan Administration interest in strategic missile defense. It's also true that much of that interest stemmed from a 1980 nuclear test, called Dauphin, that lacked adequate instruments.

But the problems with Dauphin, and with the X-ray laser, became evident rather rapidly. Indeed, in 1985 even The Times, in an editorial, was commenting on the misleading character of such underground nuclear tests.

Certainly the X-ray laser helped SDI get its foot in the door, but that program never took that project as its concern. The X-ray laser proper had been and remained a nuclear program, within the Department of Energy. The new Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, formed after 1983, concerned itself exclusively with non-nuclear technologies. Nowhere in Dembart's review does one learn this.

Many of us admire Bill Broad for his access within the nuclear community. But Broad's new book is best seen as a follow-on to his earlier "Star Warriors," which presents his excursion into O Group, Wood's advanced-concepts office. For the real story of Star Wars, Broad will have to look elsewhere.

T. A. HEPPENHEIMER, FOUNTAIN VALLEY

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