Friday, November 8, 1968
THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Friday, November 8, 1968 THE MICHIGAN DAILY Page Nine
Underground testing may cause'
violent earthquakes in Nevada
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Sun., Nov. 10, 12-6 P.M.
721 South Forest, No, 309
By RALPH DIGHTON
LAS VEGAS, Nev. (R) - The
earth jumps high as a two-story
house. More than half a mile
below, a great spherical cavern
three city blocks across forms
as thousands of tons of volcan-
ic rock vanish into vapor, hot
as a blazing sun.
For a brief time this man-
created hell is contained in a
vast glassy bubble. Then, as the
vapor cools, the weight of the
violated earth above bursts the
bubble and a Niagra of rubble
cascades through the roof of the
On the surface, the earth set-
tles heavily, dustily back into
j the crater formed by the under-
ground bubble's collapse.
Outward from the crater the
earth's c r u s t .ripples in ever-
widening circles, lapping at the
foundations of cities hundreds
of miles away before they sub-
A mere 120 miles distant, in
the glittering towers of Las Ve-
gas, tourists clutch momentari-
ly at gaming tables as the floor
Thrilled and happy - where
else c o u 1 d you experience an
earthquake guarapteed to be
harmless - they mutter, "man,
what a thumper." And as the
queasy rolling dies they resume
nuclear explosions in the mega-
ton range, equal to a million
tons of TNT.
Two have been set off on the
Atomic Energy' Commission's
testing grounds north of Las Ve-
gas this year, and at least one
more is expected by year's end.
Although they add to the ex-
citement of a trip to Las Vegas,
where you can rock and roll lit-
erally as well as musically, un-
derground megaton blasts are
rapidly becoming a major issue.
The trouble is that scientists'
have just learned, somewhat to
their surprise, that large under-
ground explosions are followed
by a swarm of s m a 1learth-
quakes, unfelt but measurable'
on delicate instruments called
Since tremors have b e e n
known to trigger other tremors
with cumulatrve effect, some -ex-
perts are beginning to wonder
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if someday a thumper m i g h t
On one side of the controver-
sy are civic leaders who want
underground testing of super-
weapons halted pending positive
proof that it is safe. Ranked
against t h e m are makers of
government policy w h o insist
the risk is far outweighed by the
need to perfect nuclear weap-
At stake, for Nevadans, is the
AEC's $6-million-a-month pay-
roll. They must balance possible
loss of the state's second largest
industry - topped only by gam-
bling - against the death and
damage that could follow a ma-
jor earthquake. Since Nevada is
one of the most quake-prone
areas in the country, any likeli-
hood of altering the earth-strain
levels is disturbing.
At stake, for the nation, is the
urgency to develop warheads for
the Sentinel antimissile system,'
now nearing the deployment
stage. If safety requirements -
or public resentment - forced
the AEC to find a new site for
megaton tests, costs would sky-
A test now ranges from $2
million to $20 million, exclusive
of the weapon itself, in Nevada.
On Amchitka Island, off Alaska,
where the AEC is spending mil-
lions preparing to set off, de-
vices too powerful to be tested
in Nevada, costs are expected
to double because of transporta-
The thumper that started all
the furor caine last Jan. 19. Al
though not the most powerful of
the more than 250 underground
blasts set off in Nevada up to
that time - one in December
1966 had a bit more yield - it
unexpectedly jolted buildings as
far away as Salt Lake City and
Los Angeles It registered 6.2 on
the Richter . magnitude scale,
which pegs major earthquakes
It was called, for some unex-
plained reason, Faultless.
Like all nuclear shots, Fault-
less started out as. the brain-
c h i 1 d of scientists seeking to
create nuclear devices for spe4
cial purposes: smaller, lighter
and more powerful weapons for
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can be considered as a fairy
tale EXPERIENCED by the
child, rather than TOLD to
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bombs and warheads, or clean-
er explosives for peaceful uses
such as digging canals.
Months were spent in design-
ing the Faultless device and the
instruments, many of them bur-
led with it, which would tell dis-
tant observers how it performed.
Then came additional months
of safety checks, as experts tried
to calculate the worst that could
happen and guard against it.
Eventually, the proposal went
to commissioners in Washing-
ton, D.C., and to the President,
who must approve all use of nu-
clear material. T h e time and
expense were balanced against
the need for the weapon and the
shot date was set, some two
years after conception.
Meanwhile, in anticipation of
such a test, an incredible hole
had been bored 3,200 feet deep
in a new proving grounds 200
miles north of Las Vegas.
Almost four feet across and
yardstick-straight, it called for
development of new drilling
methods that would be closely
watched by the oil and mining
industries and eventually would
lead to holes, now in the plan-
ning stage, more than 12 feet in
diameter and more than 5.000
These holes, made by bits that
dwarf the men who handle
them, were necessitated by the
1963 'treaty banning nuclear
tests in the atmosphere.
Their increasing size does not
mean that the devices are get-
ting bigger but that the instru-
ments required to measure blast
radiations are becoming more
numerous and more complex.
The switch is on. To
the bold new look of
blunt toes, antiqued
leathers, and bur-
nished tones of brass
hardware. So turn
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