The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida on November 15, 1968 · Page 36
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November 15, 1968

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The Palm Beach Post from West Palm Beach, Florida · Page 36

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West Palm Beach, Florida
Issue Date:
Friday, November 15, 1968
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Page 36
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Page 36 article text (OCR)

3ft-Palm Beach Post, Friday, Nov. 15, 1968 Atomic Blasts Create 'Harmless' Earthquakes than 12 feet in diameter and more than 5,000 feet deep. 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 getting bigger but that the instruments required to measure blast radiations are becoming more numerous and more complex. They are destroyed by the explosion, but not before signals from them have raced through miles of cable to recorders in trailers a safe distance away. Before Faultless was set off last January, the AEC said It was a calibration test, mainly to determine if larger shots planned for the area would be safe. It was not expected to be felt in distant Las Vegas. But soon after the shot, buildings in Las Vegas swayed sickeningly and a rolling motion was felt in San Francisco, twice as far away. Flying over the scene later, geologist David Slemmans of the University of Nevada pho tographed giant cracks in the earth three miles long and with an upward thrust of more than 15 feet. In addition to these tangible effects, Faultless triggered other events. Seismologists intensified their studies of earthquake activity after blasts, and big landowners demanded that future megaton testing be postponed until results were known.. Nonetheless, an even bigger blast 100 miles closer to Las Vegas was set off April 26 at a slightly greater depth, 3,800 feet. It was called Boxcar and had a magnitude of 6.5. After checking Faultless and Boxcar, Dr. Alan Ryall of the University of Nevada privately circulated a report showing that all explosions of magnitude 5 or greater were followed by an increase In seismicity earthquake activity for at least one day and in some cases up to five days. Seismologist Ryall also found that after five recent explosions the number of earthquakes recorded was at least twice as great as normal. Ryall's report concluded that effects of continued firing could be cumulative, "possibly resulting eventually In a sizeable earthquake." Dr. Wendell Weart, the AEC's own earthquake expert and chairman of its ground-shock effects committee, later said the evidence of greater seismicity after blasts had been noted as early as 196-1, but the AEC had said nothing "because we weren't sure what it was or whether it was directly related to the shots." Last Sept. 30 the AEC issued a statement that it "recognizes that some seismic energy releases occur shortly after, and in the vicinity of, underground nuclear detonations." Weart insisted, however, that he was not convinced that any increased seismicity more than 30 miles from the shot-point was caused by the blasts. He saw "no chance" that megaton tests in Nevada could trigger an earthqualke along the great San Andreas Fault, a crack in the earth's crust that underlies San Fmacisco and passes near Los Angeles. The closest it comes to the Nevada test site Is 170 miles. He was less confident, however, about a zone of more than average seismicity running from Winnemucca, In central Nevada, to Ventura, Calif., intersecting the San Andreas fault about 70 miles north of Los Angeles. "This is a gray area," he said, "because we have so little information about it. DIGHTO.N (AP) as a than half a spherical blocks thousands of rock vanish a blazing this, contained in a Then, as weight of above a through FABULOUS DEPARTMENT STORES 1 s $0 t ) LOOK FOR WE CREEll CLOVER FOR "EXTRA SAVINGS TREMENDOUS VALUES OH FAMOUS WHIRLPOOL APPLIANCES!!! rt 1 1 Whi Bv RALPH LAS VEGAS. Nov. -The earth Jumps high two-story house. More mile below, a great cavern three city across forms as tons of volcanic into vapor, hot as sun. For a brief time man-.reated hell is vast glassy bubble., the vapor cools, tha the violated earth bursts the bubble and Niagara of rubble cascades the roof of the cavern. On the surface, the earth' settles heavily, dustily back into the crater formed by the underground bubble's collapse. Outward from the crater the earth's crust ripples in ever-widening circles, lapping at the foundations of cities hundreds of miles away before they subside. A mere 120 miles distant, in the glittering towers of Las Ve-cas, tourists clutch momentarily at gaming tables as the floor rocks. Thrilled and happy where else could you experience an earthquake guaranteed to be harmless? they mutter, "man, what a thumper." And as the queasy rolling dies they resume their gambling. "Thumpers'1 are underground nuclear explosions in the megaton range, equal to a million tons of TNT. Two have been set off on the Atomic Energy Commission's testing grounds north of Las Vegas this year, and at least one more is expected by-year's end. Although they add to the excitement of a trip to Las Vegas, where you can rock and roll literally as well as musically, underground megaton blasts are rapidly becoming a major issue. . The trouble is that scientists have just learned, somewhat to their surprise, that large underground explosions are followed by a swarm of small earthquakes, unfelt but measurable on delicate instruments called seismometers. Since tremors have been known to trigger other tremors with cumulative effect, some experts are beginning to .. wonder if some day a thumper might trigger disaster. On one side of the controversy are civic leaders who want underground testing of super-weapons halted pending positive proof that it is safe. Ranged against them are makers of government policy who insist the risk is far outweighed by the need to perfect nuclear weapons. At stake, for Nevadans, is the AEC's M-million-a-month payroll. They must balance possible loss of the state's second largest industry topped only by gambling against the death and damage that could follow a major earthquake. Since Nevada is one o( the most quake-prone areas in the country, any likelihood 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 skyrocket. The price of a nuclear 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 millions preparing to set off devices too powerful to be tested in Nevada, costs are expected to double because of transportation problems. The thumper that started all the furor came last Jan. 19. Although not the most powerful of the more than 250 underground blasts set off in Nevada up to that time one in December l'Jtiti had a bit more yield it unexpectedly jolted buildings as far away as Salt Lake City and Los Aogeles. It registered fi.2 on the Rlchter magnitude scale, which pegs major earthquakes at 7. It was called, for some unexplained reason, Faultless. Like all nuclear shots, Faultless started out as the brainchild of scientists seeking to create nuclear devices for special purposes: smaller, lighter and more powerful weapons for bombs and warheads, or cleaner explosives for peaceful uses such as digging canals. Months were spent In designing the Faultless device and the instruments, many of them buried with It. which would tell distant observers how It performed. Then came additional months of satety checks, as experts tried to calculate the worst that could happen and guard against it. 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