Amarillo, Texas — The Pantex plant where all US nuclear weapons are assembled is just a few fields away for one farm couple here in the Texas Panhandle. They say they couldn't have a better neighbor.
Periodically they do hear small explosions and glance up from their fieldwork to see a puff of dark smoke. They assume this is part of routine testing for the ordinary explosives used to trigger nuclear devices.
Like other neighbors, this couple didn't hear any noise from the plant's one serious accident, an explosion that killed three workers in 1977. They have several close relatives working in the plant itself, and this farmer and his wife are satisfied that safety and working conditions are excellent and present no pollution, radiation, or explosion risks to the community.
The husband, a former military officer, explains that nuclear disarmament is a noble objective. But, he adds as he works on a irrigation pump, ''If we don't keep right up with our preparedness, the Soviets would give us an ultimatum that we would have to bow down to. I am sure they would deal with us the same way as Afghanistan, if they thought they could get away with it.''
As a man who personally experienced the horrors of non-nuclear war, the farmer explains that he dreads the thought of using nuclear weapons -- but is certain that the United States must keep its nuclear option open.
''A nuclear freeze would be great,'' the tanned farmer says. ''But we've got to be able to bargain with them on equal terms, with our nuclear weapons equal to the Soviets, so we won't be at a disadvantage.''