People living close to A-test site don't seem to mind the bomb. Protesters get booed by folks in Pahrump
The woman holding a sign inscribed ``Mother's Arms, not Nuclear Arms'' waited silently in a mass of demonstrators for her moment of civil disobedience to come. Behind a rope boundary a woman whose sign read ``I Love Nuclear Testing'' (with the word ``love'' a red heart) shouted at the demonstrators in unison with hundreds of other hecklers, ``Go Home! Go back to where you came from!''Skip to next paragraph
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The Mother's Day event, which brought 2,500 demonstrators to the Nevada Test Site, as well as 350 ``pro-testers'' who stood in defense of nuclear arms experiments a couple of weeks ago, may exemplify a Nevada anomoly in the Nuclear Age: The closer people live to the test site, the more they love the bomb.
The test site covers 1,351 square miles, an area about the size of Rhode Island. Mercury, gateway to ground zero, lies off Highway 95 about 65 miles northwest of Las Vegas, a city of 500,000 residents and just as many tourists most weekends.
Residents there rarely feel the shocks of the nearly 800 bombs exploded worldwide since 1945. These bombs have been exploded above ground and an eighth of a mile into the earth at the nation's nuclear proving grounds, the largest employer in the state. The 19,300 residents living in rural communities closest to the site often feel the blasts' rumble, but they don't seem to mind.
``We used to sit on our shed and watch the mushrooms,'' says Peggy Konold of Overton, one of the organizers of the ``pro-test'' counter demonstration. ``They use that downwind stuff and blow it out of proportion. Don't they know that practice makes perfect?''
From 1951 to 1962, the Atomic Energy Commission conducted some 79 atmospheric tests. In 1984, 1,192 plaintiffs went to federal court claiming that the fallout from those bombs caused sickness and death among residents and livestock in settlements downwind of the site. The Tenth Circuit Court awarded 10 of those cases $2.6 million in damages to be paid by the US government. On April 22, a federal appeals court overturned the 1984 decision.
``I used to go out 'bout 5 in the morning and slop the hogs, and I remember seeing these bright flashes sometimes. They lit up the sky,'' says Digger Andersen, a resident of Pahrump, a town of about 6,000 mostly retired folk and alfalfa growers 36 miles west of the test site. ``I knew what they were. Heard about 'em on the radio. Didn't bother me much.''
Jay Truman, who lives in southern Utah, remembers the road shows the government would put on during the 1950s and early '60s. Army officers would pull into town and tell people how safe nuclear testing was and how the Russians would be at their doors if they didn't detonate these weapons, he says.
``I still have one of those brochures they gave us showing a bow-legged cowboy holding a Geiger counter with the needle way over the half mark,'' says Mr. Truman, who does research for the Downwinders, an organization with a mailing list of 10,000 residents who live in the wind path of test site fallout. ``The brochure told those cowboys who had those monitors, and a lot of them did, not to let that needle bother them, that the radiation was safe.''
Susan Sasso tends bar at the Coach House Saloon. The bar sits next to the Shamrock Brothel in Lathrop Wells, doorstep to Death Valley. (Prostitution is legal in some parts of Nevada.) She says the town of 19 wouldn't be around and the other towns around Highway 95 would be ghost towns if it weren't for the test site. She moved to the Amargosa Valley from Oklahoma this year because her father is undersheriff in the valley and because ``there was a job.'' She hopes to meet a man to marry and raise children in Lathrop Wells. She doesn't mind that she would be raising her children in the shadows of nuclear bombs exploding 20 miles away.