WASHINGTON -- Forty years ago, just before dawn, the Alamogordo bomb range in New Mexico was swept by a bomb blast so strong the heat was felt 10 miles away. The dust cloud rose miles into the sky, and the flash outshone the sun.
The atomic age was born. Three weeks later Hiroshima, Japan, and three days after that Nagasaki, were destroyed with atomic weapons to bring World War II to a close.
On Capitol Hill Tuesday, 40 years to the day after the successful test of the Manhattan Project weapon, members of Congress and scientists called for an end to the arms race spawned by the blast at the 'Trinity' site.
Several scientists involved in the Manhattan Project urged adoption of 'a policy for nuclear weapons that abandons the two grand illusions of our times: that nuclear warfare can achieve rational military or political objectives, and that a defense of populations against nuclear attack is possible.'
Nobel Laureate Hans Bethe, now connected with Cornell University, said the superpower arsenal of 50,000 warheads should be trimmed to 2,000 through a variety of treaty actions.
That level, he said, could adequately maintain a nuclear standoff in which the threat of so strong a retaliation to a first strike deters the use of any weapon.
'The Bible tells us the Israelites wandered in the desert for 40 years. Our desert has been the fear of nuclear war, but I don't see any sign of the promised land,' he told a seminar in a Senate auditorium.
Bethe and other scientists involved in a Union of Concerned Scientists drive to curb weaponry also were sharply critical of the president's Strategic Defense Initiative anti-missile defense research program.
'I am thoroughly convinced it will end up by making us still less secure,' said Bethe.
They suggested cuts in the number of strategic warheads, the withdrawal of U.S. Pershing-2 missiles from Europe with a reduction of Soviet SS-20s to match English and French missile strength, a ban on sea-launched cruise missiles and a new comprehensive test ban.
Elsewhere on Capitol Hill, Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., said there have been 1,500 nuclear tests and, 'We should say to the Soviets: Let there be no more nuclear exposions.
'If we could start the nuclear arms race, we can stop the nuclear arms race,' he said.