On June 19, 1992, and again on June 23, a nuclear weapon was exploded under the sands of Nevada's nuclear test site. Three days later, the largest earthquake to strike California this century - 7.6 on the Richter scale - was centered in the Mojave desert, 176 miles from the detonations. The following day, another quake, this one of 5.6 magnitude, shook the earth a mere 20 miles from the site of the blasts.
Government officials say the fact that earthquakes followed soon after nuclear blasts was mere coincidence. An Energy Department spokesperson in July said the relationship between nuclear tests and tremors is "nonexistent." But some scientists who have studied the correlation between the 1,800 nuclear explosions since Hiroshima and ensuing earthquakes are concerned that there may be a connection after all.
British and German geophysicists raised the concern in a British scientific journal that the 1978 earthquake in Tabas, Iran, which killed 25,000 people, may have been triggered by a large Soviet detonation 36 hours before at the Semipalitinsk test range. A study by scientists at Japan's Tokai University concluded that earthquakes "are related in a direct cause-and-effect to testing of nuclear devices."
The most comprehensive investigation was done by Dr. Gary T. Whiteford, a professor of geography at the University of New Brunswick, who studied all the earthquakes this century over 5.8 on the Richter scale. Whiteford's study found an average of 68 large magnitude quakes per year in the first half of the century. Since the advent of nuclear testing, the number has jumped to 127 per year, with "geographical patterns in the data," according to Whiteford.