The Reagan Administration overplays the advantages of nuclear arms testing while ignoring its risks, a panel of local politicians and activists said last night.
The forum, jointly sponsored by the Kennedy campaign and the Harvard-Radcliffe Democratic Club, featured Congressional candidate Joseph P. Kennedy II and State Sen. George Bachrach (D-Watertown), who opposed him for the Democratic nomination.
"Arms control with the Soviet Union that eradicates nuclear arms before they're fired makes more sense than a shield after they're fired," Kennedy said, referring to the Strategic Defense Initiative, often called "Star Wars."
Bachrach said his campaign against Kennedy had accentuated differences between the candidates despite their similar views on issues such as arms control. "These issues are far too important to divide us," he said, calling on the Democratic Party to unite in condemning the "Star Wars" program as a "cruel hoax."
Before an audience of 150 in the Lamont Library Forum Room, the two politicians were joined by Sara Mattes, who chairs the Mass. Freeze Voter anti-nuclear organization, and physicist Phillip Morrison, an Institute Professor at MIT, who participated in the Manhattan Project, which developed the first atomic bomb.
The four panelists attacked the conservative line of reasoning that the "Star Wars" system is essential to the national defense, and that this program cannot be successful unless it is tested.
Morrison said that "the motivation behind nuclear testing is to keep fear and immediacy alive," adding that he considers nuclear weapons testing more dangerous than useful.
He said the mechanics of nuclear bombs are now so well understood that further testing can produce no more than "modest engineering advances." What goes wrong and needs to be tested in a weapon is its electronic mechanisms, not the bomb itself, he said.
The forum was the first Kennedy-Bachrach joint appearance since since the night of the September 16 Massachusetts primary.
Kennedy, who received 52.4 percent of the vote, said he would seek a seat on the Armed Services Committee if he wins his general election battle against Republican Clark Abt.
Bachrach said the Star Wars program "has nothing to do with the national defense. It has everything to do with national economy." He called for "a thoughtful economic conversion plan that makes Congress believe that it can stand for arms control."
Under a proposal for economic conversion that he advocates, legislation would assure that corporations do not lose money when they lose defense contracts because the government would help them convert their operations to produce goods for the civilian market.
In another campaign development yesterday, Kennedy and Abt agreed on a single hour of debate after prolonged negotiations between their campaigns. The debate is scheduled to take place at Bentley College on Tuesday evening.