Mushroom design on license plated denied by Dept. of Motor Vehicles

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Political correctness vaporized a design for a Nuclear Test Site license plate featuring a mushroom cloud, its creator says.

Indian Hills resident Richard Bibbero designed the new plate for the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation, his entry chosen over 34 others.

He said the decision to drop the license plate design is an attempt to white-wash history.

"The ruling completely ignores the fact the site has a proud heritage of defending this country against Soviet aggression during the Cold War with that nuclear deterrent," he said. "The plate commemorates that heritage and the thousands of people that worked there."

The controversial license plate was turned down by Ginny Lewis, director of the Department of Motor Vehicles.

A bill in the 2001 Legislature authorized the plate, a fund-raiser for the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation and about 322 people signed letters of intent to purchase it. But according to Lewis, the design has created controversy and is insensitive to the times.

"In light of the intense efforts Nevada is making to prevent our state from becoming nuclear waste dump, the present threat of nuclear war between India and Pakistan and the fear of new terrorist attacks since Sept. 11, any reference on a license plate to weapons of mass destruction is inappropriate and would likely offend our citizens," she wrote.

Motor Vehicles spokesman Tom Jacobs said the mushroom cloud is recognized internationally as a powerful symbol and most people responded negatively. An Illinois senator displayed a copy of the plate during a Yucca Mountain hearing and a news report said the plate means Nevada is bowing to its atomic legacy.

Jacobs said the design drew criticism from as far away as the British Broadcasting Co. and the Department of Motor Vehicles is rejecting the design, but not the plate. It is asking the foundation to submit a design that won't be misunderstood or misrepresented, one that more clearly depicts historical preservation.

"Many people feel the mushroom cloud celebrates a weapon of mass destruction," Jacobs said. "The plate was designed to support the preservation of the history of atomic testing, but the design is being misunderstood."

Bruce Church, vice president for the Nevada Test Site Historical Foundation, said members were shocked when the Department of Motor Vehicles connected the Yucca Mountain design to other political issues. He called it an insult to the people who spent 50 years working at the test site.

"We believe that the efforts of the foundation to preserve a significant portion of Nevada's history is apolitical and one would think that it would be supported by all," he said. "None of us can take back the events of history, even though some would like to rewrite it. We recognize that the mushroom cloud is an icon which has great visibility and recognition and generates both positive and negative feelings."

"What in the world does Ms. Lewis and the governor's office think has been going on at the Nevada Test Site for the past 51 years?" Church asked. "And what is wrong with crediting these weapons, as horrible as they are, with keeping world peace for 55 years?"

He said license plate designs are subject to a number of tests before they are released and often the design must be reworked. If the matter is resolved, money from the sale of the plate will help fund the Nevada Atomic Testing History Institute in Las Vegas.

The test site, a Rhode Island-sized desert expanse, was America's designated Cold War ground zero. More than 900 nuclear detonations rocked the site's valleys and mesas, proving the technical feasibility of conducting a nuclear war.

The nuclear weapons testing program grew with Southern Nevada, at one time employing more than 10,000 people as the boom of splitting atoms kept pace with Las Vegas' exploding gaming and entertainment industries.


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