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Soviet view: US sanctions spur research

The head of the Soviet Academy of Sciences has called for a world drive to develop nuclear power, saying this can provide a safe and permanent resolution of the energy crisis.

In an hour-long interview focusing, by prior agreement, on technological and economic questions, academy president Anatoli Alexandrov also:

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* Argued that US economic sanctions, on balance, benefited the Soviet Union by speeding improvement of domestic technology. He added that countries like West Germany and Japan had undone the Americans' one-time technological supremacy.

* Said Soviet science and technology were equal to ''any task,'' but that efforts were under way to correct lags in applying scientific advances to the Soviet economy and, generally, to improve the organization of research-and-development programs. He said the system of establishing prices also should be improved to encourage innovation.

* Said the Soviet Union had matched Western computer technology but still needed to train more computer operators and specialists. He said a greater number of computers was also needed, and that new efforts were being made on both fronts.

Mr. Alexandrov, a member of the Communist Party Central Committee, spoke in the ornate 18th century Moscow palace that houses the main academy offices. A major figure in the Soviet Union's own plans to double nuclear power capacity under the current five-year plan, Mr. Alexandrov raised the atomic energy issue in response to a question on international scientific cooperation.

''It would be natural for scientists of all countries to attempt to widen the development of atomic energy,'' he said, describing the ''energy crisis'' as one of various shared resource problems facing the international community.

Mr. Alexandrov said the finite nature of world oil resources already presented ''not only a political problem, but a military one, and it will become more acute in the future.'' He did not elaborate. But he said ''at the same time , modern science provides a means of deciding these energy problems, for an indefinite period. . . .''

The answer, he said, was nuclear energy - particularly, a worldwide drive to increase atomic power capacity, and to apply it to a wider range of economic tasks.

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''Today, we use atomic energy mainly for electricity,'' Mr. Alexandrov said, ''but this is only about one-quarter of total world energy usage.'' He said atomic power should ultimately be used to power transportation, heat homes, and run industrial processes in fields like metallurgy and chemistry. (The official Soviet news media have said several atomic ''heat-supply'' stations are under construction, one of them near the southern city of Odessa.)

Mr. Alexandrov maintained that the Soviet Union's own large reserves of fossil fuel in Siberia and the Far East afforded a grace period of some ''30 to 50 years in which to effect the changeover'' to primary reliance on nuclear energy. For Western nations lacking major oil and gas resources, however, he argued that logic dictated a ''much shorter period.''

Asked about potential safety hazards in large-scale use of nuclear energy, the Soviet academy president said: ''I think the changeover can be done safely. All dangers of nuclear energy . . . are able to be resolved through engineering.''

He did, however, echo increased official concern here over a related danger: that in time of war, an attack on a nuclear-energy facility would yield fallout that would make the area uninhabitable for dozens of years.

''My hope,'' said Mr. Alexandrov, ''is that this danger will serve, for rational people, as a catalyst in preserving peace'' as worldwide reliance on nuclear energy widens.

In line with a strategy worked out by a committee headed by Mr. Alexandrov, the Soviet nuclear program envisages siting energy installations near various cities. Although the program has so far moved more slowly than hoped, nuclear power is supposed to become the largest single source of domestic energy by the year 2000.

In Soviet science, and technology generally, Mr. Alexandrov singled out both strengths and weaknesses.

He said existing scientific resources gave the Soviet Union the ability to meet any technological goal, adding that the Soviets' development of atomic weaponry provided ample ''evidence'' of this.

But Mr. Alexandrov also noted problems in the application of scientific and technological research to practical economic tasks. In the Soviet system, research-and-development is the shared province of the Academy of Sciences, the state committee for science and technology, the central economic planning apparatus, and various government ministries. Mr. Alexandrov - who, in addition to heading the academy, sits on the science and technology committee - said that , generally, the system works.

He said innovation went more quickly ''when we acquaint branches of the economy with our research at a very early stage . . . and invite specialists (from industry) to work with us.''

But he added that, in some instances, there was a lack of proper coordination. In others, there is outright ''competition between our [scientific ] workers and workers in branches of production.''

He said that, as implied in various official media commentaries of late, efforts were under way to increase the researcher's financial incentive to help speed innovation in particular sectors of the economy.

Yet in Mr. Alexandrov's view, the main problem lies not with scientists, but in ''the inertia of industrial decisionmakers.''

''It is very common that an industry used to traditional forms of operation rejects the idea of new approaches,'' he said.

''There is also the question of prices for new products,'' he went on.

(Prices in the Soviet Union are centrally fixed, often in such a way that a factory or industrial manager risks losing revenue by innovating.)

''It is necessary to award higher prices for new products in concert with an increase in efficiency,'' Mr. Alexandrov said. ''This is not always the case. The system of working out prices should be perfected. . . . We do not have the market levers of the West, where, if production is inefficient, no one buys the product.''

Turning to a specific area of technology - computers - Mr. Alexandrov acknowledged that the West had moved more quickly to take economic advantage of advances in the field. This, he said, was not a problem of science, but was because ''our industry did not have enough qualified personnel.''

He said the Academy of Sciences had greatly expanded work on ''computer technology, computer mathematics, and the like. We have advanced substantially.'' He said the ''gap'' in computer equipment between the Soviet Union and the West was one of ''quantity, not quality.''

Beyond this, ''Our main task is currently to prepare cadres for various branches of industry and technology . . . cadres that can handle the computer technology.''

Although technology imports can also help balance specific domestic shortcomings, Mr. Alexandrov argued, sudden limitations on such imports are not necessarily a wholly bad thing. He said he had long anticipated the possibility of the Americans' ''using limits on delivery of technology as a form of pressure.'' In retrospect, he said, ''I am glad about the limitation on technology, in that it provided practical backing for my own wish that we should develop our own computer technology further. . . . It was this (US move) which facilitated a speeding up of our work.''

Mr. Alexandrov termed President Reagan's recent ban on US equipment and technology for a planned Siberian gas pipeline ''ridiculous.''

''You should bear in mind that, given our level of science and technology, we can cope with anything. . . . Of course, it will certainly mean extra labor, extra resources, but we can do it. Therefore, limitations seem to me the least reasonable of acts, because they ultimately work as an incentive to develop those areas where we lag behind.''

He made it clear the Soviet Union continued to value imported technology but said that imports from the United States are not ''critical for us.''

''Of course, it would be good, convenient, for us to trade with all countries.''

He added: ''West Germany and Japan, for instance, have achieved a higher technological level, in some areas, than the Americans. . . . The Americans have lost the role of scientific and technological leader.''

In sum, Mr. Alexandrov said, ''We will, of course, buy the most efficient equipment. If nobody is selling it to us, we will move to do it ourselves.''

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