The Soviet Union plans to continue placing nuclear power plants on board satellites, but is considering plans for destroying them in space to avoid repetition of the incident last month when a satellite fell to earth in Canada.
"There is the possibility that we could destroy such a statellite in the future," Soviet academician Yevgeni Federov said in an interview with the Washington Post last week. "Such a satellite could be blown up after it has served its purpose in space."
Director of the Institute of Applied Geophysics in Moscow and a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, Federov made it clear that the Soviets will continue launching satellites with nuclear power plants aboard. In fact, Fderdov suggested that at least two new types of atomic powered satellites are under development.
In a press conference Jan. 31 following the crash of the Soviet space vehicle, Cosmos 954, President Carter called for "rigid safeguards" for satellites. "If we cannot evolve these failsafe methods, I think there ought to be a total prohibition against earth-orbiting satellites," he said.
One of the new Soviet satellites is designed to relay television programs directly to sets across the Soviet Union. Federov indicated. The other is a weather satellite and would carry radar to map storms.
The broadcast and radar-carrying weather satellites have large power needs, Federov said, that could only be met with atomic power plants. A generator fueled by 100 pounds of uranium supplied at least 10 and perhaps as much as 100 kilowatts to the Cosmos 954 satellite that burned up Jan. 24 and scattered radioactive debris over Canada's northwest territories.
Intelligence sources said Cosmos 954 was an ocean surveillance satellite carrying radar so powerful it could locate individual warships at sea. The oceans are good reflectors so a radar able to pick out a ship and distinguish if from a large wave must be big and powerful.
In Washington last week to attend a scientific meeting on the world's climate, Federov said "lessons" could be learned by all space-faring nations from the Cosmos 954 mishap.
Besides equipping such satellites with explosive devices. Federov said, backup engines could be installed in nuclear-powered satellites to carry them into higher orbits were they would stay for hundreds of years. It was the failure of an on-board engine to move Cosmos 954 into such an orbit that forced it to fall and burn up in the atmosphere.
"We must investigate," Federov said, "the possibility to put this cosmic apparat (satellite) after it has served it purpose out of its low earth orbit for a safer altitude."
Federov sais space flight is still so new that accidents are bound to happen and that international law is still the best protection for people harmed or property damaged by such accidents.
"If a cosmic apparat launched by our country causes some damage to another country," Federov said, "we are repsonsibile for this damage. Any damage must be covered by the country that owns his cosmic apparat."
Shrugging of President Carter's suggestion that nuclear-powered satelites be banned from space, Federov said nuclear-powered ships have been in use for years but that nobody called for a ban against them.
"Your nuclear submarine once crashed in the ocean and ours also once crashed in the ocean," Federov said. "You have aircraft carriers that are nuclear-powered and we have icebreakers that are nuclear-powered. This is danger but the big noise that was made about one satellite is not based on scientific and technical fact."
"On several occasions. American military planes dropped nuclear bombs by accident," Federov said in clear reference to the times atomic bombs fell from B52 bombers in Greenland and off the coast of Spain. "Are you going to prevent the flights of aircraft with nuclear bombs aboard? No, you are not."