The Soviet Communist Party has published an unusually frank article about the problems of nuclear power, warning that the country's ambitious plans may damage the environment and waste natural resources.
The article, by energy specialist Nikolai Dollezhal and economist Yuri Koryakin, appeared in the latest edition of Kommunist, the party's leading theoretical journal. It warns that unless the ambitious program is altered radically, densely populated areas of European Russia soon may reach the limits of their "ecological capacity" to cope with new nuclear power stations.
The specialists also cautioned that it would be wrong to assume that safe and economical technologies have been developed for all aspects of the complex uranium-plutonium "fuel cycle."
Western scientific sources in Moscow said they were astonished at the critical frankness of the Kommunist article, which contrasted sharply with the upbeat tone typical of most nuclear power coverage in the government-controlled news media.
Although Soviet scientists have been known to express personal misgivings over atomic power privately, there is nothing in this country resembling an organized, public antinuclear lobby.
Soviet officials and the news media have tended to ascribe the antinuclear movement in the West to misinformed hysteria or machinations by oil monopolies worried about a potential threat to their profits. Reports of nuclear accidents do not appear in the official Soviet media.
In April, however, the Soviet minister of power and electrification, Pyotr Neporozhniy, reportedly acknowledged to a U.S. congressman that there have been several accidents at Soviet nuclear power stations including an explosion and a radiation leak.
U.S. scientists believe that a large nuclear accident in Cheliabinsk Province in 1957 or 1958 released enough strontium-90 to poison a large lake near the Ural Mountains for 300 years. The contamination has been compared to the fallout from a strong atmospheric nuclear bomb test.
Many of the details available about the accident came from intelligence reports, accounts of contamination in Soviet scientific journals and information from exiled Soviet scientist Zhores Medvedev.
The Soviet Union's overall nuclear-fueled power capacity currently amounts to about one-quarter of the 50,000 megawatts of electricity that can be generated by atomic power stations in the United States.
The Soviet press, however, reports that at least 10 large nuclear plants are now under construction, with a 25,050 megawatts. Upon completion by the mid-1980s, they will boost total Soviet nuclear generating capacity above 35,000 megawatts -- more than 10 percent of all electric power produced in this country.
That is enough electricity to power about 50 cities the size of Boston or St. Louis.
In their detailed, 6,000-word article, Koryakin and Dollezhal balanced both praise and criticism of nuclear power.
They noted that modern atomic stations can produce power more economically than conventionally fired plants, reduce the expensive transporting of fossil fuels from distant sources to industrial centers and pollute the air less than plants burning coal or oil.
In view of declining fossil-fuel reserves, they said, "Constructing the energy base of developed socialism is impossible without nuclear power."
At the same time, however, they raised a number of serious problems facing the nuclear power program.
For example, the scientists cite increased danger of accidents in transporting nuclear fuel. Although they say the probability "is insignificant," they acknowledge that with the growth of nuclear power, "this possibility must be taken into account."
They also expressed concern about technical reliability and safety: "It is obviously wrong to believe that guaranteed, reliable, economical , advanced and time-tested technologies have been created for all production aspects of the external fuel cycle," including reprocessing.
The two experts proposed that new nuclear plants be grouped together in vast energy complexes away from agricultural land and populated areas.