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Soviet-ODP partnership on or off?

Soviet-ODP partnership on or off?

While scientists on the internationalOcean Drilling Program (ODP) drillship the JOIDES Resolution may sometimes have to brave a turbulent ocean, the ODP itself is weathering stormy seas of a political sort. Early in February it looked as if the National Science Foundation (NSF), which administers the ODP, had navigated a course that would make the Soviet Union the eighth international partner in the program. The Soviet Union, which had been a member of the Deep Sea Drilling Program, ODP's predecessor, had accepted NSF's invitation last year.

But plans for NSF officials to go toMoscow to sign a memorandum of understanding were short-circuited (SN: 2/14/87, p.102) by the Department of Defense. The reason, NSF officials told SCIENCE NEWS last week, is the Defense Department's concern about giving Soviet scientists access to about half a dozen pieces of the Resolutions' equipment that are on the Commerce Department's export control list.

A Defense Department spokesmansays the agency is "not opposed to the scientific endeavor' but is concerned about "techniques and technologies used for deep-water [drilling] operations' and the ability to "hold a ship in position over deep water.'

Scientists who have participated inODP cruises are expressing displeasure at the action. According to one crew member, researchers aboard the Resolution during ODP's recent Leg 113 (see story on p. 278) joked that if the Soviets obtained access to the ship's antiquated computer system it would set the Soviets back 10 years.

More seriously, NSF's AlexanderSutherland says that while scientists in general may occasionally observe the ship operations and drilling gear of concern to the Defense Department, they don't have hands-on access to the equipment. What's more, he says, "the Soviet Union already has the world's newest fleet of drillships' and he doubts that the equipment on the Resolution would be much more advanced than that on Soviet ships.

NSF and ODP scientists would alsowelcome the Soviets' scientific expertise and their annual $2.5 million membership fee. Moreover, with the Soviets as members, ODP scientists might be more likely to get permission from the Soviet Union to drill in the Soviet Arctic, a longtime goal that has been out of ODP reach. (Sutherland says that if permission is granted, one possible approach for such a project would be to permanently freeze an old drillship into an ice floe for Arctic drilling.)

According to a Defense Departmentspokesman, the National Security Council will "coordinate an interagency decision' within a month or so. NSF officials hope the decision is made before this July, when a few hundred scientists will meet in Strasbourg, France, for the Conference on Scientific Ocean Drilling II to plan the next five to 10 years of drilling projects. "You'd like to have all your partners in before you make those kinds of decisions,' says Sutherland.

Ocean sciences, he continues, aregenerally benign and should be kept fully and openly international. "It's not as though we were doing laser physics,' he says. "If the ODP can't cooperate with the Soviet Union in an international science program, I'm not sure what kind of science program can.'
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Title Annotation:Ocean Drilling Program
Author:Weisburd, Stefi
Publication:Science News
Date:May 2, 1987
Words:517
Previous Article:On the edge between water and ice.
Next Article:Hanging on to the green stuff.
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