Prominent Physicists Debate Development of Space Weapons

Two world-renowned scientists who once worked together to develop the atom bomb squared off last night over the next development in the arms race--weapons for outer space.

Debating before a Kennedy School Forum crowd of more than 900. Dr. Hans Bethe and Dr. Edward Teller sharply disagreed over whether an American missile defense system based in space would be effective.

The central point of contention between the two scientists was President Reagan's comprehensive plan outlined last spring to develop anti-ballistic missile systems based in space.

More Arms Race

Bethe, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist from Cornell University, argued that the development of space weapons would only exacerbate the arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

"I do not believe 'Star Wars' will work," said Bethe, one of the country's foremost experts on nuclear energy. "What we have here is a technology that does not now exist."

He explained, for example, that even if America could develop a laser weapon to attack missiles, the Soviets could counter by developing a protective shield--illustrating what he described as "a development that could only further the arms race."

On the other hand, Teller, who is considered the father of the hydrogen bomb, acknowledged that while the development of such weapons will prove scientifically difficult, it is necessary to curb a growing Soviet military threat.

Moral Necessity

"It is a moral and practical necessity to develop a strong defense because the Soviets are already doing it," said Teller, a researcher at Stanford University's Hoover Institute.

He added, "In World War II, we got a nuclear weapon, but not without problems. What we did then to win a war we should repeat now to win and secure peace.'

Both Teller and Bethe worked on the so called "Manhattan Project" during World War II in which the United States developed the atomic bomb.

The charged debate last night illustrated well the divergent political paths the two scientists have taken since then.

Bethe, who seemed to have the general support of the crowd, showed his colors as an advocate of disarmament efforts, while Teller showed more hard-line views and an advocacy of Reagan's space-war plans.

Appearing agitated at certain points in the debate. Teller said that American had enough ingenuity to develop weapons in space, and he urged "the scientists of the free world to join in an effort to solve an admittedly difficult problem."