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Routledge Handbook of Politics and Technology
Ulrich Hilpert
Governmental Policies and Technological Innovation
Publication details
Cornelia Fraune
Published online on: 08 Oct 2015
How to cite :- Cornelia Fraune. 08 Oct 2015 ,Governmental Policies and Technological Innovation
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Policy instruments
How to realize techno-industrial
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Biotechnology and fast breeder reactor
technology revisited
Cornelia Fraune
Although governmental innovation policies are historically a rather new phenomenon (Mayntz
2001: 13), the crucial role of the government in innovation processes is being discussed more
and more within innovation literature. It is argued that governments influence innovation
processes proactively and to a great extent (Hilpert 1991a: 4; Mazzucato 2011: 70). This is
especially true for the initial phase of innovation processes, since basic research is the most
important source of innovation (Rammert 1992: 22), but is also valid for further phases of
The emphasized role of the government is explained by the uncertainty that is inherent to
innovation (Hilpert 1991a; Mazzucato 2011). The main characteristic of innovation is that it
has not yet been applied in a certain manner. Thus, as long as no technological breakthrough
happens, it is far from clear whether an innovation will be a success or failure. Moreover, even
if a technological breakthrough takes place, economic success is not yet assured. Hence, why
do governments agree to this uncertainty and commit themselves to innovation processes? Mostly
it is argued that governments are motivated by the prospect of economic growth (Mazzucato
2011: 70), but this is only one of many reasons. From a political point of view, the objective
of government innovation policies is to provide welfare. From an economic point of view, the
competitiveness of the national economy is fostered by innovation policy. In this regard,
participation in international economic development is the main objective (Hilpert 1991b: 86).
Astonishingly, the leading role of the government is not necessarily restricted by technological
progress but by international economic interdependency. Against the background of a more
liberal international framework and increasing transnational operating companies, governments
have to be more sensitive in regard to international innovative developments in order to avoid
an economic disadvantage (Barben 2007a: 61). But this does not mean that the government
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Cornelia Fraune
does not possess any room for maneuver: “even when deregulation, flexibilization, or
privatization were the guiding principles in policies of promoting competitiveness, they could
be implemented in different ways, and be complemented by additional principles, such as
balancing social and economic disparities” (Barben 2007a: 61). It rather means that international
innovative developments require governmental reaction.
It is the aim of this contribution to show that the uncertainty inherent in innovation is not
the only reason for the crucial role of the government in innovation processes. This claim
implicates that the impact of governmental policies is not reduced to the initiation of innovation
processes but is also given in later phases within this process. Furthermore, it will be shown
that the impact of the government is not only supporting by nature but can also be detrimental.
Governments’ interest in innovation is not only diverse but also dynamic.
The diversity and dynamism of governmental interest in innovation will be shown by exploring
the development of two different technologies: biotechnology and fast breeder reactor
technology. These technologies are quite different by nature and both document different paths
of technological as well as innovative development. Therefore, both have caused different
challenges for governments. Moreover, each of these innovative developments will be analyzed
by a comparison of governmental policies within the United States, Germany, and Japan.
Although the initial conditions of these countries differed in regard to both technologies, they
became important actors within the international race of innovation and technology. If
governmental policies had an impact on technological development in both cases, considerable
evidence for the crucial role of the government will be given. This is also true for the diversity
and dynamics of governmental interests in innovation processes.
The investments needed for biotechnological developments are relatively small. Moreover, it
has mainly emerged as a business area of small, newly established firms instead of large,
established companies, and it is a distributed rather than a centralized technology (Bauer 1995:
9–10). Nevertheless, governments have played a crucial role in implementing new
biotechnology1 since its developmental process was characterized by high uncertainty and required
new and innovative structures of production. In contrast to business, governments were willing
to take the risk because their interest in innovation is diverse and dynamic. By funding basic
research and implementing new entrepreneurial structures they provide the basis for biotechinnovation.
Different political contexts—different political aims
Although the USA was and still is the most successful nation regarding biotechnology, the
government was rather late in coming to it (Sharp 1987: 282). In fact, the German government
was the first that supported biotechnology (Barben 2007b: 121). By 1966, the OECD report
“Government and Technical Innovation” had already been published, which recommended
biotechnology as an important technology for future economic development (Giesecke 2000:
206).2 Against the background of saturated indigenous markets and growing international
competition from industrialized as well as newly industrialized countries, the German
government followed this recommendation and launched its first program in 1968 (Giesecke
2001: 167). But the most important key actors for implementing innovation—industry and
scientists—were rather skeptical about new biotechnology. Both industry and science not only
had a strong tradition but were also very successful in fermenting technology and enzymology.
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Governmental policies and biotechnology
Regarding science, the skepticism was reinforced by the institutional structure of the university.
New biotechnology requires interdisciplinary cooperation which was inhibited by the division
of research along disciplinary boundaries within faculties (BMBF 2008: 15). Furthermore,
DECHEMA, an industry association for chemical engineering, had a great influence on the
public program since it advised the government regarding biotechnology. As a result, the public
development programs were focused rather on traditional than on innovative biotechnological
development (Adelbergera 2000: 107–108; Giesecke 2001: 169).
In contrast to the German or the Japanese government, the US government never
implemented a public program targeted on new biotechnology (Collins 2004: 107). But basic
research was massively funded by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH) after World
War II. The main purpose of this funding was to find new possibilities of treatment for curing
diseases (Kaiser 2008: 209). Applicability of basic research was not particularly a condition for
funding (Giesecke 2000: 214; Barben 2007b: 113) and therefore provided a basis for both modern
products and innovative industries. On the basis of this publicly funded basic research, Stanley
Cohen and Herbert Boyer developed recombinant DNA technology in 1973 which is described
as the starting point of biotechnology industry (Müller 2001: 2; Lange 2006: 194). By hindsight,
basic research funding of the NIH is seen as one of the major reasons for the competitive advantage
of the United States in biotechnology (Lange 2006: 195).
International competition as driving force for innovation policy
The success of new biotechnology as innovation was finally implemented by gaining political
relevance. Within the United States, the profitability of new biotechnology came to the fore.
Since the late 1970s, a great number of small biotechnology companies, so called New
Biotechnology Firms (NBF), were established (Acharya 1999: 32–33). Those NBFs were
proven to be highly profitable, especially by the stock market launch of one of the first NBFs,
Genentech, in 1980 when the value of the shares increased persistently (BMBF 2008: 10). Against
the background of these developments, new biotechnology gained political relevance
internationally. At the beginning of the 1980s, Japan and Western Europe recognized that
they had significantly lagged behind the US in the development and commercialization of
biotechnology and launched different governmental development programs (Sharp 1987: 283;
Collins 2004: 132).
The Japanese government especially made great efforts to catch up with the US.
Through link-ups between Japanese and American companies, particularly with some
of the larger NBFs; through a substantial programme of training doctoral and postdoctoral students abroad, particularly in the U.S.; and through a deliberate programme
by government to raise the awareness of Japanese industry to developments and to
involve them in promoting a Japanese presence in the industry.
(Sharp 1987: 286)
It was precisely these Japanese efforts that brought the US government to the scene concerning
biotechnology since it feared losing the technological progress race and thus international
competitiveness (Leff 1983: A-8; U.S. Congress 1984: 7; Bartholomew 1997: 256; Collins 2004:
126; Kaiser 2008: 212).
The US government reacted to this challenge by implementing new regulations. Although
these regulations were not explicitly targeted at biotechnology they were aimed at
complementing the strong U.S.-research and strong U.S.-government programs. On the one
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Cornelia Fraune
hand, technology transfer was strengthened;3 on the other hand, genomes science was supported
in order to accelerate scientific progress and to secure commercialization in biotechnology
(Loeppky 2005: 282). Furthermore, by means of the Small Business Innovation Research program
launched in 1982 the venture capital market was legitimized (Giesecke 2001: 180; Kaiser 2008:
210–211). Finally, the government supported biotechnology indirectly by establishing new
entrepreneurial structures and by funding basic sciences. These supporting measures were
crucial to consolidate both its innovative capacity and commercialization and to strengthen the
position of the national biotech-industry within international competition.
One size does not fit all
In a nutshell, the importance of biotechnology as innovation became implemented at the
beginning of the 1980s when a great number of governments committed themselves to
supporting the development of biotechnology. At that time, it became obvious that
biotechnology was an important policy field within international competition. But it also became
clear that governmental commitment as such is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for
developing innovation. Its commitment has to be focused on the creation of something new
and not on the support or advancement of existing structures or knowledge. It has to be accepted
by governments that uncertainty is inherent to innovation. This is shown by both the German
and the Japanese programs. The German one was not crowned with success until the government
abandoned traditional paths of biotechnology support and oriented its policies on the
determinants of the success of new biotechnology within the U.S. (Adelbergera 2000: 110;
Giesecke 2001: 186–188; Casper 2009: 382–282; Motohashi 2012: 223 ). In the Japanese case,
the problem was a structural one. Different ministries got involved and each one launched its
own program. In consequence, public funding was inconsistent. Furthermore, these programs
mainly aimed to get knowledge and were focused on the production of me-too products.
Institutional prerequisites enabling cutting-edge research were not created. The Japanese research
system emphasized applied science more than basic research and strict regulation inhibited
cooperation between universities and industry (Müller and Fujiwara 2002: 702). In consequence,
this strategy of biotechnological progress was not sustainable and thus ended by the middle of
the 1980s: “The inability to mount a genome project worthy of the country’s size and scientific
status became a source of embarrassment, which prompted a rethinking of the government’s
entire approach to biotechnology” (Collins 2004: 137).
Biotechnology nationally restarted
Against the background of the continuing economic success of US NBFs, both the German
and Japanese governments tried again to establish a biotechnology economy within their
nations. In 1981, the German biotechnology policy changed as a consequence of the “Hoechst
shock,” in order to support basic research and to strengthen science–industry cooperation gene
centers were funded (Giesecke 2001: 174). In the 1990s the government decided to become
the most competitive nation within biotechnology in Europe (Adelbergera 2000: 110). In
consequence, public funding was increased through new policy initiatives. The “BioRegio”
competition demonstrated the success of the former gene centers which were the main
beneficiaries. But BioRegio also constituted the basis for both regional concentration and situations
of regional cooperation between research, industry, capital, and government even in those regions
that were not funded (Giesecke 2001: 183–185; Barben 2007c: 76).
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Governmental policies and biotechnology
Although they were not related to each other, the second initiative was complementary to
the BioRegio program since it was focused on the knowledge and technology transfer between
research institutes and industry. On the one hand, a program was implemented that encouraged
scientists to patent their findings. In contrast to the US, property rights of scientific findings
and patent law restrained such activities. On the other hand, the set-up of service centers for
knowledge and technology transfer at universities were financially supported (Giesecke 2001:
186). The third initiative aimed at encouraging a venture capital market in Germany.
Government-owned banks were established in order to provide capital for NBFs. They became
equity providers under the condition that private venture capital was also engaged. Since they
assumed the risk of undertaking, it became much easier for newly established firms to find a
private equity provider. This program was complemented by the implementation of “New
Market” (Adelbergera 2000: 112–113; Giesecke 2001: 187–188). In contrast to the first
governmental initiative these programs were successful because they were tailor-made for new
biotechnology instead of for the interests of the traditional chemical industry.
In 1997, the Japanese government mentioned biotechnology as one of the key sectors for
economic development under the Action Plan for Economic and Structural Reform. Now,
structural restraints were abolished. Funding programs of different ministries were coordinated
through “basic guideline for the creation of a biotechnology industry,” with a special emphasis
put on extending basic research (Müller and Fujiwara 2002: 701). Furthermore, the
commercialization of scientific findings by intellectual property regulations was encouraged
(Casper 2009: 382) and access to capital by creating a venture capital market was facilitated
(Caspar 2009: 383; Motohashi 2012: 223). Of course it took a certain amount of time until the
establishment of appropriate structures at the different levels (university, technology transfer,
and capital market) were completed and became effective. The USA is still the leading nation
in biotechnology. But in both countries, Germany (among other EU member states) and Japan,
the biotechnology sector increased and both became competitors within the international
innovation race (Lynskey 2006; Zika et al. 2007; OECD 2011).
Determinants of the technology in question in different contexts
In a nutshell, government policies founded the basis for progress within biotechnology in all
three countries. In the United States, the government involvement was not targeted directly at
biotechnology but its initiatives paved and shaped the way for biotechnological innovation. It
was even the indefiniteness of the governmental programs that enabled the emergence of new
biotechnology since innovations are marked by novelty in different dimensions (production
process, economic structures, products, etc.). By funding basic research and creating the
regulatory framework for both university–industry cooperation as well as the venture capital
market, the government initiated the innovation process. Other actors did not enter the process
until innovation was substantiated.
The rise of international competition implemented the innovative nature of biotechnology.
Due to its success, US biotechnology provided a model and was the main incentive for the
German and Japanese governments to redirect or to launch their own programs. This aimed to
overcome a situation in both countries in which both science and industry were not interested
in new biotechnology until its innovative and commercial potential was shown by US NBFs.
But at that point in time both countries were lacking the necessary structures to compete with
the USA. Due to different national contexts the programs for establishing a biotechnology industry
were quite different.
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Cornelia Fraune
The development of new biotechnology shows that the government played a crucial role
in each of the three countries but also that the national contexts and challenges differed completely.
Without the commitment of the government new biotechnology would not have emerged in
one of the countries, at least to its actual extent. The incentive for government support differed
not only in dependence on the national situation but also on international development. Within
the USA the initial incentive for supporting basic science was curing diseases. When the
commercial potential of biotechnology became obvious and other governments discovered
biotechnology as a growth sector, the US government strengthened its commitment. US
biotechnology provided a model but the German and the Japanese governments both had to
implement new structures of public funding, in science as well as in business instead of just
initiating basic research and supporting emergent economic structures. They had to enforce
these reforms not only against traditional routines but also against corporate actors that recognized
the innovative capacity of biotechnology rather late.
Fast breeder reactor development
In contrast to biotechnology, it is of course a truism that the government was the most important
driving force for the development of civilian nuclear energy since different properties inherent
in the technology in question restrained industrial commitment: its military origins, its highrisk potential, its technological complexity, and its high capital intensity (Joppke 1992: 257).
From a technical point of view, it is still not clear if the fast breeder reactor technology completely
failed or if much more research and time is necessary to make it work (Hippel 2010: 12). But
the developmental path of the fast breeder reactor exemplifies that governmental interest in
technological innovation is multidimensional and can vary over time, even more or less
independently from technological progress.
After World War II, fast breeder reactor technology was perceived as an innovative
technology because two developments occurred more or less at the same time. On the one
side, there existed the assumption about an imminent world energy problem. The limited supply
of conventional energy resources such as oil and gas was recognized. Furthermore, access to
these resources was not equally distributed so that different kinds of international dependencies
evolved (Nemzek et al. 1974; Kaiser 1978; Suzuki and Suzuki 1986). On the other side, scientists
thought about the possibility of using nuclear fission to generate electricity and thus to produce
power by research and development independently of fossil resources (Cochran et al. 2010: 89).
The main problem of using nuclear fission as an energy source was seen in the scarcity of fissile
material. Alternative nuclear reactors were only fueled with U-235 which was able to fissile
with slow neutrons. But U-235 made up only 0.7 per cent of natural uranium. Since 99.3 per
cent of natural uranium consisted mainly of U-238, its usage was proposed to increase the raw
material resources. But U-238 is only fissionable with fast neutrons, and although the reactor
configuration that permitted this kind of fission seemed possible it still had to be developed. It
was also recognized that this kind of reactor would be able to produce more fissile material
than it would consume since U-238 would be converted into plutonium-239. Since plutonium239 is fissionable it can replace U-235 after reprocessing as fuel in nuclear reactors (Schulte
1977; Cochran et al. 2010: 89).
Governments hoped for fossil resource independent, uranium-efficient energy production
from fast breeder reactors in order to consolidate or achieve national energy autonomy. That
is the reason why the Japanese government was one of the first to make a strong commitment
to the fast breeder reactor technology in the 1950s. Japan had only limited indigenous energy
resources at its disposal. Consequently, it was highly dependent on foreign sources and was not
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Governmental policies and biotechnology
able to exert influence on a reliable energy supply to a sufficient extent. The fast breeder reactor
technology appeared to allow self-reliance on nuclear power and thus promised to become a
“semi-domestic energy source” (Suzuki and Suzuki 1986: 25; Lidskya and Miller 2002: 127).
Therefore, the fast breeder reactor program became the central element of the governmental
nuclear program. As a result, the public R&D funds for nuclear reactor technology were mainly
allocated to fast breeder reactor technology (Suzuki and Suzuki 1986: 26–27; Suzuki 2010: 54).
In contrast to Japan, the question about energy autonomy was not recognized by either the US
government or the German one as an urgent political problem.4 Furthermore, an immediate
or foreseeable impact of the fast breeder reactor was lacking. These were the main reasons why
both the US and the German government did not pay great attention to this technology although
both funded the basic research and scientists and the nuclear industry were rather enthusiastic
about it5 (Kitschelt 1986: 78).
Beyond national energy autonomy, the governments of the United States, Germany, France,
and the United Kingdom especially were also interested in the fast breeder reactor technology
for export. Within the 1960s it was still not possible to predict technological progress reliably.
It seemed possible to develop a commercial fast breeder reactor within the next decade. Since
there existed a huge international demand for this innovative, science-based technology for energy
production, being the first nation to offer a commercial fast breeder reactor would have yielded
national economic growth and enhanced international competitiveness (Keck 1980: 280).
The first phase of fast breeder reactor technology development for civilian purposes of energy
production can be narrowed down from the middle of the 1940s to the beginning of the 1970s.
From a technological point of view, this phase was characterized by a high degree of uncertainty
since its developmental path was still experimental. From an economic point of view, both the
huge amount of capital to be invested as well as the uncertain prospects of success and profit
impeded business commitment. From a political point of view, the promise of a fossil resource
independent, science-based mode of energy production implicated increasing energy autonomy.
On the one hand, governments appraised the fast breeder reactor as a device for dealing with
the supposed conventional fossil energy resource scarcity as well as with the nuclear one. On
the other hand, they appreciated it as an instrument for achieving international independency;
even governments that had relatively large conventional and/or nuclear fossil energy resources
available were interested in this technology. Due to the huge international demand on
commercial reactors, a kind of design and development race between highly developed countries
existed. These wanted to push their national economic growth and to strengthen their
international competitiveness. Thus, the effects the fast breeder reactor technology would have
brought about concerned vital governmental interests.
In consequence, governments all over the world fostered technological development by
national programs, almost independent from technological progress. Because of politically
highly relevant promises technological innovation was pushed by governments all over the world
although their individual interests may have been different.
Changing situations—changing political priorities
The rise and failure of fast breeder reactor technology took place within a rather short period
of time. At the beginning of the 1970s, the question of energy supply independence became
politically urgent in the oil-dependent countries. The importance of nuclear power as a source
of energy grew significantly. First of all, the US government increased its commitment to fast
breeder reactor technology in 1971 due to the fact that more oil was imported than exported
(Kitschelt 1986: 71). In the aftermath of the first worldwide oil crisis in 1973/74, this
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Cornelia Fraune
development occurred all over the world since fast breeder reactor technology was seen as the
key to deal with energy scarcity (Kaiser 1978: 86). Strikingly, the “rise of the fast breeder reactor
technology” took place at a time when its technological progress was delayed significantly all
over the world. It became apparent that the realization of the theoretically developed fast breeder
reactor technology was even more difficult than imagined (Nemzek et al. 1974; Marth and
Koehler 1998).
Nevertheless, this second phase of fast breeder reactor development is characterized as the
“rise of fast breeder reactor technology” because governmental commitment was intensified all
over the world. At the beginning of the 1970s fast breeder reactor technology was no longer
just a scientific experiment that promised future societal benefits but a technological innovation
that realized technological opportunity6 for solving a present problem (Kitschelt 1986: 87).
Moreover, alternative solutions to the worldwide problem of energy scarcity did not exist or
had not been perceived. In consequence, the governments aimed at accelerating technological
progress by increasing their programs.
Paradoxically, the rise of fast breeder reactor technology induced its failure as innovative
technology. Just as it was being implemented as innovative technology, its decline was caused
by political decisions. Due to its international implementation as an innovative technology to
meet national problems of independent and reliable energy supply, the concern about nuclear
weapons proliferation came to the fore again: “While for most countries, fast breeders and
reprocessing were now necessities of rational energy policy, to others they appeared to be a
direct path to nuclear hell” (Kaiser 1978: 86). The government of the USA especially feared
to lose its control of nuclear weapons proliferation implemented by the Treaty on the NonProliferation of Nuclear Weapons. As a result, the decline of fast breeder reactor technology
was introduced by the US government from the middle of the 1970s.
In 1977, the US government abandoned its fast breeder reactor technology program. Against
the background of international dispute about proliferation and growing public resistance
against nuclear power,7 a group of experts was asked to review the entire question of basic
nuclear options. As one result, the so-called Ford-Mitre Study rejected the assumption of scarcity
of uranium supply, concluding that the uranium supply would not draw to an end within the
next thirty years (Kaiser 1978: 94–95). Against the background of this result the argument of
the scarcity of uranium supply was paid off by the question about its access. Since the USA
have a large proportion of the world’s uranium share at their disposal, the question about access
was not that important for them (Kaiser 1978: 95).
International interdependency
Although the situation of energy supply in regard to uranium as well as in regard to conventional
energy resources was different in many other nations, the decision of the US government to
abandon their fast breeder reactor technology program made an international impact. Facing
growing domestic opposition, foreign governments were put under pressure by the decision of
“the biggest oil consumer in an increasingly petroleum-scarce world” to review their own nuclear
policy (Kaiser 1978: 94–95). But the discussion was still dominated by technological uncertainty.
On the one hand, significant technological progress had not yet been reached. In consequence,
other nuclear energy technologies such as the Light Water Reactor were more efficient in regard
to energy supply as well as cost effectiveness. On the other hand, scientists were still convinced
of future benefits. Moreover, several countries had already invested large sums in the
development of fast breeder reactor programs (Kaiser 1978: 96).
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Governmental policies and biotechnology
But significant technological progress did not appear. Furthermore, several nuclear incidents
stirred up political and public resistance, especially the Chernobyl accident. Finally, the fast breeder
reactor technology lost its priority in many countries and became insignificant as innovative
technology for solving the problem of an independent and reliable energy supply. Nevertheless,
in Germany, as in other countries, a kind of political reinsurance was maintained due to prevailing
technological uncertainty (Marth and Kohler 1998: 606). Moreover, fast breeder reactor technology is still discussed internationally as one possible option for nuclear waste disposal—the
focus is now on burning plutonium instead of breeding. But this debate is also still accompanied
by political concerns about proliferation as well as technological uncertainty (Cochran et al.
2010). Thus, the history of the development of fast breeder reactor technology shows that
government policies have a great impact on technological development. Fast breeder reactor
technology development was enabled by governments as long as they perceived this technology
as an instrument to serve their own vital interests and to deal with societal challenges; while
conversely, they withdrew public funding when they no longer expected that their interests
would be served or when the interests opposed to fast breeder reactor technology became more
Technological innovation as object of political decision making
Originally, fast breeder reactor technology was developed for military purposes within the United
States in World War II. The extension of this technology to civilian purposes—energy
production—was fostered by scientists who gained some public funding from the US
government. Due to the capital-intensive investments needed for its development, fast breeder
reactor technology was never pursued by business actors alone. Thus, political commitment
was needed in order to implement the fast breeder reactor as innovative technology. Overall,
fast breeder reactor technology promised to be a fossil-resource independent, science-based mode
of energy production at a time when the scarcity of fossil resources was supposed to be an urgent
problem. Consequently, an international tendency to national nuclear programs emerged.
Significantly, not only the national programs but also the individual national interests differ.
The Japanese government was mainly focused on the possibility of decreasing international
dependency on foreign fossil resources and increasing the means to a reliable energy supply.
Thus, the Japanese government was mainly interested in the application of the fast breeder reactor.
With the exception of the first oil crisis, this does not apply to either the US or the German
government. For them, this technology was more important as an instrument to get economic
and technological advantages in international competition. But in all three cases, vital
governmental interests are at stake. Thus, governments push technological innovation by public
funding. Strikingly, this governmental support is carried out relatively independently from actual
technological progress.
By contrast, governmental support is revoked if governmental interests lose their priority.
The United States abandoned their fast breeder reactor program because their concern regarding
proliferation became more relevant than technological supremacy in international competition.8
Due to the abandoning of fast breeder reactor technology by the United States the German
interest also decreased since the most important competitor had opted out. Moreover, increasing
public protests challenged its legitimacy. Finally, the development of the fast breeder reactor
was not triggered by technological invention but by government policies. It had been and still
is at the mercy of governmental support. Thus, as long as from a technological point of view
“the breeder reactor dream is not dead but . . . has receded far into the future” (Hippel 2010:
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12), a recovery of the fast breeder reactor induced by governmental decision seems to be
The case studies on biotechnology and fast breeder reactor development both confirm the crucial
role of government policies within innovation processes. Its policies pave and shape the way
for innovation, especially in those cases where science and business are not enabled or motivated
to initiate innovation processes due to the uncertainty inherent in innovation (Mazzucato 2011:
65). It is even a characteristic of innovation that “it breaks away from old routines or standards
rather than perfecting existing ones” (Mintzberg 1983: 210). But both case studies have also
shown that government policies are indeed a necessary but not a sufficient condition for
Innovation is a bottom-up rather than a top-down process. Techno-scientific progress cannot
be induced top-down by government but evolves from bottom-up initiatives (Hilpert 1991b:
98). But government policies enable innovation by implementing or reinforcing institutions
necessary for these bottom-up initiatives. Structural conditions given in each country differ. In
some they might be beneficial for innovation, in others not. The government is the only actor
that is qualified to create these conditions. Furthermore, governmental policies are relatively
independent from actual technological progress. If a government favors a certain innovation
because its promises are highly relevant for political interests then it pushes the technology in
question more or less disregarding the hitherto existing development. Thus, government
policies might be costly and inefficient. Of course, this kind of government support depends
on the relevance of actual political interests and alternative technologies available to meet these
interests and thus might change due to context dependent developments.
Furthermore, an international interdependency of innovation exists. The main reason for
this interdependency is of course international competition. Governments are interested in the
participation of their economy in new or emerging markets in order to accelerate economic
growth. In this regard, they fear competitive disadvantages if they have lagged behind. Thus,
governments observe each other and compare themselves. If and to what extent government
policies converge depends on the similarity of actual national interests. This is not only true for
successful innovations but also for failures. The decision of a government to abandon the support
for a certain technology can also trigger a domino effect. Beyond economic concerns these
considerations are also true for welfare.
This diversity of interests as well as their dynamism promotes the crucial role of the
government within innovation processes. In contrast to science and business the commitment
of the government is not limited to one purpose. Science is not prepared to induce innovation
processes since cutting-edge research continuously requires new structures in order to generate
new knowledge. In order to satisfy this demand, budgetary resources are required that science
is not able to generate from own resources (Gläser and Lange 2007). Industry on the other hand
would be in a position for inducing innovative processes. But such budgets will be provided
in expectation of attractive profits. Otherwise the characteristic of a capital-investment—to create
added value—will not be fulfilled. Regarding both technologies, biotechnology and fast breeder
reactor, industry did not provide starting capital because it was rather uncertain whether
economically exploitable results would be created.
Finally, the crucial role of the government in innovation processes is not reduced to agreeing
“Knightian uncertainty” (Mazzucato 2011: 70) in innovation processes but to pave and shape
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Governmental policies and biotechnology
the way for innovation in dependence on its diverse and dynamic interests. Thus, the government
influences innovation not only defensively but also proactively (Mazzucato 2011: 70); but the
variety of measures a government can take in order to exert this influence has not been
systematically analyzed yet. For a better understanding of new technologies and processes of
innovation, the contribution of governments through enabling policies has to be identified.
Furthermore, particular attention has to be paid to the interplay between government, science,
and the reference industry.
New biotechnology has to be differentiated from “modern” biotechnology that refers to the discovery
and application of micro-organisms and their application in fermentation processes (Barben 2007b:
In 1971, the interest of the Japanese government was aroused by the Council for Science and Technology
which identified biotechnology as an important research area. But policy initiatives did not occur until
the 1980s (Yuan and Dibner 1990: 19).
In this regard, three legislative initiatives are important: the Bayh–Dole Act (1980), the
Stevenson–Wydler Technology Innovation Act (1980) and Federal Technology Transfer Act (1986)
(Bozeman 2000: 634; Loeppky 2005: 268, 276). The Bayh–Dole Act permits universities and small
businesses to patent inventions resulting from R&D funded by the federal government. The
Stevenson–Wydler Technology Innovation Act regulates the granting of title to inventions made by
federal laboratories and private research institutes collaboratively. The Federal Technology Transfer
Act enables national laboratories to conclude cooperative R&D agreements and licensing agreements
(Bozeman 2000: 634; Mowery and Sampat 2004: 237).
This might be surprising since the USA was the first nation that developed the fast breeder reactor.
Clementine, the world’s first fast-neutron reactor, went critical in 1946. In 1953, the EBR-I reactor
was the first reactor that produced more plutonium than it consumed uranium (Cochran et al. 2010:
Due to the proliferation threat, the government of the United States supported the innovative fast
breeder reactor technology only to a limited degree and was rather preoccupied with the control of
international development (Kaiser 1978: 84). It (as well as the French government) got room for
maneuver concerning their own supply of weapons-grade plutonium since they “already controlled
other technologies that supplied plutonium in sufficient quantities for their military program” (Kitschelt
1986: 79).
This description follows Walker’s definition of innovation: “the creation and realization of technological
opportunity” (Walker 2000: 833).
The rapid growth of nuclear power programs as a result of the first oil crisis caused growing public
resistance against nuclear power (Kitschelt 1986: 87).
Of course, technological progress was delayed, but this was already the case during the first oil crisis
when the US increased their program.
In the aftermath of the Fukushima accident in 2011, the Japanese energy policy was also critically
reviewed against the background of international developments such as the renewable energy policy
in the USA and the EU (Shadrina 2012: 77).
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