Science: New Harness for Atoms

Ever since the dawn of atomic power, scientists have dreamed of converting nuclear energy directly into electricity. The potential is clear from a simple statistic: a single pound of uranium 235 has the same fuel energy as 1,500 Ibs. of coal. But present atomic power plants must go through costly intermediate steps: nuclear fission produces heat, the heat is used to generate steam, the steam drives a turbine, the turbine generates the electricity.

Last week the AEC's Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory announced a major step toward direct conversion: an experimental "plasma thermocouple" no...

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