Science: Atoms for Horsepower?

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"How long will it take to develop an atomic power plant of 100,000-kilowatt capacity which could compete with coal selling at $15 a ton?"

The fascinating question was put last week to eight experts by Harvard's President Scientist James B. Conant. The experts, gathered for an atomic-energy symposium at the National Association of Manufacturers Congress in Manhattan (see BUSINESS), had answers almost as varied as any eight men-in-the-street.

¶ Major General Leslie R. Groves, military boss of the Manhattan Project, was the most pessimistic: a matter of decades, rather than years.

¶Tennessee Eastman's James C. White: "Many Days."

¶ Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corp.'s Dr. George T. Felbeck: 15 to 25 years.

¶ Monsanto Chemical Co.'s Dr. Charles A. Thomas and Hydrocarbon Research Inc.'s President P. C. Keith: ten years, if scientists get busy right now.

¶ Du Font's Dr. Crawford H. Greene-wait: pure speculation —perhaps three years, perhaps ten, perhaps longer.

¶ Princeton's Dr. John A. Wheeler: three to ten years.

¶ New York Times science reporter William L. Laurence: it depends. . . .

The experts were generally agreed I) that atomic energy would be first used under special conditions rather than as a replacement for present electrical power plants, and 2) that the heavy metal protecting shields which must accompany atomic power rule out its early use in automobiles and airplanes. Large ships and possibly locomotives may be able to carry the load.