"The foreign market for power reactors may represent a $30 billion market." This was but one of the glowing promises held out by Congress' Joint Committee on Atomic Energy this week, in the first complete official survey on the peaceful uses of atomic energy. Even though the report was hedged with plenty of ifs, it still put the U.S.-and perhaps the rest of the world-at the brink of a startling revolution in electric power, agriculture and industrial production.
Biggest handicap to progress in the peaceful uses of atomic energy, said the report, is Government-imposed secrecy. It recommended that the Atomic Energy Commission "remove all reactor technology from the restricted data category, including such areas as fuel element fabrication and processing techniques," and keep secret only the military applications of atomic energy. As it is, private enterprise lacks the information on which it can make intelligent decisions, e.g., a utility might invest heavily in a nuclear-fission power plant when AEC is sitting on the facts about a better system.
Guiding spirit of the top-level, nine-man citizens' committee that put together the report was New Mexico Publisher (the Santa Fe New Mexican) Robert M. Mc-Kinney, 45, who was tapped for the job because of his longtime friendship with Senator Clinton Anderson, Joint Committee chairman. A corporation director (Rock Island Railroad, International Telephone & Telegraph) and cattle breeder (Aberdeen Angus) but no scientist, Bob McKinney set his task forces to work ten months ago, organized 15 discussion groups of specialists, launched 50 special studies, interviewed 327 top experts in science, industry, agriculture, medicine.
The report punctured such dreams as the atomic automobile (it would weigh 100,000 Ibs.), the atomic airliner (shielding passengers would add too much weight) and the atomic locomotive (no better than a diesel). But in the field of industrial application, the atom's prospects seemed almost limitless. Almost every major U.S. tobacco company, the report stated, already uses a radioisotope gauge to check cigarette quality, and at least 350 companies use radioisotopes to look for flaws in welded joints and metal castings. By investing $1,000,000 yearly in radioisotopes, U.S. industry is saving $100 million yearly in production costs. Production managers have discovered that $100 worth of radioactive cobalt-60 will do the work of $20,000 worth of radium. By 1980 atomic radiation may also provide 10% of U.S. industry's "process heat," e.g., to refine ore into metal, make glass, crack oil, etc.
Industry by industry, the McKinney committee ticked off the biggest changes to come.
Atomic Power. The seven nuclear power plants now abuilding or blocked out "on blueprints will produce less than 800,000 kw. by 1960 v. some 160 million kw. from conventional plants. But by 1965 atomic power could be competitive in cost with conventional plants, and by 1980 atomic-power capacity may soar to 135 million kw., 20% of the nation's total. The panel's forecast for atomic-power equipment sales from 1960-80: $27 billion. However, the overall U.S. demand for electric power will climb so fast that conventional power plants will also expand.