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"The whole problem of energy sources is going to be solved by little solutions, not by some big new piece of technology that does everything. We got into this crisis by believing that we had one big piece of technology that would do everything (oil)."
- Gregory Benford

Nuclear Shears  
  Device uses nuclear power to accomplish basic shop tasks.  

Mallow had swung the steel sheet onto the two supports with a careless heave. He had taken the instrument held out to him by Twer and was gripping the leather handle inside its leaden sheath.
"The instrument," he said, "is dangerous, but so is a buzz saw. You just have to keep your fingers away."
And as he spoke, he drew the muzzle-slit swiftly down the length of the steel sheet, which quietly and instantly fell in two.
There was a unanimous jump, and Mallow laughed. He picked up one of the halves and propped it against his knee, "You can adjust the cutting-length accurately to a hundredth of an inch, and a two-inch sheet will slit down the middle as easily as this thing did. If you've got the thickness exactly judged, you can place steel on a wooden table, and split the metal without scratching the wood."
And at each phrase, the nuclear shear moved and a gouged chunk of steel flew across the room.
"That," he said, "is whittling - with steel."
He passed back the shear. "Or else you have the plane. Do you want to decrease the thickness of a sheet, smooth out an irregularity, remove corrosion? Watch!"
Thin, transparent foil flew off the other half of the original sheet in six-inch swaths, then eight-inch, then twelve.
"Or drills? It's all the same principle."
They were crowded around now. It might have been a sleight-of-hand show, a comer magician, a vaudeville act made into high-pressure salesmanship. Commdor Asper fingered scraps of steel. High officials of the government tiptoed over each other's shoulders, and whispered, while Mallow punched clean, beautiful round holes through an inch of hard steel at every touch of his nuclear drill.
"Just one more demonstration. Bring two short lengths of pipe, somebody."
An Honorable Chamberlain of something-or-other sprang to obedience in the general excitement and thought-absorption, and stained his hands like any laborer.
Mallow stood them upright and shaved the ends off with a single stroke of the shear, and then joined the pipes, fresh cut to fresh cut.
And there was a single pipe! The new ends, with even atomic irregularities missing, formed one piece upon joining.
Mallow talked through and around his thoughts, "Test that pipe! It's one piece. Not perfect; naturally, the joining shouldn't be done by hand."
From Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.
Published by Doubleday in 1951
Additional resources -

I found the quote on Winchell Chung's excellent Gear page.

Compare to the toaster from Accidental Flight (1952) by WF Wallace, the Slaver disintegrator from Ringworld (1970) by Larry Niven, the Lasgun from Dune (1965) by Frank Herbert, and the atomic torch from One Against the Legion (1939) by Jack Williamson.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Foundation
  More Ideas and Technology by Isaac Asimov
  Tech news articles related to Foundation
  Tech news articles related to works by Isaac Asimov

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