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This article is about the historical era. For the comic-book miniseries, see Atomic Age (comics)

A power plant using atomic energy to generate electricity.

The Atomic Age, also known as the Atomic Era, is a phrase typically used to delineate the period of history following the detonation of the first nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan in 1945. Although nuclear science existed before this event, the bombing of Hiroshima represented the first large-scale, practical use of nuclear technology and ushered in profound changes in socio-political thinking and the course of technology development.


World War II

The phrase "Atomic Age" was coined by William L. Laurence, a New York Times journalist who became the official journalist for the U.S. Manhattan Project which developed the first nuclear weapons.[1] He witnessed both the Trinity test and the bombing of Nagasaki and went on to write a series of articles extolling the virtues of the new weapon. His reporting before and after the bombings helped to spur public awareness of the potential of nuclear technology and in part motivated development of the technology in the U.S. and in the Soviet Union.[2] The Soviet Union would go on to test its first nuclear weapon in 1949.


The phrase gained popularity as a feeling of nuclear optimism emerged in the 1950s in which it was believed that all power generators in the future would be atomic in nature. The atomic bomb would render all conventional explosives obsolete and nuclear power plants would do the same for power sources such as coal and oil. There was a general feeling that everything would use a nuclear power source of some sort, in a positive and productive way, from irradiating food to preserve it, to the development of nuclear medicine. This would render the Atomic Age as significant a step in technological progress as the first smelting of Bronze, of Iron, or the commencement of the Industrial Revolution.

This included even cars, leading Ford to display the Ford Nucleon concept car to the public in 1958.


In the 1960s, the term became less common, but the concept remained. In the Thunderbirds TV series, a set of vehicles was presented that were imagined to be completely nuclear, as shown in cutaways presented in their comic-books.

Many experts predicted that thanks to the giant nuclear power stations of the near future electricity would soon become much cheaper and that electricity meters would be removed, because power would be "too cheap to meter."[3]

Lew Kowarski, a former director of CERN, recalled even such references as "Atomic cocktail waitresses".

The term was initially used in a positive, futuristic sense, but by the 1960s the threats posed by nuclear weapons had begun to edge out nuclear power as the dominant motif of the atom.

1970 to 2000

In 1973, the United States Atomic Energy Commission predicted that, by the turn of the century, one thousand reactors would be producing electricity for homes and businesses across the USA. But after 1973, reactor orders declined sharply as electricity demand fell and construction costs rose. Many orders and partially completed plants were cancelled.[4]

By the late 1970s, nuclear power was faced with economic difficulties and widespread public unease, coming to a head in the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, both of which affected the nuclear power industry for decades thereafter.

After 2000

In the 21st century, the label of the "Atomic Age" connotes either a sense of nostalgia or naïveté, and is considered by many to have ended with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, though the term continues to be used by some historians to describe the era following the conclusion of the Second World War. The term is used by some science fiction fans to describe not only the era following the conclusion of the Second World War but also contemporary history up to the present day.

Because of increasing concerns over global warming, environmental pollution, and other perceived problems facing the world, the perception of the dangers of nuclear technology has diminished somewhat within society as a whole. Some advocates have suggested, in fact, that nuclear technology could be a solution to global warming as well as the looming oil crisis that threatens the world's supply of energy. They argue that nuclear technology has progressed sufficiently in recent years that many dangers of the past are no longer an issue with modern techniques. Indeed some nations such as China are vastly expanding their nuclear power programs with many other nations reopening national debate on the subject.[5]


The Atomic Age in pop culture

See also


  1. ^ Gonzalez, Juan (9 August 2005). "ATOMIC TRUTHS PLAGUE PRIZE COVERUP". New York Daily News. "Laurence, the only journalist the U.S. government permitted to witness the bombing of Nagasaki, is also the reporter who first coined the term "Atomic Age." ... Soon after the attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Laurence launched his Times series, where he extolled the bomb and sought to discredit other accounts about effects of the bomb."  
  2. ^ On this incident, see David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy, 1939-1956 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994): 59-60.
  3. ^ "Too Cheap to Meter?". Canadian Nuclear Society. 2007-03-30. Retrieved 2007-06-17.  
  4. ^ Stephanie Cooke (2009). In Mortal Hands: A Cautionary History of the Nuclear Age, Black Inc., p. 283.
  5. ^ "Nuclear Power in China". Australian Uranium Association. May 2007. Retrieved 2007-06-17.  
  6. ^ a b Asimov, Isaac Atom: Journey Across the Sub-Atomic Cosmos New York:1992 Plume Page 92
  7. ^ a b Asimov, Isaac Atom: Journey Across the Sub-Atomic Cosmos New York:1992 Plume Page 125
  8. ^ Asimov, Isaac Atom: Journey Across the Sub-Atomic Cosmos New York:1992 Plume Page 95
  9. ^ Asimov, Isaac Atom: Journey Across the Sub-Atomic Cosmos New York:1992 Plume Page 154
  10. ^ Asimov, Isaac Atom: Journey Across the Sub-Atomic Cosmos New York:1992 Plume Page 182
  11. ^ Too Cheap to Meter?:
  12. ^ Samuel Upton Newtan. Nuclear War I and Other Major Nuclear Disasters of the 20th Century 2007, pp. 237-240.
  13. ^ Tierney, John (2007-02-27). "Findings; An Early Environmentalist, Embracing New 'Heresies'". The New York Times (The New York Times Company). Retrieved 2008-03-23.  
  14. ^ Besant, Annie and Leadbeater, C.W. Man: How, Whence, and Whither? Adyar, India:1913 Theosophical Publishing House Pages 456-457 On page vii of the Introduction it is stated that the information in the book is a result of Leadbeater's inspection of the Akashic records.
  15. ^ Brosterman, Norman Out of Time: Designs for the Twentieth Century Future New York:2000 Henry N. Abrams, Inc. Page 79 shows Howard M. Duffin's 1939 painting of his impression of what an atomic power plant would look like; see “The Atomic Age” pages 78-83
  16. ^ The Bikini Turns 60:
  17. ^ Animation World Magazine Issue 3.1, April 1998 — The Making of Our Friend the Atom
  18. ^ The End:
  19. ^ Bachelor Pad: The New Digest of Atomic Age Culture:

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary


Proper noun

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Atomic Age


Atomic Age

  1. The era, starting in the 1950s, during which nuclear energy was developed, and in which it was thought that all energy would be provided by such sources.


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