The Atomic Era represents the conclusion of the Industrial Age and the beginning of the transformation into the Technical Age. The Era denotes the pinnacle of traditional macro industrialization and provides an often precarious gateway into the Information Era. While dominated by mechanical processes and internal combustion, civilizations of this Era begin to develop electronic computational devices and often harness fission energy.
New non-metallic materials emerged during the Atomic Era, most notably plastics and specialized composite materials. Plastics, though of low durability, were light, cheap and infinitely formable through polymerization and inexpensive reusable molds. Plastics served as substitutes for natural-based woods and fibers for many consumer and industrial goods. Composite materials, from fiberglass to advanced aircraft and armor formulations, provided a lower weight substitute for metals in many applications, though often at increased cost or lower strength, limiting their usability.
Advanced alloys of aluminum, titanium and other metals continued to develop in specialized arenas, including aerospace. Technology to produce limited quantities of amorphous metals became available during the Atomic Era, but cost and complexity limited them to extremely specialized applications.
The Atomic Era takes its name from the development of fission energy. While internal combustion and other hydrocarbon chemical sources of energy continued to advance and remained cost-effective during the period, bulky fission reactors became viable alternatives for power generation stations and large vessels. Shielding and cooling requirements prevented large-scale deployment of smaller fission generators, limiting utility, though large nuclear-thermal spacecraft applications were possible. Waste products produced by nuclear fission reactors remained a difficult long-term issue.
Early fuel cells and solar arrays were developed during the Atomic Era, but costs and low efficiencies limited their adoption. Chemical batteries continued to improve, providing higher energy storage and rechargeability and seeing utility in many smaller industrial and consumer devices.
The development of the laser lead to specialized industrial uses in communications and electronics for low-powered visible and infrared devices.
Experiments in fusion power generation barely yielded short-term breakeven results and did not provide a viable method of energy production, though fusion-powered explosive devices were possible to manufacture.
Hydrocarbon-based internal combustion vehicles of improved performance and lower cost dominated ground transportation during the Atomic Era, with battery or fuel cell vehicles remaining hopelessly inefficient and expensive for general use.
Rail networks continued to improve with the adoption of more efficient hydrocarbon turbines or grid-powered electric locomotives, but in regions with good road networks, internal combustion trucks competed favorably with both hydrocarbon and electric train networks for the transport of goods.
Sea transport remained dominated by hydrocarbon-powered vessels, though nuclear reactors became a viable alternative for large long-range vessels requiring high power, especially military ships, submarines or icebreakers. Hydrofoil or hovercraft vessels provided high speed travel for short-haul routes, but delivered marginal cost savings in most applications. Nuclear powered submarines allowed long-term underwater travel at great depth.
Air transport was revolutionized by the adoption of the jet engine, allowing affordable transcontinental travel by the public. Specialized jet aircraft were capable of exceeding the speed of sound, but cost and noise factors limited such usage to military or research craft. Other specialized jets allowed short or vertical take-off and landings, though at considerable cost in overall fuel efficiency. Atomic-powered aircraft proved too bulky and hazardous to be practical. Powered lighter than air vehicles become increasingly inefficent when compared to jet aircraft and generally only persist in niche or luxury roles.
Rotary helicopters allowed vertical take-offs and short ranged transport without the need for extensive airfields, allowing access to remote locations.
The first space-capable rockets were developed during the Atomic Era. Solid and liquid-fueled expendable rockets allowed for the establishment of satellite networks for communication and observation and allowed for the first tentative steps into space, including short-ranged crewed expeditions and small orbital space stations. Without the use of nuclear thermal or nuclear pulsed rockets, crewed interplanetary travel was impractical, though primitive robotic interplanetary probes were viable. Costs prohibited all but large nation-sized organizations from conducting space exploration and development.
Radio technology improved during the Atomic Era, allowing transcontinental audio transmissions and regional radar detection of airborne objects, providing for air defense and weather forecasting. The transmission of video images over both radio transmissions and specialized cable networks brought television to the homes of most consumers, providing information and entertainment.
Electronic computers emerged during the Atomic Era and the development of transistor-based electronics allowed a period of rapid development from their room-sized vacuum-tubed machines to microprocessor-based portable units. Programmable computers provided simple computational power and limited robotic controls, suitable for repetitive or rigidly orchestrated tasks.
Chemical medicine continued to evolve during the Atomic Era, allowing for further introduction, standardization and dissemination of chemical remedies including antibiotics and vaccinations that greatly lowered the death rate from many microbial diseases. Chemical treatments somewhat lowered the death rate for a variety of cancers, but often with severe side-effects.
The development of advanced x-rays devices, magnetic imagers and less intrusive probes allowed for greater success rate for diagnostic and surgical procedures. Improved surgical and anti-rejection techniques allowed transplantation of organs, though expense remained high and success remained limited.
Reconstructive surgery, advance mechanical prosthetics and electronic hearing aides became available during the period, as did corrective eye surgeries.
The obvious military advancement during the Atomic Era was the creation of the fission bomb and the subsequent development of the fusion bomb. These devices were capable of widespread devastation, but remained difficult to produce and caused considerable collateral damage at local, regional and even transcontinental scales.
Improvements in transportation technologies provided for a variety of delivery methods for conventional and nuclear munitions, including long range bombers, intercontinental missiles, orbital launchers and attack aircraft. Ground vehicles became more mobile and better protected, allowing for rapid movement of armored units delivering considerable firepower.
Improved communications and information technology allowed the development of the first guided munitions, providing active feedback to limit the error range of explosive weapons.
Atomic Era infantry had effective portable radio communications, lighter automatic weapons and bulky, marginally efficient body armor. Helicopter and transport planes supplemented ground vehicles to provide rapid deployment to the battlefield.
The Atomic Era provided industrial consumer goods to large segments of the population, allowing transport in personal internal combustion vehicles, entertainment through television networks and a variety of personal electronic devices, including portable radios and video recording systems. Air transport became affordable enough for business or recreational use, allowing frequent continental and occasional transcontinental travel for many individuals. Nearly all homes were connected to the telephone and electric grid and had access to broadcast radio and television signals. Reliance on simple electronic housekeeping and entertainment devices became nearly universal.
Medical care improved life expectancy from sixty to eighty years, though it had little affect on life span. Elective surgical procedures could correct or enhance some cosmetic issues and provide better vision in some individuals.
Near universal access to mass media allowed for the perpetuation of geographically dispersed political units up to the planetary scale, but also necessarily limited diversity in large societies, encouraging the adoption of a common language and converging customs. Access to information, both transmitted and written, continued to become more affordable, allowing for both a greater dissemination of knowledge and a lower entry cost for alternative ideas. Depending on society structure and goals, these factors could either strengthen or weaken existing societies. The potential for political instability combined with the destructive power of atomic weapons often left Atomic Era societies precarious.
Employment in manufacturing industries began a steady decline from forty to twenty percent of the workforce, overcome by mechanization and efficiencies. Agricultural employment continued to decline, eventually stabilizing at two percent of the working population. An Atomic Era society required a population exceeding one million to develop and was often dependant on access to hydrocarbons and other raw materials to perpetuate itself.
Improved access to health care allowed for societies to choose between a continuing population explosion or a decreased birthrate. The development of medical solutions to decrease female fertility allowed for a stabilizing population in a society with compatible cultural mores.
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by Geir Lanesskog, All Right Reserved