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The Atomic Age, also known as the Atomic Era, is the period of history following the detonation of the first nuclear weapon, The Gadget at the Trinity test in New Mexico, on 16 July 1945, during World War II. Although nuclear chain reactions had been hypothesized in 1933 and the first artificial self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction (Chicago Pile-1) had taken place in December 1942, the Trinity test and the ensuing bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II represented the first large-scale use of nuclear technology and ushered in profound changes in sociopolitical thinking and the course of technological development.
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While atomic power was promoted for a time as the epitome of progress and modernity, entering into the nuclear power era also entailed frightful implications of nuclear warfare, the Cold War, mutual assured destruction, nuclear proliferation, the risk of nuclear disaster (potentially as extreme as anthropogenic global nuclear winter), as well as beneficial civilian applications in nuclear medicine. It is no easy matter to fully segregate peaceful uses of nuclear technology from military or terrorist uses (such as the fabrication of dirty bombs from radioactive waste), which complicated the development of a global nuclear-power export industry right from the outset.
In 1973, concerning a flourishing nuclear power industry, the United States Atomic Energy Commission predicted that, by the turn of the 21st century, one thousand reactors would be producing electricity for homes and businesses across the U.S. However, the "nuclear dream" fell far short of what was promised because nuclear technology produced a range of social problems, from the nuclear arms race to nuclear meltdowns, and the unresolved difficulties of bomb plant cleanup and civilian plant waste disposal and decommissioning. Since 1973, reactor orders declined sharply as electricity demand fell and construction costs rose. Many orders and partially completed plants were cancelled.
By the late 1970s, nuclear power had suffered a remarkable international destabilization, as it was faced with economic difficulties and widespread public opposition, coming to a head with the Three Mile Island accident in 1979, and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986, both of which adversely affected the nuclear power industry for many decades.
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