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The Nuclear Age

Government-suggested fallout shelter design, 1950sPOSTSCRIPT--THE NUCLEAR AGE

Joe 1, the first Soviet atomic test, August 29, 1949.The end of the Second World War brought with it a whole new set of issues and problems, not least of which was the dilemma of  what to do with the nuclear genie now that he had been let out of the bottle.  In the United States, and around the world, news of the atomic bomb created among the public a sense of shock and awe. Manhattan Engineer District officials took certain obvious steps such as slowing down the program from its wartime pace, but the assembly of additional nuclear weapons did quietly continue

In the immediate aftermath of the war, top government officials focused on the possible impact of the bomb on postwar international relations.  The first hesitant steps toward developing a policy on international control of the atom began before the end of the war.  Following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the novelty of the bomb as a factor in international affairs and doubts about the trustworthiness of the Soviet Union produced uncertainty on how to proceed in the search for a policy.  In November 1945, the United States, Britain, and Canada agreed to approach the Soviet Union about negotiating an agreement on international control at the new United Nations. Negotiations eventually collapsed when issues of national security and national sovereignty made agreement impossible.  

Ivy Mike, the world's first thermonuclear test, November 1, 1952.The American nuclear weapons program was officially transferred into civilian hands with the creation in 1946 of the Atomic Energy Commission.  That same summer, the United States conducted a high profile series of atomic tests known as "Operation Crossroads."  Also beginning in 1946, the United States gradually began to realize, largely through the VENONA decryption of Soviet intelligence cables, how the Manhattan Project had been penetrated by communist spies.  Atomic espionage and the failure of atomic diplomacy combined with a host of other, even more significant, factors to produce a "Cold War" between the Soviet Union and the United States.  By the time the Cold War and its attendant arms race had come to an end, other nations also had developed nuclear weapons.  As the world approached the end of the twentieth-century, attention increasingly turned to preventing any additional nations from acquiring the atomic bomb.  

To learn more about any of these events associated with the nuclear age since 1945, choose a web page from the menu below.


Sources and notes for this page.

Portions of the text for this page were adapted from, and portions were taken directly from the Office of History and Heritage Resources, publication: Terrence R. Fehner and F. G. Gosling, Origins of the Nevada Test Site (DOE/MA-0518; Washington: History Division, Department of Energy, December 2000), 34.  "Atomic" and "nuclear" are basically synonymous.  Much as the term "pile" gradually gave way to "reactor," "atomic" was gradually replaced by "nuclear" during the later years of the Manhattan Project and afterwards.  The drawing of a suggested fallout shelter design is courtesy the Federal Emergency Management Administration (via the National Archives).  The photographs of the "Joe 1" Soviet test and the "Ivy Mike" American thermonuclear (hydrogen bomb) test are courtesy the Federation of American Scientists.

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