From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
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.
The phrase stems from the feeling of nuclear optimism in the 1950s in which it was believed that all power sources in the future would be atomic in nature. The atomic bomb ("A-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 radiating food to preserve it, to cooking it with radiation (microwave oven), to the development of nuclear medicine. This would render the discovery of nuclear power as significant as the first smelting of Bronze or Iron, or the Industrial Revolution.
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."
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. In 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 reactor explosion in 1986, both of which effectively killed the nuclear power industry for decades thereafter.
As such, the label of the Atomic Age now connotes either a sense of nostalgia or naïveté, and is considered by many to have ended with the fall of the Soviet Union, though the term continues to be used by some historians and some science fiction fans to describe the era following the conclusion of the Second World War.