Something a bit older:
Expanding on Thande's "Atomic Bleed" concept.
In this world, atomic physics works a bit differently than OTL. (Our Time-Line, for those who don't recall). It is in fact an Atomic Power-punk world where it is possible to directly transmute matter – almost any sort of matter - into electromagnetic radiation (heat, light, high-energy photons…) without any nasty side-effects in the forms of radiation, and without the need for heavy equipment. The first “atomizers” came into existence by the 1930s, and by 1945 the Chicago Project had made them practical sources for industrial power production. By 2011, you have an atomic powered car, your house has its own atomic power source, and for the flashy rich, you can even get an (somewhat bulky) atomic cigarette lighter.
It is however much harder to build an atomic bomb. Radioactives still decay and keep the inside of the planet toasty warm, and fusion works as OTL , but an atomic chain reaction of the sort that produces a fission explosion of the Smash Hiroshima variety is much harder than OTL – and without the second, you can’t get the first kind of bomb. So the cold war was fought with conventional weapons – of course, that depends on what you mean by “conventional…”
US demobilization was less thorough than OTL after WWII, since there was no bomb to deter Stalin: the extension of the draft and the bloody nature of Operation Downfall helped elect Dewey in ’48, not so much on a peace platform as on a “squash the Japanese harder” platform.
(Downfall was bloody, but not as bad as worst-case scenarios: it didn’t require militarily taking all over Japan After several more months of mass fire-bombings, starvation, and the Soviet overrunning of all Japanese positions on the mainland, it wasn’t that long after the US forces stormed aboard after the heaviest naval bombardment in history that the Japanese threw in the towel).
European NATO members also retained larger armies than OTL and German re-armament started no later than OTL - which pissed off the Soviets something fierce, since they lacked the OTL certainty that if Germans started something again, they could at least be reduced to radioactive ash in short order. The Soviets recognized the Berlin government as the “legitimate” German government shortly after West German re-armament began. (Berlin, essentially indefensible, had been horse-traded away in exchange for the Soviets getting out of Iran and not demanding an occupation zone in Japan. All of Korea, however, ended up in the Soviet zone.)
The Fall of China was received just as poorly as OTL: with fears of a Red Tide flowing across Asia sans a nuclear deterrent, the US was more willing to lend an ear French calls for help in Indochina. Of course, huge numbers of US troops near the Chinese border did not make Mao happy, leading to the Indochina War of 1951-1954: a Crusade to Liberate China was called for by many, but putting enough troops in the field to counteract Chinese numbers while at the same time adequately defending Europe proved a bit more than most Americans were willing to pay for: in the end, a peace was negotiated that left a Chinese-supported Red government in charge in the north. Ironically, this would save South Vietnam in the long run: the Chinese wanted someone more puppety than Ho in charge, and anti-Chinese rebellion and government illegitimacy would keep the North Vietnamese government too weak and distracted to successfully take over the south, although thanks to the porous borders of Indochina guerilla activity would continue to plague the South for a generation.
Ultimately, without atomic weapons geography was decisive. In areas around the Eurasian perimeter Soviet and Chinese forces were always at an advantage, and geopolitical theorists spoke significantly about Mackinder’s Pivot Area and the consequent multiplication of Soviet strength. On the other hand, US naval superiority meant that the US could project force much more easily any place separated by sea from the Red heartland, or even coastal nations not immediately contiguous to the Soviets, while the US heartland remained relatively invulnerable to attack in spite of Soviet investment in long-range bombers and investigations of chemical and biological alternatives to big booms.
US forces crushed Castro’s rebellion. US support for France and the UK in the Suez Crisis did not topple Nasser, although it led to him becoming a lot closer and more dependent on the USSR than OTL: the Suez Canal, however, along with the Sinai, remains in Israeli hands to this day. The US army would keep busy in anti-insurrectionary activity from Guyana to Fiji over the next couple decades, eventually leading to considerable blow-back at home.
The Soviets, of course, were happy to play tit for tat. A pro-US government in Turkey was toppled with Soviet backing, Red terrorist groups and nationalist rebels everywhere received arms and training and money, and Egypt forcibly absorbed Libya with Soviet support.
The Middle East never gained as much importance as OTL: by the 60s, atomic power plants had become powerful and cheap enough petrol (and coal, for that matter) was rapidly becoming obsolete as a power source in the developed world. For a while oil continued to be useful for automobiles, etc., but the first atomic car rolled out of the factory by 1967 (although they didn’t become cheap enough to compete with internal combustion models until the late 70s). OPEC never formed.
Of course, this was somewhat disruptive. Many fortunes were lost, and some desperate oilmen even sponsored disinformation campaigns spreading rumors of entirely imaginary “atomic dangers.” (It is believed to be one of these campaigns that started off the “planetary destruction” myth that still exercises some of the kookier minds, persuading those ignorant of the numbers involved in E=MC2 that the matter annihilators would before long consume the whole earth). The British coal mines were closed down as quite unprofitable a decade earlier than OTL, and by a Labor government to boot. Third-world nations that OTL boomed because of oil did no such thing, although some ended up better off in the long run for it.
Further disruption came later from the development of the home power plant around the same time the atomic car showed up: the whole power industry, with its vast array of dams, power plants, transmission wires, etc. found itself becoming obsolete.
Science fiction took off in different directions from OTL. WWIII was still a fear, of course, but the imagined futures were ones of Island America valiantly standing off Red Eurasia, or perhaps battlefields presided over by giant atom-powered war machines shooting rays of high-energy photons at each other, perhaps assisted by atom-powered robot industry. Apocalyptic scenarios, although they existed, were usually either from natural causes, alien invaders, or if human-made, the result of biological warfare. The grim mutant-populated radioactive wasteland which showed up so frequently OTL was hardly known. The “atomic horror” movies of OTL had no equivalent, and many children were sadly deprived of giant radioactive spiders, grasshoppers, etc. Science fictional horror movies usually involved out of control robots or grim Brave New World-ish science-dictatorships. Alien invaders got a look in.
Famine and chemical weapon ravaged Japan never developed the giant monster movie as a metaphor for atomic warfare. It did, however, invent the flesh-eating zombie genre.
Building a spaceship was somewhat complicated by the fact that a heat source alone does not make a rocket: some form of propellant is needed, and initially a powerful EM source combined with some sort of propellant to be explosively heated was no great improvement on the highly reactive chemical fuels employed by the German V-program. As technique improved, it was possible to produce much higher-energy photons, gammas and x-rays, but then the problem of shielding became a paramount problem. Combined with the lack of an atomic payload to be carried along, rocket research progressed initially pretty slowly at first: the first object into orbit was a purely scientific package launched by a fairly conventional US rocket in ’64, which excited no great Soviet space race.
The Photonic Rocket was developed into the 70s: shielding was by necessity massive, and due to the low inherent momentum of even extremely high-energy photons it was not until the 2000s that photonic rockets were built that could reach orbit without “conventional” chemical rocket assistance. But once orbit was reached, a Photonic Rocket could accelerate at fairly low G for months, its fuel any sort of matter converted into pure energy, before the shielding layers became compromised: by the 80s, Mars and Venus were only weeks away, and even the outer planets only months…
Of course, as SF biggie and increasing crank Larry Niven has pointed out, any sufficiently powerful propulsion system is also potentially a weapon: beside the interesting notion of taking a Photonic Rocket out to the edges of the solar system and then accelerating it all the way back in (to some other country than the one it took off from), any sufficiently intense source of collimated and aimed high-energy photons makes for a dandy weapon. Laser beams exist in this world, and have all the interesting applications of OTL: it’s just that they come in second best as weapons.
The first x- and gamma-ray weapons were developed in the 70s as a by-product of the effort to create a space drive that could yield a useable acceleration while at the same time not frying the passengers or melting the propulsion system itself. The “death ray”, as the TV and papers dubbed it, was initially a huge, clumsy mass of machinery with a beam too poorly focused to blister paint at over a couple kilometers. Initially disparaged as “more dangerous to the user than the enemy” or “most effective when dropped on the enemy", such weapons would be refined over the next decades into a practical battlefield weapon, and in the 80s, began to be occupy the new battlefields of space…
Atomic-powered aircraft were developed that could fly around the globe multiple times without refueling. Cities at night grew even brighter and more luminous as the flow of cheap energy saw no end.
The Soviet-US battle for global dominance continued inconclusively in the 60s and 70s. China split with the USSR, a little later than OTL: the bloody Sino-Soviet clash of the mid-70s gained the Soviets extra defense in depth by “liberating” Xinjiang and clearing some millions of Chinese from NW Manchuria, but also pushed the Chinese into the US camp. The US interventions in Africa and Asia on the side of colonial powers, while achieving some successes (the last Emperor of Ethiopia wasn’t overthrown until 1999), in the end was also counter-productive, making most of Africa look to the Soviets as the champions of self-determination, and making the Civil Rights era even hairier by providing a goodly supply of black veterans radicalized in bloody brushfire wars in Africa.
The US pretty much threw in the towel on third-world intervention on the side of colonial powers when the third French-Algerian war broke out in 1972, although US forces still kept their hand in Latin America (the revolutionary government of Honduras had a life neither long nor glorious).
By 1980 a massive line of fortifications extended from the Baltic to the Adriatic, now studded by the hulking turrets of photonic cannon, behind which millions awaited for the call to action neither side ever quite dared to proclaim. The economies of the west, never hit by an oil crisis, continued to chug along: not perhaps as fast as some would wish, but generally the future would be better than the past, even if society was more militarized and “scientifically managed” than some would like. The discontents of the Civil Rights era had given birth to a new generation of Angry Youth in the west, who wanted a freer, more open world, and an end to the endless waiting for a war that seemed more inevitable the longer it was put off: indeed, since the war was expected to be very terrible but not world-ending, like WWII only with spaceships and death rays and atomic-powered tanks, some sub-divisions of Angry Youth found themselves on the same page (to their mutual annoyance) with elderly reactionaries calling for bringing things to a proper Gotterdammerung sooner rather than later.
Iran fell into civil war. Soviet forces moved in “to restore order.” A frightened Iraqi regime invited in US forces. War loomed, and somehow was avoided. Pro and anti-war riots broke out in the streets. A famed musician preached peace and was shot down. Life went on, somehow.
In the meantime, a space race of sorts had finally come into existence. American and then Soviet Astro/Cosmonauts landed on Mars. Bases were begun on the Moon. Unmanned (and too radioactive for human pilots) ships were sent to take pictures of the outer planets. The British experimented with using photons to create a secondary reaction with hydrogen that would presumably put ships into space without rocket assist. The explosions remained sub-nuclear, but a lot of seawater was rendered rather radioactive. The French New Directorate put its first man into space. A multitude of satellites armed with photonic rays sprouted in orbit, some to cripple the enemy’s observation and communications ability, others to shoot down the satellites which were supposed to shoot down satellites, ad nauseum. Some scientists suggested that it would soon be possible to build photon sources powerful enough to destroy ground targets even through the thickness of the atmosphere, perhaps bringing in an era of “mutually assured destruction.”
The household atomic power plant became more common. A politician announced an new “era of the common man.” Economics in the West slid to the right, but less radically than OTL in a world where the 70s had been less of a disaster. A China increasingly tied to that same West began to allow for more capitalism and free enterprise. A bloody revolution overthrew the Saudis, who hadn’t had the cash to keep everyone bribed, and an Islamic Republic established. Nobody paid too much attention.
The Soviet economy wheezed, made grinding noises, partly seized up. Poland rose up in revolt, which was crushed with some difficulty. In the west, calls for war were heard again. The United Nations try to issue a general condemnation of the use of high-powered x-rays against civilian populations, which was vetoed by the USSR.
The Sixth Arab-Israeli war broke out. Chemical weapons were used extensively by Syrian and Egyptian forces. The Israelis retaliated with the first use of a photonic rocket used as a kinetic weapon, taking out a large chunk of downtown Cairo. Soviet forces in the Mediterranean launched air and missile attacks in support of their allies. The Iranian army and local Soviet forces mobilized on the Iraqi border. (Turkey may have been to some extent in the Soviet camp, but they did _not_ want to get involved). The US issued a demarche. It had been almost half a century, and memories of the Great Patriotic War and its horrors had faded, gained a sepia tint. The Soviets, seeing their military edge evaporating in the face of a broadening tech gap, with their economy stagnant since the early 80s, saw once chance for changing the “balance of forces.” The Red Army turned west.
It is now 2011, some two decades since the outbreak of WWIII. The world is at peace, more or less. The Russian Federal Union still is grumpy and resentful about its truncated territory, but there’s no Hitler-figure in sight, and the relatively warm glow that came into US-Chinese relations on the basis of their common victor status hasn’t entirely faded in the chill winds of economic competition. The Third World (most of it, anyway) is doing somewhat better than OTL thanks to continued cheap power, although infrastructural problems remain a pain. And all the major powers have signed onto the treaty banning duplication or development of the Annihilation Bomb.
Economics are a bit “leftier” here: without a collapse of the New Deal system as serious as the 1970s OTL (although economic growth rates from the late 40s on were a bit lower overall due to more conventional weapons spending), the inevitable neo-liberal lash-back was less successful, and a more balanced stand between “libertarianism plus welfare for bankers” and “100% taxes on income above middle class” has so far been maintained, although Ayn Rand has her fans here too. (She wrote more fiction here, but her basic viewpoint was unchanged by butterflies). Also, the USSR failed to fall of its own weight, but was defeated in war, although lots of revisionist historians have pointed out its “feet of clay.”
Oil prices remain low, but it is useful enough as a chemical feedstock that it is now bringing moderate prosperity to some countries which have a load of it.
With an essentially unlimited fuel source, people drive even more than OTL: one of the last achievements of the Soviets was the building of a decent superhighway system as part of their “nuclear cars for everyone” hearts-and-minds-of-disgruntled-citizens program, and the annual Lisbon-to-Vladivostok road rally is a popular event. The mobile home is doing very well, since home reactors now make them self-sufficient in terms of energy. Although nuclear powered, *Amtrak is just as crappy as OTL.
Space Science Marches On. People live on the Moon, Mars, and some of the more interesting asteroids, and manned expeditions have reached every planet save Uranus (some felt it was a bit redundant after Neptune, and various space program leaders feared the inevitable comments about any Mission to Uranus). Using a special high-density annihilation beam, and a like-unto-the-Orion pusherplate/shield, atomic rockets are now launcheable sans chemical-rocket assist, although they make such a mess of the surroundings that they are usually launched from the sea. Other designs use a high-intensity photon beam from ground level to “push” from the ground, while others stick with re-useable chemical boosters that just put the ship into a quite low orbit from which it can gradually build up escape velocity under low (and less dangerous) thrust.
Space budgets are in danger, though. The public is growing bored with space again – the thrill from the discovery of a genuine advanced ecosystem under the ice of Europe lasted longer than that from the discoveries of the Martian deep-rock *bacteria or Venus’s biochemically utterly alien microscopic cloud-life, but it has faded, and people grumble about how much the space program costs when there are so many poor people on Earth and how the taxpayer is expected to subsidize people living in smelly holes on the Moon and Mars, etc., etc. I mean, it’s not like there are red or green Martians out there, youknowwhatImean? Frequent news of Astronaut X or Y dying or being horribly injured in some sort of accident of the kind which are inevitable while trying to build cities on airless or nearly so worlds doesn’t help.
This is more of a problem with the US than in France or Russia or China, where a continued space presence is closely tied up with a sense of national prestige, but even the Russian government pays attention to public sentiment: and the US is the biggest spender by a large margin. There are now some 20,000 people living in the three major Moon cities, and the locals are pushing hard to raise the money now to make the cities mostly self-sustaining: they don’t know when the money flow may be cut to a trickle. Mars, where the population has yet to reach 3,000, is in some ways ahead of the game – the permafrost is pretty widely distributed, so they don’t have to travel all the way to a polar crater to get ice.
The nuclear generator repair man has replaced the plumber in public consciousness as the “grossly overpaid guy who can’t be bothered to pull up his pants.”
The war ended in a negotiated peace after the overthrow of the Party by a secret police-army alliance: given just how unpleasant the last 14 months had been and the fact that the Russians were now starting to thrown mutated anthrax and other such jolly goodness into the fight, the Allies decided to let the Russians off with a western border only a little to the east of their pre-1939 one. After a great deal of internal unpleasantness, the new Rodina Party came to lead the Russian Federal Union: it even allowed for the existence of other parties after 2007, although none of the 42 or so new parties that has emerged in the last four years has yet managed to win a national election. Although to some extent still satellites, the south Central Asian states were given enough independence in 1998 to allow for immigration restrictions (the Party was rather concerned as to how much faster the Muslims were reproducing than Slavs). Since 1993, the economy has slowly lurched towards reform, aided by larger internal markets, although the lack of oil dollars remains a bit of a problem.
China is doing quite well: although suffering heavy human losses in their liberation of national territory, there are always more Chinese, and as OTL a move towards a more capitalist economy has paid dividends. China now includes not only all the territories of OTL, but also Mongolia, Tuva and the Trans-Amur district. (Taiwan remains an annoyance). A Chinese astronaut has recently turned the first symbolic shovel-full for China’s first base on the Moon (the cameras were then removed and the Japanese-made atomic-powered robots started the _serious_ work).
Japan, mashed up worse than in OTLs WWII and without the economic infusion of the Korean and later Vietnamese wars (although it did get some from the Indochina/China war) was slower to take off economically, and is a “leftier” nation than OTL. Still a first-world nation and a leader in high tech and robotics, nobody has ever worried about the Japanese taking over the global economy: OTOH, they avoided the ridiculous bubble and crash of OTL, although with a shrinking population their economy is only toddling along right now. In a world with no atomic weapons, Japan’s fairly formidable “self-defense forces” have come under increasing scrutiny by their Asian neighbors, making a continued close alliance with the US vital for national security.
There is especially a great deal of worry about the Koreans, united under a neo-Stalinist regime less psycho than that of the Kims (the Soviets wanted more pliable leadership) but also better on economics (things are grey and grim but nobody is starving), with a formidable industrial arm and their own space program: propaganda about the Japanese Menace is common on both of the legally allowed television stations.
Vietnam remains divided: violent protests against Chinese dominance are increasing in the North.
In advanced nations, greatly shrunken power grids, rendered obsolete by home and business atomic reactors, have in some cases been broken up for scrap or repurposed for the transmission of information or in some cases used as the scaffolding of odd art, or even the frameworks of on-the-cheap dwellings. Rivers run energetically past non-existent dams, and arctic wilderness remains untroubled by wellheads and pipelines. On the other hand, not all is roses with the environment: strange chemicals still run into rivers and off fertilized fields or rise above factory chimneys. The environmental message is one of poisoning and toxins rather than devastating climate change. Science and technology is ahead of OTL in some fields, behind in others, some disciplines losing funding that went to perfecting nuclear technology, and although there is an internet, it is less developed than ours, being still in a state equivalent to the dear old days of Geocities and crudely hand-coded webpages.
India, somewhat out in the cold with the fall of the USSR and the continued cordial US-Chinese relationship, is looking to closer economic and political ties with the European Union to strengthen its international position, and since 1998 has moved to join its (somewhat dysfunctional) space program with the EU one. It won the last war with Pakistan handily, and in a bit of victor’s largesse traded some solidly Muslim chunks of Kashmir for some religiously mixed areas in south Pakistan. (The Pakistanis, now three coups and counting since the war, don’t seem very grateful).
Red Iran, never a very stable creation, fell apart during the war, and is divided between a vaguely democratic Azeri state (with a big irredentist claim on Russia), and a rather unpleasant Shari’a state (run by religious-minded ultra-nationalists rather than by Mullahs), with some pieces obtained by Greater Baluchistan and others by Iraq. (Pakistan has had some hard times of its own). Afghanistan, which avoided a Soviet invasion, is actually not doing so badly and promises to soon overtake and surpass Morocco in terms of standards of living. Turkey remains lefty one-party, but is following a Chinese-type path to modernization.
Iraq bit off a bit more than it could chew and is now run by the (Shi’a) majority.
The Middle East is generally poorer than OTL and historically more closely tied to the USSR, although the Egyptians have turned vigorously away from Socialism and have followed over the last decade a program of vigorously capitalistic development, which has led to rapid economic growth in the last few years and a rapid widening of economic inequality in a formerly fairly egalitarian society. There has been a lot of grumbling, but since the government is actually seen as doing something rather than the OTL late Mubarak stagnation, there has as yet been no explosion. Morocco and Yemen are similar to OTL, Algeria remains kinda fascist-kooky, Tunisia is doing OK for a change, and the Palestinians have taken over Jordan.
Although there are Muslims fundies a-plenty in this world, the Wahhabi strain is rather less influential with a much poorer Arabia. Indeed, the Islamic Republic of Arabia’s increasing influence in Yemen is widely seen as a good thing, since the current Party of Righteousness leadership run a pretty tight ship compared to chaotic, using-up-their-water-supply-on-quat Yemen. (Unlike OTLs Al-Queda, the Party has a low opinion of chaos for the sake of chaos).
Given the level of damage taken by Germany during the Soviet or Third World War, the European Union is dominated by the technocratic French Second Directorate (the extended third-world struggle of this world had some interesting blow-back in French politics) which is one reason the British (along with the Finns) remain only associate members of the Union. Although there were no nuclear weapons, and photonic beams didn’t excite too much radiation, the Soviets used chemical weapons with a lavish hand, especially on their long, slow, bloody retreat from the Rhine to Smolensk. Much of Germany and central Europe remain chemically contaminated to the point where almost nobody will live there. Clean-up is slowly proceeding, but it is projected to take another couple decades to finish the job. (West of Russia, anyway: the Russians have made it clear they will clean up their own messes without outside aid).
War damage and a long history of heavier military spending means that Europe is poorer than OTL in 2011, if still first-world: a common currency as OTL has been established, and perhaps more importantly in the long run, the French have been able to force through the creation of the sort of European-wide financial institutions that the Euro of OTL lacks. It is a more militarized, regimented continent than OTL (especially in France), and has a bit of a chip on its shoulder re America’s currently seemingly effortless superiority. America (which still sends quite a bit of aid money to slowly improving Germany) grumbles about ingratitude.
The new De Gaulle statue near Paris is alarmingly large.
Although about 2/3 of all Germans still live in the safe (or safe-er) parts of their country, some 22 million live abroad for the time being. Fearful of their own reputation as easily assimilable, the Germans Diaspora stick close to their own kind and are as ostentatiously German as possible, which gets rather annoying after a while.
Some weirdos and the terminally stubborn do inhabit even the most chemically contaminated areas, wearing rubber suits, elaborate filtering systems, and carefully cleaning off upon entering their residences: as toxicity levels have dropped, some of them may actually reach old age. The so-called Free City of Magdeburg, populated mostly by the weirdo element, exists outside the authority of the German government, indeed outside the authority of any government, and is sometimes referred to as “the sphincter of Europe.” There is occasionally call for NATO troops to move in and clean up the place, but nobody wants to get involved.
The Second Battle of the Rhine is commemorated with a park in one of the areas of the battlefield still chemically contaminated, where the grass still comes up in odd colors and shapes here and there. Wearing protective clothing, visitors can see the world’s largest collection of wrecked military hardware, shattered, melted and fused into weird candle shapes, from the humblest nuclear-powered one-man photon cannon to the 2500 ton Soviet “Peter the Great” mobile fortress, which on soft soils had, like a shark, to remain in motion continuously, due to its tendency to sink into the ground when off road.
Poland was compensated for the damage taken in WWIII with territory taken from the USSR, and extends somewhat further east than in 1938. Economic recovery has been steady, and currently there are negotiations towards joining the EU, although some feel the country is still too poor – as well as having too many internal ethnic squabbles – to make a proper member.
The British Commonwealth still has some juice, cheap energy and a future without worries of nuclear annihilation allowing the dying British Empire a bit more time and allowing for some more intelligent adjustments. There is a fairly successful all-Commonwealth space program based in Australia and a more closely tied military and scientific policy, and the Brits run rather more little flecks and spots of territory here and there.
Africa, torn by longer and bloodier struggles for independence and multiple military interventions, has somewhat different borders and somewhat wackier politics than OTL, although thanks to energy prices remaining low and food prices low(er) the overall standard of living is somewhat higher. The dictator of the Sahel Union is presently embarked, with Chinese help and atomic-powered mining machines, on an ambitious green-the-Sahara project that will probably clean out some millions-of-years-old water deposits in a couple generations. Greater South Africa is doing fairly well, the odd alliance between conservative Blacks and conservative Whites helping to drive its expansionist foreign policy, which has led to increased grumbling from the international community.
Resource shortage problems are less severe than OTL, the energy costs at least of recycling or extracting low-grade ores being rather lower. Water-short nations are engaging in ambitious desalination programs. The one real worry is the increasing cost of those rare earth elements needed for the construction of modern atomic power generators, since demand is always increasing (everyone in China now wants their own atomic car). Matter transmutation on a large scale is being experimented with, the energy required to transmute and separate elements being rather less than the energy released by a generator over the lifespan of its components. The one problem is the large amount of useless radioactive side-products in the process, which in industrial production would be far too numerous to eliminate through atomic disintegration (what would one do with all that energy?), but promoters of the technology aren’t too worried: I mean, how hard could it be to get rid of a little radioactive waste?
French Technocratic, Catholic “Managed Democracy” has struck a bit of a cord in Latin America, and closer ties between the EU and Brazil, Argentina, etc. are being forged. The US is not quite sure how to respond: it knows how to deal with Communist subversion in “its” hemisphere – ton of bricks style – but trying to overthrow French-friendly governments would probably be seen as more than just a faux pas. Brazil has its own space station, and the Argentines are using techniques developed for space in pursuing an ambitious program of colonization in Antarctica.
Mexico is a whole other kettle of fish. Mexico, with its oil a lot less valuable, took a somewhat different and more turbulent political path after the early 70s, and the current government’s distinctively socialist look has alarmed people in Washington, who are currently doing a lot of behind-the-scenes funding of the opposition. (The CIA’s faith in its cleverness is probably pride-going-before-you-know-what). A further irritant in current US-Mexican relations has been the government’s ruthless persecution of the drug gangs, which although fairly successful in crushing threats to public order in the north, has also led some of the major drug gangs to relocate their bases of operation north of the border…
Canada is a bit more populous than OTL, the Great White North being a bit more habitable with electrical heating being cheap under even the most strenuous weather conditions, not to mention such conveniences as electrically heated pavements in big cities to keep the snow off. (The new ultra-high-power snow blowers? Scary). There has been some talk lately re the possibility of finally getting Hudson Bay cities out of “miserable wilderness: the freezening” territory by enclosing them and heating them with nuclear power: after all, if the Americans and other nations are colonizing the Moon, why can’t we colonize the northern bits of our own country, which at least has breathable air?
The United States, although receiving some damage from chemical-weapons bearing planetary-range bombers and kinetic rocket attacks, got through the war with relatively light civilian casualties, and remains Number One Nation: in some ways more than OTL due to a poorer Europe, in some ways less (the President after all is in no position to end civilization in the northern hemisphere, no matter how nutty). It is a somewhat more technocratic, pro-science nation than OTL (the peculiar right-wing dislike of actual expertise is not duplicated here, perhaps due to a lack of global warming to deny) although in the aftermath of WWIII there has been a sharp turn against “military science” and military solutions to political problems. (In most cases. There is a loud minority loudly proclaiming that the present Russian regime is Weimar-soon-to-be-Nazi Germany, and our failure to rack up a few tens of millions more deaths then will inevitably lead to the deaths of billions later). The Black Redeem Africa movement has sent tens of thousands to Africa to try to help repair the damage from colonialism and the Struggle Vs Leftiness – and rather more to the US government’s displeasure, raised mercenary armies to help keep in place/topple genuine/”parasitic” African governments.
The music is all different, popular culture having gone off in different directions post-50s without OTLs fear of nuclear annihilation or the third rail of the Vietnam War (not that a dozen lesser military interventions did not polarize and confuse): there have been multiple “youth revolts”, often in parallel and in mutual antipathy. (Those chaps with the shaved heads dyed in bright colors? Those are the multicultural lefties, and they’re armed for bear.) There has been a bit less movement to the sun-belt (for similar reasons to the larger number of people living in Canada), and the South isn’t quite so politically powerful, although in presidential races it’s still considered stupid to not have one of the President/Vice-President pair come from the south. Libertarianism, however, is more powerful than OTL: with each family with their own atomic car and atomic power source (and occasionally atomic cigarette lighter) how can one not feel a bit of a Heinlein-ian Autonomous (and Very Competent, no doubt) Individual?
The world is at peace. But people worry. The 2000s saw a new development in the field of atomic energy: with new breakthroughs in disintegrator field technology, it became possible for the first time to release all the energy in a sizeable chunk of matter at once, rather than the slower “bleed” of previous models. And of course someone had to test it out: in 2008, a square mile of Alaskan wilderness rose in superheated vapor. The Annihilation Bomb had been born.
The prospect of a device capable of vaporizing cities at one blow, combined with the immediate availability of delivery devices, scared the dickens out of a lot of people. The major powers closed ranks for once and pushed for a global ban on the development of such weapons, and bribed or bullied all their associated nations into signing on: pretty much everyone has signed on, but people are being very troublesome about the inspection procedures needed to make sure everyone actually lives up to their legal obligations. People worry, and some do more than worry: the US is secretly looking into developing an orbiting nuclear-powered laser or photon cannon capacity to shoot down any missiles in flight, and other nations are working on their own little projects…
 Although for obvious reasons nobody is bothering to try and build a fusion reactor. (Indeed, most engineers dismiss the notion as requiring containment techniques almost impossible to achieve).