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The Issue

I am currently working on a world that is supposed to take place around the 1980s, in terms of parity with Earth, technology-wise. There is a lot of magic mixed into it as well.

The real issue comes with the fact that I don't want to have nuclear technology in my world, which normally should exist in the time period in which my world's current era is set. The problem, then, is that I don't have any concrete idea of how to exclude this specific kind of technology from my world's current era.

What I want to achieve

It is not about making nuclear technology impossible to build. Instead I want to make the nuclear materials so incredibly rare that it is extremely unlikely to build them with 1980s technology.

The solution should consider the following points

  • My world's society should have a hard time building such technology. It is not about them not knowing but thinking other technology is superior or building nuclear technology is uneconomical
  • The have only a limited idea of the dangers of nuclear materials
  • Nuclear materials are still extant in the world even if there are fewer of them
  • A society with advanced technology should have been able to build nuclear technology in the past

Possible solutions I currently have

  • My society may have different priorities and therefore thought of nuclear technology as not useful

(I don't really know if this is realistic)

  • My world simply has less nuclear material and therefore makes it harder to build nuclear technology

(I don't know how possible this is with an earth-like planet and if this would make nuclear technology completely impossible)

  • An ancient and highly advanced civilization in my world's distant past just used up most of the available nuclear materials

(I don't know if a civilization could even do this without destroying the planet)

Additional Information

Since there have been some questions I decided to clarify some things. Should there be some further information needed I will try to provide it here as well.

  • Magic in my world is basically in conflict with physics therefore it can only bend its laws but not contradict them or turn them off as doing so is so energy intensive that one might as well not even try

  • Magic can help with making nuclear materials more useful for nuclear technology but doing so is very difficult and can absolutely ruin things if anything goes wrong and the current era is unlikely to have this kind of magic anyway

  • There has been an ancient civilization in my world's past that used nuclear technology; while they were highly advanced they still had to use nuclear materials meaning any solutions should not have made it impossible for them to have done so

  • while my world's history is very similar to ours in regards to how the world ended up looking, their route in getting there is very different from ours so maybe that should help in the regard that there might be some key events missing for nuclear technology though it should ideally not disturb other disciplines too much

Note: I wrote this late at night and English is not my native language so please excuse any grammar mistakes or grammar errors.

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    $\begingroup$ If you have magic, shouldnt it be possible to simply say there is a global "spell" which changes the probability of nuclear decay on the planet. Such that basically no decay takes place on the world itself. $\endgroup$
    – ErikHall
    Mar 10 at 22:01
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think it's possible to have 1980s tech and only a limited understanding of nuclear physics. By the 1980s a significant amount of technology was built upon knowledge around how very small particles interact; which means people would almost certainly know that something like a nuclear reactor or bomb was possible if they're at that level of technology. $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Mar 11 at 0:32
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget. you're world building - so 'a world with less nuclear material' is something you can get away with. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 1:51
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    $\begingroup$ We do it not because it is easy but because it is hard. So make it easy then with magic until 1980s becomes a completely dystopian world. $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Mar 11 at 6:45
  • $\begingroup$ OT-64 SKOT Yeah they definitely know of the existence of particles. It is more about limiting their knowledge about the potential of using nuclear materials for technology. It is also about having limited knowledge about how to safely deal with nuclear materials. And besides that the history of my world is different from our own to some extent. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 8:20

17 Answers 17

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Radioactive decay of Uranium is why the Earth still has a molten core. That molten core is why we still have tectonic action, volcanoes and an atmosphere. When the core solidifies "too much", then tectonic action stops, volcanoes stop and the solar wind strips the atmosphere away - like what happened to Mars. This means you can't eliminate radioactivity, nor interfere too much in your story, without turning the Earth into a dead world.

One simple solution might be to have plutonium have a large cross section (such as for 240Pu). If all isotopes of Pu had that large of a cross section, then implosion bombs (the vast majority of them) would be impractical (basically, they would start to react/explode long before a critical mass could be assembled). Gun-type nukes (similar to the Hiroshima bomb) can be made from Uranium. Due to cross-section issues, no plutonium nukes could be made that way as they would start to fizzle, heat up and they would blow apart "long" (hah, we're talking of periods measured in nanoseconds) before they could start the physics thing of fissioning. 240Pu works just fine as a fuel for nuclear reactors - it can't be used to make weapons.

Before the late 1950s, it was believed that Uranium deposits were rare, and much effort was spent encouraging prospectors to find more Uranium. Perhaps your ancient civilization consumed most of the easily discovered deposits. It turns out that Uranium is everywhere. For example, Uranium in granite runs about 5-15 parts per million. This is not economically viable to extract.

As others pointed out, the Manhattan Project was founded because the Allies were convinced that the Germans were working on such a project. The Nazi effort ended due to a combination of 4 forces. Firstly, the research council only permitted research projects that would produce results within a short time period - short enough to affect the length of the war - with long-term projects delayed until after the war (this also delayed jet propulsion until it was too late to matter). Secondly, the leading German theoretician, Werner Heisenberg, miscalculated the mean free path in Uranium, which was "how far will a neutron travel in Uranium before it collides with a nucleus" (calculating the MFP of 238U rather than 235U), thinking that a critical mass of Uranium would be thousands of tons (and not 52 kg), also miscalculating the amount of Uranium contained on Earth (so there might be enough U on Earth to make up to 5 bombs). Thirdly, each project competed with the other projects. Finally, the science was called "Jewish Physics" and it was politically abhorrent.

If Roosevelt was unconvinced by Einstein, or if it got started later, the Manhattan project could have been delayed to the point where no bomb had been built before the end of the war. The project was fabulously expensive, and the only project costing more money was the B-29 project, without which there would have been no aircraft large enough (at that time) to deliver a weapon. Many histories indicate that Japan was unwilling to surrender unconditionally and that when the Soviets entered the war against Japan, that was when they finally gave up ("It took the Allies 4 years to make that bomb, it will take them 4 more years to build the next bomb"). Or perhaps several of the atomic spies were uncovered and too much effort was expended trying to "secure" the research facilities (even the Japanese government had spies in Los Alamos).

Your story might have WW2 ending sooner (perhaps one of the many attempts to assassinate Hitler was successful), and there being large public trials of the huge amounts of money wasted on that project. The most significant "secret" was just how simple a nuke is, and that it can be built.

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    $\begingroup$ Definitely a lot of good ideas. Perhaps much for my current worldbuilding project but i think i can get some good ones out of here. Definitely the part of mining out easily available nuclear materials is especially useful. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 17:19
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    $\begingroup$ Also my world might look like the 1980s in style but it has a very different history and WW2 did not really happen in the way it did in real life. There was long peace period up until around 105 years from my worlds current events. The world back then was still in the 1900s technology wise. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ "Radioactive decay of Uranium is why the Earth still has a molten core." A little bit of magic / artistic licence makes that issue go away; then just assume that there is no/negligible amounts of Uranium/Plutonium on this world. $\endgroup$
    – MikeB
    Mar 12 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ Concerning the heat from Uranium inside the Earth, it's not just uranium but also thorium and potassium-40 that generate heat; the breakdown is about 45% from thorium, 40% from uranium, and 15% from potassium-40. There's a large amount of leftover primordial heat as well. I don't think it's implausible that a world without uranium could still have plate tectonics — you could probably hand-wave it for the purposes of a story. $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelSeifert A world without uranium would run out of the primordial heat faster. Or maybe the opposite. The uncertainties are pretty large :D Ultimately, I'd say the simplest answer would be "there are no nuclear weapons in my world". It doesn't really need justification - nuclear weapons are monumentally stupid and barely weapons, and strategic bombing in general seems to be a complete waste of time, effort and life (despite continuous attempts by strategic air advocates to justify it). In our world, it also hamstrung nuclear power by forcing plants to produce nuclear weapon materials. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Mar 13 at 10:25
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Remove the incentives

Fissile materials are far too plentiful in the Earth's crust for anyone to use them up. So, instead you have to remove the incentives for developing fission technology.

Nuclear fission technology was developed because there was a need for them:

  1. Beat the bad-guys (Germany, Japan) to the punch

  2. Discourage the other super-power from using them

  3. Make energy

Hence, you essentially need to remove the conditions that lead up to WWII, to prevent the conflict from happening.

Also, you need to find a way to tap that magic and use it to generate primarily electricity, secondarily some kind of high density portable fuel, to replace gasoline and diesel.

Once you have done that, there is almost no reason to develop nuclear fission technology other than as a curiosity. Add a bit of discouragement in the form of some accidents (think Windscale gone really bad), that cements anti-nuclear sentiment already in the 50s instead of the 70s, and you are good to go.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer regarding magic being able generate electricity is already a thing in my world. Basically Oil is in my worlds the remnants of ancient magic. Compared to our world it's a much more efficient fuel source because of that. The only thing i need to figure out is how the use it exactly to generate electricity in power plants. $\endgroup$ Mar 10 at 22:48
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    $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock surely in the same way we do irl? I.e burn it to produce steam and turn a turbine $\endgroup$
    – M S
    Mar 11 at 3:14
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    $\begingroup$ MichaelK yeah boiling water should work i only initially had no idea if it needed to different from what we do in our world. I also am not really very knowledgeable in the technical side so thank you for your suggestion. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 8:07
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    $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock Yes, if your magic can make steam under pressure, then you are done. Also note that your "magic" is more or less just technology at this point, as per Arthur C. Clarke's maxim: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic" and its corolloary: any sufficiently understood magic is indistinguishable from technology. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelK
    Mar 11 at 8:17
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    $\begingroup$ I planned to make for my worlds fossil fuels efficient enough that they would probably overshadow renewable energy sources. Ofcourse this process is not sustainable due to pollution but that is exactly the point i want to make with my world. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 11:32
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Make Enriching impossibly difficult

All the other answers essentially have an element of 'People will be nice if there's no WW2' - A notion which I don't think is entirely founded.

Whilst WW2 definitely provided a good reason for accelerating Nuclear Physics - the work from the likes of Rutherford (NZ Represent!) pre-dated this - as for the 'no one knew the dangers':

“some fool in a laboratory might blow up the universe unawares”

Rutherford - in 1905.

And as for potential for Energy:

a pint of uranium could drive an ocean liner from London to Sydney and back

Soddy - in the 1900s (from various Lectures)

So - predating both World Wars - Physicists had theorized the potential for Nuclear power both as a Destructive force and as a productive force.

Which means I disagree with the other answers - So how to achieve your goal?

Well, we are going to have to do some fudging of Isotopes - currently the radioactive Isotopes of Uranium and Plutonium are heavier (IIRC) than their non-radioactive counterparts - with extra Neutrons in their nucleus causing the instability (I think) - and the way to get fissile material is via a Centrifuge to separate out the heavier radioactive Uranium/Plutonium from the lighter inert forms.

If we break this process: either by making the Radioactive and non-radioactive Isotopes have the same atomic weight (might break physics) or make centrifugal separation not work (might also break physics) - we can still have the fundamental idea behind Nuclear physics - but without a practical way to get enriched fissile material.

For bonus points - you could have that using a particle accelerator - you are able to get teeny-tiny amounts of fissile material - but not anywhere sufficient amounts for a Bomb/Reactor.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer. So regarding the knowledge of nuclear materials i think that yes my world would probably know something about it. It is more about limiting their knowledge of it to not do anything that could actually work. Or limiting their knowledge to such extent that they view nuclear technology as inferior to other technology. As for the later part yeah that would probably break the physics of my world. Do you think there is a way to make the available nuclear materials more difficult to use than in our world like maybe they are mixed with other materials or something similar. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 8:13
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    $\begingroup$ U-235 (the fissile isotope) is lighter than U-238 (plain ordinary non-fissile uranium). $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Mar 11 at 10:21
  • $\begingroup$ So mixing U-235 is not going to cut it then. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 11:03
  • $\begingroup$ @AlexP - Oh bother - I always get it the wrong way round :D $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 19:17
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    $\begingroup$ All the actinides are radioactive. U-235 is somewhat more radioactive than U-238, but that's not what makes it useful for fission (and is still way too low to be used in something like an RTG, by about seven orders of magnitude :)). The difference is that U-235 can sustain a nuclear chain reaction and U-238 can't. If you don't use chain reactions, you end up with a safer, more controlled power source that can't be used (directly) for nuclear weapons. And heavy water reactors using natural uranium or thorium don't produce much usable plutonium either. Not 100% foolproof, of course. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Mar 13 at 10:55
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The initial attempts went horribly bad. Imagine if Los Alamos ended up killing every scientist there due to poor nuclear safety standards... even the theoretical ones.

Or if the german attempt resulted in a very large hole in the east european country side, and Barbarossa was stopped cause the fallout was so bad, crossing no mans land was invariable lethal.

The Japanese Attempt? Maybe Gojira was a documentary.

While the sites themselves could be generally remediated generally anyone foolish enough to want to develop nuclear technology in a democratic nation would lose an election, and in a non democratic one, lets just say that there's limits to absolute power.

Basically things went so badly that no one would touch nuclear tech with an inanimate carbon rod of any length.

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    $\begingroup$ Whilst I enjoyed the answer - the notion that a country in war would abandon a potential super-weapon because it was too dangerous is not reasonable. See the ME163 Komet as an example - and that wasn't even that effective. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 7:28
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    $\begingroup$ Blowing up the enemy, good. Accidentally destroying half the country side or awakening prehistoric beasts of sheer destruction? Bad. Nuclear weapons are only useful cause they can be effectively harnessed, both for peace and war. Besides. people beat me to the obvious ones $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 7:54
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you Journeyman Geek for the answer while my world does a while similar history to the real there are still some major differences especially when it comes down to specific events. For the second part i think a devastating incident involving nuclear materials could discourage nuclear technology i don't know if it is enough. The country most likely to develop such weapons is lead by a dictator that really likes flashy technology that makes him look good. Ofcourse he might have something personally against it but i don't know why he would. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 8:02
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    $\begingroup$ Until it blows him up, or someone hangs him on a lamp post cause they're worried they'd blow him up. One moment Romania, the next, its a lake. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 8:04
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    $\begingroup$ Assuming you can deploy it predictably. Sure you could assemble it on the spot, but one dosen't exactly smuggle in an entire 40s nuke and assemble it, and hope it blows up at the right time. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 23:52
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Don't bother

In real life development of atomic bombs and the first research reactors took incredible amounts of resources. If there's no pressing reason to apply all the government funding to do it, it probably stays a research curiosity forever.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for answer something like this might work. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 17:16
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    $\begingroup$ Or at least stays a curiosity until you're done telling you're story. "And then nuclear war broke out and they all died. The end." $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Mar 11 at 17:32
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    $\begingroup$ Not to mention that using nuclear for power is a lot easier than using it for weapons. Even with the frankly ridiculous amount of US funding into nuclear weapons we got nuclear power first (though of course, due to the "weapons" aspect, all of this was top secret and couldn't be actually used for anything other than producing materials for nuclear weapons until long after the war). It's all about political pressure. The world would be a very different place without Teller and his endless push for nuclear weapons as the best thing ever. In reality, nuclear weapons aren't good weapons. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Mar 13 at 11:28
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Make your planet a billion years older than Earth.

Right now, it's just barely possible to run a nuclear reactor off unenriched uranium. Add another billion years of radioactive decay, and natural uranium will be about 0.26% U-235 rather than 0.72% U-235. This will have a couple of effects that greatly hinder the development of fission technology:

  1. No plutonium-production reactors. The Hanford B reactor, the Windscale piles, and the Soviet F-1 reactor all ran off of unenriched uranium. Without the ability to irradiate U-239 into Pu-239, you can't bootstrap a nuclear industry by way of plutonium.
  2. Enriching uranium is much harder. The closer you are to pure U-235, the easier it is to enrich; conversely, the further your starting point, the harder it is. Going from 0.26% to 0.72% ("natural uranium") is probably as hard as going from 0.72% to 5% ("reactor grade").
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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer but making my earth a billion years older would probably screw up its timeline. Also i think the sun expands in a few milion years which would be very bad for my planet. $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 6:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock, the Sun is slowly expanding, but we've got at least a billion years before the Earth becomes uninhabitable (but Mars might become habitable due to melting ice caps), and about five billion before it enters the red giant phase. $\endgroup$
    – Mark
    Mar 12 at 21:31
  • $\begingroup$ It would probably still make earth very different from what we are used to $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 21:34
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock Just make the Sun a tiny bit smaller to compensate. Less massive stars last longer :) Or, hey, just assume the primordial nebula the Earth formed from just had less U-235 to begin with. Either the production ratio of U-235 to U-238 was lower, or the nebula took longer to begin to collapse... or the enrichment with heavy elements came from slightly older stars. If the solar system started to form a billion years later than ours, there would be very few differences you'd notice (though the night sky would be completely different). $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Mar 13 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ I'll keep that in mind $\endgroup$ Mar 13 at 12:10
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Perhaps your world had a different composition to Earth at least in the crust with fewer heavy elements available and much less uranium and thorium in the surface of the crust and more frequent resurfacing events.

If there were no accessible ores of radioactive materials with only trace quantities present, it could have delayed work on radiation for decades even centuries.

Maybe the previous civilization also didn't find out about radioactivity until they decided to dig an extremely deep mine for some purpose (such as pure curiosity / science) and come across small quantities of radioactive ores triggering their development from one or just a few very deep mine sources.

Perhaps some of the magical characteristics of your world causes a variation in the deep crust that keeps almost all radioactive materials locked away deep down.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yeah that could definitely work thank you for your answer. I am definitely going to use some of it. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ Glad its of use! A couple of other points, eventually (probably several decades later than in our world) things like electrically generated x-rays and the cyclotron would have been invented. So by the 1980's they might have discovered a lot about the physics of radiation in general, but with only microscopic quantities* of uranium nuclear weapons would be impossible and fission is unlikely to have been discovered. Cyclotrons would not be able to produce uranium at all. *Uranium might only be known as a trace impurity in mine tailings or similar and might not even be known to be radioactive. $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Mar 12 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your comments. I have decided that i will probably both reduce the number of easy accessable nuclear materials. As well as having the ancient civilization basically mine the easily accessible ones dry. This would my current era left with the resources i want them to. $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 18:32
  • $\begingroup$ Side issue - one impact of not having access to radioisotopes would be a delay in chemistry / biochemistry /some areas of medicine as it would be very hard to figure out what was happening in complex biochemical reaction without isotopic labeling $\endgroup$
    – Slarty
    Mar 13 at 7:33
  • $\begingroup$ They have access to a small amount of them. Just not enough to make any sophisticated technology with it. They generally are able to put a few grams of uranium under a microscope and test it if they need to. $\endgroup$ Mar 13 at 8:11
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Just make U-235 a little more fissile than it is

Atomic bombs are possible only because in our real world uranium 235, the fissile isotope of uranium, has a very long half life. In the fictional world, poof, uranium 235 has a lifetime of only 70 million years instead of the 700 million years it has in our world. (Not necessarily 70 million years; any value up to 250 million years or so would work as well.) This would make it incredibly rare, so that the enrichment process would be basically hopeless.

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  • $\begingroup$ While uranium is the same in my world as it is in ours magic could definitely make it decay faster. Though the only issue is that an ancient advanced civilization in my world has used nuclear technology in the past. So could you clarify if it hypothetically they could still have obtained nuclear technology in past like around the dino age with much more advanced technology than we have. But your answer is really overall besides this one point. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 10:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock Have you heard about the Oklo nuclear fission reactor? Long before the dinosaurs, the concentration of U-235 in uranium ores was high enough that it could fission naturally (under very specific conditions). No matter what else you do, sooner means more U-235 - and thus easier fission. And if you had a preceding civilization that isn't that far back (just a couple million years), they could have very well exhausted the natural supply of U-235, which wouldn't necessarily hurt them (we already have technology for other options), but would hurt your civilization's attempts. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Mar 13 at 11:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock It might also be interesting if you tied nuclear reactions and magic very closely together. One of the problematic things about magic is that to do work, it needs a power source - and if that power source is nuclear, you can have a huge amount of energy to work with without visible fuel tanks. That precursor civilization might have exploited all the relatively easy-to-grab nuclear energy and collapsed... leaving none for the modern civilization. Modern magic is harder to do because of that, with achievements of the precursors dwarfing what modern wizards can do. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Mar 13 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ This pretty much what i already had in mind. Due to them using up everything the only thing left is piece of their highly dangerous nuclear artifacts or materials which is the only way my modern civilization can even use nuclear technology. This also ties in with later parts of my plot as they use said materials to build a highly dangerous super nuke and accidentally destroy most the world. $\endgroup$ Mar 13 at 12:14
  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn'd lack of U-235 lead to the developement of Thorium reactors? Not useable for bombs, but there are able to produce power and can do so far more safely than most uranium reactors. $\endgroup$
    – Hennes
    Mar 26 at 15:20
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Radiation is the Anti-Magic of your setting

Most settings that involve magic have some substance that neutralizes magic. Cold Iron, Salt, Silver, Gold, Kryptonite, Star Metal, etc... In your setting, the universal magic dampener is radiation. The thing about a setting that has both magic and approximately 1980s level technology is that magic gives you a bunch of shortcuts around our current understanding of science.

Thermometers, electrometers, microscopes, etc all rely on magic to work, because things like optical glass and circuit boards are a lot of work to engineer when you can just solve these problems with various spells and talismans.

In short, all of the modern marvels in your setting rely on a wizard, at some point in the process, doing the hard parts where science as we know it was never needed. This means that they could achieve in effect all of the same things we figured out how to do, but without having to figure out all of the same tools, instruments, and formulas that we relied on in the 20th century to get there. However, all of thier shortcuts mean that they they don't know how to do certain things "the hard way", and they don't trust the outcome of such tools, even if they did exist.

Because radioactive materials are magical black holes, they don't know very much about them. They can figure out thier approximate basic mechanical properties, but there is no high precision lab instruments for getting exact measurements on them. So, any experimentation they try to do on radioactive materials will be inconclusive at best. Instead of reading an increase in temperature and a drop in mass, thier scales and thermometers will just stop working from all of the radiation. Because of this, even if the Otto Hahn and Fritz Straßmann of your setting succeeds in breaking Uranium, the power generated by the reaction, the loss of mass, etc. can not be accurately recorded using the instruments at thier disposal.

So, instead of jumping to the conclusion that Uranium is a heavy atom that they are breaking into other more radioactive elements, the scientists will instead declare that they have found a way to enrich anti-magic... but the significance of this discovery will be unknowable because they will not be able to fit any radioactive isotopes to the periodic table (if it exists) without magic. So your physicists will just go on believing that the ability to turn mass into energy in any meaningful way does not exist.

Alternate Solution: Radiation Causes Wild Magic

Radiation could also do the exact opposite of anti-magic by amplifying and changing magic in strange and difficult to predict ways akin to a Wild Magic zone in DnD. In this case, you will get a reading of nuclear fission in action, but the readouts won't follow any established laws of physics or agree with physical observations making any recorded data useless for establishing the formulas required to control a nuclear detonation.

Hmmm... my thermo-talisman says it is 10 trillion degrees and my scryscale says it now weighs negative four tons... but if that were true, I would be dead in about dozen different ways right now; so, I'm just gonna record this one as an instrument failure.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer while nuclear materials have probably strange ways of interacting with magic they are not purely anti magic. This role is filled generally by physical laws themselves among other things. Though nuclear materials working in weird was could definitely discourage them in using them. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 15:14
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock Yes, what effect radiation has on magic is not as important as making sure that it renders measurement and analysis useless. I've added the option of wild magic to my answer as well. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Mar 11 at 22:10
  • $\begingroup$ Such a thing is definitely interesting as an idea i will consider it thank you. $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 6:02
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Has there been peace for generations? No need for developing (nuclear) bombs then. Is there plenty of cheap energy already? No need for an enormous expensive research program to develop this complicated nuclear power. They may have observed atom splitting as an interesting curiosity. Perhaps they can see that scaling this up to power a city, will scale up production of all these poisonous waste products. Maybe they take ecology more seriously – for any new tech idea, they look into long term consequences and reject stuff early.

There may be horror stories/legends about that earlier civilization using nuclear power. Did they bomb themselves to extinction? Did slaves have to operate the equipment without radiation protection? Large scale accidents?

Perhaps your world has thorium only, no natural uranium. Thorium is much harder to use in reactors, as it transmutes to U233 before fission. (Similiar to how you create plutonium from U238) But U233 gives off gamma rays, unlike U235. Scientists & workers have to keep much more distance from their experiments, complicating such research. An U233 bomb is possible, but you don't want to be anywhere near a stored bomb. You cannot necessarily bring these bombs on planes or ships - too much gamma radiation. That ancient civilization may have had reactors with very large perimeters.

Then there is the magic. Is magic common, with "simple magic" being a useful everyday thing? If radiation messes up common magic equipment nearby, then radiation isn't worth pursuing. I mean, you get a forced choice – nuclear power, or magic. You cannot have both within some large radius. The ancient civilization went for nuclear, maybe they discovered that before any advanced magic. Now you have a society that uses magic for a lot of things. They have developed it and put it to many uses. Everyday stuff in peoples homes. Economically important stuff in their factories and food supply. Perhaps hospitals rely on magic instead of surgery. You'll get riots if some research reactor deadens magic effects out to a 100 km radius or so. People will be troubled, harassed and feel unsafe if everyday magic fails them. A research program thus cannot be hidden, and will be more expensive as they must also develop technological alternatives to common magic equipment that won't work on the site. A warmonger might want a Bomb, but funding something more expensive than the Manhattan project won't be easy - especially if there is no threat of war.

Consider our world – if we could develop antimatter weapons at enormous cost, but their presence & research will prevent chip transistors from operating? No computers, or computer-controlled machinery. No internet/telecom, no modern tv, no smartphone. If nuclear power is equally bad for your magic-using world, then you have a blocker.

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    $\begingroup$ This could also work. The ancient civilization might have had the technology to counteract this which might make it more useful for them. And yes magic is a common occurrence and was even in the ancient civilization and as they used nuclear technology it counteracting magic would have made it difficult for them to use it. Also they were indeed wiped out partially due to their nuclear technology. But i think legends of devastating weapons would make certain powerful people in my world more willing to build them. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 14:46
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Some of the triggers were political, some were social, the ultimate trigger was the war. Looking at two more possibilities with aim to prevent WWII happening and hence the pressures for atomic bomb development.

The Treaty of Versailles

The terms of this treaty were unnecessarily onerous, and even at the time were considered an inevitable trigger for a future war. A more reasonable treaty could have prevented the economic environment that led to the rise of the nazi party.

Spanish Flu

In 1918-1920 Spanish Flu killed between 17 and 100 million people, depending who you ask, potentially many more as many countries didn't have great record or had a vested interest in hiding the effects. It's called Spanish Flu because Spain was the first country to admit there was a problem precisely because of these vested interests. It also affected an unusual demographic, tending to kill young adults, the people normally least affected by such events. If you kill off a larger part of this generation, war, society, and technological development must by necessity take another path due to differing pressures.

because magic

You have magic, you have an understanding of nuclear weapons, we might as well have some technomancy.

You say

Magic can help with making nuclear materials more useful for nuclear technology but doing so is very difficult and can absolutely ruin things if anything goes wrong and the current era is unlikely to have this kind of magic anyway

Developing in this theme you can also say that as a result of this historical problem, your magic users are particularly proficient at suppressing nuclear reactions. This gives you a handwavium "nuclear bombs just don't work" option from your government magic defence department and as such the technology was largely abandoned.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for answer. Though as i recently clarified my world does not necessarily follow the same events as ours. I also don't want to kill of to much of my worlds population as it would screw them later down the timeline. And sadly there is a very big war in my world so i can't prevent a WW2 event either. What i could consider is that maybe postponing the need for nuclear weapons would at least make them less likely to exist in my worlds present. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 10:48
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock I've given you another cheap option. I mean it's really cheap but if you get it right it can work. $\endgroup$
    – Separatrix
    Mar 11 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ I will definitely consider your suggestion. Though mages in my world are not that political powerful in many nations due to being absent for centuries i.a. there were almost non born for a few hundred years. So non mages dominant in most governments. Though there are definitely many mages with political power that could therefore convince governments to invest more in their specific fields. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 11:38
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“Are you saying there’s a chance that when we push that button, we destroy the world?”

The possibility that there could be an endless nuclear reaction consuming all the athmosphere felt very real to the first scientist that thought about a nuclear bomb. The press got wind of it, and another type of chain reaction took place leading to mobs destroying all scientific equipment linked to nuclear research.

Eventually all nuclear research was banned worldwide and any governement trying to take any step into that direction is guaranteed to have a revolution on their hands.

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    $\begingroup$ While the concept of this actually happening is very funny i the implications this would have on my world are just to big. Though i can imagine a debate about this in my world actually leading to the banning of such technologies. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 14:39
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FOGBANK++

What if people collectively forgot how to produce a critical component of nuclear weapons and the knowledge was lost as the tiny handful of people familiar with it retired and passed away?

Something very similar to this actually happened:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fogbank:

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  • $\begingroup$ That is rather unlikely but i think this could still be useful for maybe explaining other things in my world. $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ The principles of nukes are way too easy to understand to have a detail information act as a stop-gap. It's basically: Take a sufficiently large amount of sufficiently highly enriched fissile material and build a mechanism that is able to reduce the fissile material's surface area sufficiently quickly. That's it. Full description of a nuke. The only problems with that are the three "sufficiently" which make actually building a nuke almost prohibitively expensive. But all three "sufficiently" are of quantitative nature, not qualitative. $\endgroup$ Mar 13 at 10:52
  • $\begingroup$ @cmaster-reinstatemonica for the simplest nuclear weapons I agree, but thermonuclear ballistic missiles are much more complicated affairs. If those are out of the picture, all the other means of deploying nuclear weapons are much easier to intercept and the concept of M.A.D. is much weaker. $\endgroup$
    – user3490
    Mar 14 at 9:36
  • $\begingroup$ Exactly. Designing an ICBM is much, much harder than designing a nuke. However, ICBMs are not a prerequisite for nukes. The two nukes that were deployed were dropped from planes, after all. Later on, there was even an artillery nuke developed. Big nukes on ICBMs have the big advantage that they cannot be used due to MAD. I guess, if it were not for the existence of ICBMs, we'd have had the third nuclear war by now... $\endgroup$ Mar 14 at 10:07
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Bombs explode as soon as they are built

Nuclear weapons would be impossible to build if they always explode when built.

Christopher Anvil wrote a couple of science fiction stories featuring the "Asterator", a device intended to make hydrogen fusion power possible. It turned out that it made any nontrivial concentration of plutonium explode and it was unpredictable where its effects would occur.

This meant that nuclear fission power plants and nuclear weapons became too unsafe for the whole world.

If you imagine some similar effect, possibly magical, nuclear weapons would be impossible in your world. A weapon is useless if you can't make it wait until it's near your target before it explodes.

Note that it might be possible to make a power plant that worked by feeding in unrefined uranium ore and somehow getting it to exploding inside a reactor chamber. Power through repeated little nuclear explosions. I wouldn't want to be anywhere near that, myself.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like a neat idea i am going to consider it. $\endgroup$ Mar 18 at 20:49
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How about a taboo?

Maybe everyone was so horrified by the effects of the Castle Bravo test in the 1950s, that all the research was stopped, all of the reactors were scrapped, etc. Nobody would dare to openly start up a new nuclear program and, since it requires such a huge investment in infrastructure, it's virtually impossible for anybody to do it in secret.

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  • $\begingroup$ As i said before while this may be possibility. The people of my world would be probably not be completely deterred by such an event. $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 18:26
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock, That's up to you. I thought of it because I recently watched part 2 of "Dune." The only reason that the author gave for why his world has no computers or autonomous robots is "taboo." Nobody would dare to build them. It's supposed to be unthinkable because of some vaguely described horror in the story's distant past. Maybe that's a hokey reason, but IMO, it's less hokey for his reason why soldiers of the future fight with swords, and neither one of those faults stopped "Dune" from becoming one of the most famous and successful Sci-Fi franchises ever. $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ Yeah it's okay. It's just something like that is out of character for my world. As they generally do dangerous things despite knowing it massively back fire. This caused my world for example to have multiple apocalypses. So yeah people in my world do stupid and dangerous things all the time. $\endgroup$ Mar 12 at 20:09
  • $\begingroup$ @SolomonSlow Incidentally, even in Dune, people are skirting the taboo or outright ignoring it - but very covertly . The only remotely practical use nuclear weapons ever had was as a deterrent - that doesn't work when you don't have a very public knowledge about nuclear weapons, their scope, effects and everything. Taboos aren't enough to stop anything... but many things are useless if you can't be fairly open about using them. If there's a car taboo, you can still have a car... but driving it into the city is a very different proposition :) Also in Dune, they looked for alternatives. $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Mar 13 at 11:32
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Take a page from the real world.

By the 1930's people had the notion that splitting atoms would be something that would release a lot of energy - therefore making a bomb out of breaking atoms would be the next logical steps.

Fortunately for the world, you don't get a nuke just by banging two pieces of uranium rich ore against each other. You actually need a lot of brainpower.

Now, the nazis did have a lot of scientists working for them. But the thing about having a fascist or fascist-like regimen, where people have little to no freedom and some of them don't even have a right to exist is that you get a lot of brain drain.

Wikipedia has this to say about the nazi nuclear program:

Politicization of German academia under the Nazi régime of 1933–1945 had driven many physicists, engineers, and mathematicians out of Germany as early as 1933. Those of Jewish heritage who did not leave were quickly purged, further thinning the ranks of researchers. The politicization of the universities, along with German armed forces demands for more manpower (many scientists and technical personnel were conscripted, despite possessing technical and engineering skills), substantially reduced the number of able German physicists.

Developments took place in several phases, but in the words of historian Mark Walker, it ultimately became "frozen at the laboratory level" with the "modest goal" to "build a nuclear reactor which could sustain a nuclear fission chain reaction for a significant amount of time and to achieve the complete separation of at least tiny amount of the uranium isotopes". The scholarly consensus is that it failed to achieve these goals, and that despite fears at the time, the Germans had never been close to producing nuclear weapons.

I read somewhere many years ago that their scientists also got a lot of equations wrong, leading to errors of at least one order of magnitude on the amount of uranium they needed for a goven output. That is, they miscalculated an thought that you needed 10kh of U for the output we know know you can get with just 1kg. I have no citation for this so take this with a bottle of salt.

Anyway, they never got to build even a single nuclear weapon before being wiped out. Meanwhile the US was testing nukes on deserts, and some of the brains helping there were people that would have been killed if they had stayed in nazi Germany.

All this is to say that, in order for your world to have no easy access to nukes, one solution is to make the world mostly anti-science around the time nukes would be discovered. This is kinda like here in the real world. We could be exploring Mars with humans on it right now if we didn't have so many voting flat-earthers, which leads to less government investing in aerospace technology.

For an example of a world that is not as technologically advanced as it could be due to the powers that be absolutely hating science, you might want to read or watch His Dark Materials. Just keep in mind that the books are infinitely better than the stuff that HBO made. Spoiler alert: in the book the scientists finally snap against the all-controlling catholic church of their world and end up killing G-d just to make the priests shut up. And not in the Nietzsche way but in the Kratos way.


Or just make the world poor in uranium. As you said:

There still exists nuclear materials in world even if there is less of it

The planet might have developed in a way so that all the uranium that would be accessible in the crust instead sank to the mantle during planet formation, for reasons unspecified. You can't spell NUKE without U.

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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer unfortunately at least the nations that could develop such technology are really like science and such a lot. Though they have a very autocratic system of government of the time such technology could be built. So it is possible that the leader of these countries might have no interest in such technology and want to focus on other pieces of technology. Also it is possible that such a leader could probably just get rid of scientists experiencing with nuclear materials due to various reasons. $\endgroup$ Mar 10 at 22:59
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    $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock this answer overlooked a critical extra part of why the Nazis failed: the very Idea of atoms splitting was said to be "un-arian" for a long time, meaning that nuclear research was politically massively hindered on top of the factors in this answer. and such a ideologically motivated hindrance for a specific avenue of research is plausible, even in "science loving" nations (which engineering-wise germany was) $\endgroup$
    – Hobbamok
    Mar 11 at 8:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Fallenspacerock An autocratic ruler wouldn't like the idea of a weapon of mass destruction that could be easily (and secretly) used against him. Big, overt displays of power are hard to subvert - but getting one truck within a kilometer of his palace? It doesn't take a big conspiracy to do that. And what would they be good for? You can't really use them for anything other than terrorism. There's plenty of more efficient and cheaper ways of doing that :) $\endgroup$
    – Luaan
    Mar 13 at 11:37
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Someone out there is snipping at any known attempt to build them:

https://arxiv.org/abs/hep-ph/0305062

Basically bombs can be disabled via a neutrino beam, if you know there locations and keep them in target for time x.

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    $\begingroup$ While a neat idea it might be to high tech for my world. Though maybe magic has a similar effect. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 12:00
  • $\begingroup$ What if the neutrino beam comes from a natural source? Like the world hovers in a micro-quasar jet arxiv.org/pdf/1706.03087.pdf $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Mar 11 at 12:10
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    $\begingroup$ Would be interesting what happens if such a jet hits a planetary core made mostly out of uranium.. $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Mar 11 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ I think such solutions would likely absolutely render my world uninhabitable. $\endgroup$ Mar 11 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ No, no add some glazed moon cubes, salt and pepper and seer till medium rare and your world is totally palpable $\endgroup$
    – Pica
    Mar 13 at 6:20

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