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June 1995 - Issue No. #19

Teaching about the Danger of Nuclear Weapons

by Michael Gilmore

Tottori University / Sanyo University, Japan

Teaching students about the dangers of nuclear weapons can invoke numerous responses: horror, fascination, excitement and yawns.

The reason for the yawns is that too often the subject is presented in a dry, technical way. There are probably as many technical buzz words used to talk about the weapons as there are warheads.

One way to make students understand the dangers of nuclear weapons is to personalize the issue. To do this, I randomly choose a student and explain that s/he has been making an atomic bomb at the school for a science project. Unfortunately, there was an accident and the bomb detonated. I then explain the effects of the explosion. Since the bomb went off at the school, it and the surrounding locale is a place that the students know well. It is not some far distant place or meaningless numbers describing the number of people killed and buildings destroyed. On the contrary, their thoughts immediately turn to friends, family, the corner drugstore, etc.

	     Total destruction

I begin by drawing a short line on the blackboard. This first section is labeled 3 km/total destruction. I explain that everything within a three kilometer radius is completely reduced to ash. I then describe a few places and ask the students to name a few more.

	     Total destruction  Near total destruction

Next, I add another segment to the line and label it 25 km/near total destruction. I explain everything that wasn't destroyed in the initial fireball is blown over by the shock wave travelling at 700 km/hr. I then have the students tell me a few important places within that zone.

	     Total destruction  Near total destruction    Blindness

The next segment is labeled 50 km/blindness. I explain that anyone in that zone looking towards the school at the time of the detonation would become blind from the flash. Not just humans, but birds, animals and insects.

	     Total destruction  Near total destruction    Blindness     Radiation fallout

The last segment is labeled 100 km/radiation fallout. I explain what fallout is and its effects. For example; the grass the cows eat makes their milk radioactive; farmland is unusable; people get radiation sickness and other nice things. After this I mention that the explosion has created an electro-magnetic pulse. This renders nearly all electrical equipment--radios, phones, vehicles--useless. Thus, there is no way to call for assistance. Lastly, and most of the students are stunned at this, I explain that all of this has happened in the space of five seconds. Everything they know within that area has been destroyed, damaged or made radioactive.

Now that the students have this information they can be given a variety of tasks for language acquisition. The following are just a few suggestions. Many more could be adapted.

(I.) Put students in groups and give them discussion questions.

  • Describe the people, places and the area that would be affected.

  • How would they react?

  • What would they do?

  • How many people would be killed?

  • What would they miss the most?

  • Are there any additional dangers to be considered? (eg a nearby nuclear power station)

(II.) Have students, in groups, make a bomb shelter and describe what they would stock it with.

  1. Each student could bring one each of the following: a personal item, a favorite food, a book, and a person. Then they need to explain their choices.

  2. If there are four persons in the group, tell them that only three can fit into the shelter. Then each student must explain why they should not be left out.

  3. Have the students choose a famous person and repeat number 2.

(III.) Give the students a profession (doctor, fire fighter, truck driver, businessman, etc.). Then have them discuss, in groups, what they would do or not do. Repeat, time permitting, by assigning them several more professions.


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Kip A. Cates, Tottori University, Koyama, Tottori City, JAPAN 680-8551
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