AS A COMPANION to "Fifty Years From Trinity," the following study guide poses questions and dilemmas of the
post-nuclear world. Educators and parents may want to use the following questions
and scenarios as a way of discussing the decision to bomb Japan and the use of
nuclear power as an energy source.
Fifty years ago, the immense Manhattan Project launched by the
government led to the detonation of the first atomic bombs. Two Japanese cities,
Hiroshima and Nagasaki, were destroyed by the revolutionary weapons, and World War
II came to a close.
The bomb marked the beginning of an atomic age that included the
arms race, radioactive pollution of the air and soil, the development of nuclear
power, and advances in nuclear medicine and scientific use of isotopes.
Below are some suggested questions and activities for class
Suggestion: Some students could research a topic using only the
Internet and other on-line resources, while others pursue the same topic using
traditional off-line research. Then compare the results, and discuss the strengths
and weaknesses of both approaches.
- The original Trinity stories as reproduced in this Web site are full of
so-called "hot" words -- colored type that, when you click on it,
provide "hyperlinks," taking you to files or Web pages with more
- Use a search engine on your Web browser to find your own hyperlinks on
the Internet for these words in the story about radiation experiments on humans
(it's in the "Deeper into things" section of this site):
- Hazel O'Leary
- radiation experiments
- biomedical ethics
- Most newspaper stories are selective about the information they present,
because of space limitations. Take a recent edition of the Seattle Times or other
newspaper and read through one of the stories on the front page, circling several
words that you think might work as "hot" words -- and then see if you
can find hyperlinks that tell you more information about those words.
- The handling of nuclear weapons, nuclear energy and nuclear waste all
involve complicated issues of public policy. Information and opinions from various
viewpoints can be found in many places on the Net (a good starting point is the
"Public Policy" portion of the Internet Links section of this site). Review
material on both sides of one or more of these issues, then use your Internet
skills to find the name of your U.S. Representative and Senators and their e-mail
or regular mail addresses, so you can tell them what YOU think.
- What are students in Japan talking about in this 50th anniversary year of
the atomic bomb? Do they think the U.S. should apologize for dropping the weapons
-- or that Japan should apologize for attacking Pearl Harbor? See if you can find
Japanese students on the Net, and start a discussion with them about these or
- Was the U.S. correct in launching a massive project at the start of World
War II to develop the atomic bomb?
- Imagine you are President Truman and his advisers. What are the arguments
to use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? What are the arguments
- The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum planned to display the bomber that
dropped the bomb on Hiroshima, the "Enola Gay," with pictures and words
graphically describing the devastation the bomb caused. After protest by American
veteran groups, the museum director resigned and the airplane is being exhibited
without comment. What do you think should have been included in a museum display
about the atomic bomb and the end of World War II? Should taxpayer-supported
museums show controversial exhibits? How should countries such as Germany, Japan
and America remember World War II's history?
- Early proposals to leave nuclear weapons in the control of an international
agency such as the United Nations were rejected. Would this have been a good
- Over the past 50 years, was the development of nuclear weapons a good thing
or bad thing? What are the benefits and costs?
- The U.S. and Russia are cutting their nuclear stockpiles and have suspended
underground nuclear testing. Should they move to total nuclear disarmament? Why or
- Imagine you are President Bush during the Gulf War and Saddam Hussein has
launched a massive attack of poison gas and germ warfare weapons against American
troops. Would you respond with nuclear weapons?
- In the 1950s and 1960s, prison inmates consented to be exposed to radiation
and the information was used to help set worker safety standards. Were these
experiments on humans right or wrong?
- The Pacific Northwest has only one working nuclear power plant but there
are 109 such plants in the United States, producing more than a fifth of the
nation's electricity. Should nuclear power be encouraged or stopped? What are its
advantages and disadvantages?
- A proposal has been made to ship nuclear waste from other countries through
the Port of Tacoma and store it in the U.S. to prevent it from being used to build
bombs. Is this a good or bad idea?
- What are the advantages and disadvantages to these ideas for handling
A. Leave it where it is, at existing power plants and defense facilities,
until something useful can be done with it.
B. Reprocess used nuclear fuel, which reduces the volume of waste and makes
new fuel but also makes plutonium as a byproduct.
C. Bury it underground where it must remain undisturbed for as long as
human civilization to date, or 10,000 years.
D. Launch it by rocket into the sun or space.
E. Drop it in the deep ocean.
- Cleaning the desert around Hanford of radioactive and chemical pollution
may cost more than $100 billion. Some say we are obligated to clean the soil and
buildings as thoroughly as possible. Others say the pollution is doing no harm and
can be left alone. What do you think?
- Besides nuclear power plants, what are some examples of peaceful uses of
nuclear energy? (Radiation therapy, X-rays, archeological dating, use of
radioactive tracers in biomedical engineering, powering spacecraft, etc.)
- Should scientists make public everything they discover, even if it can be
potentially used for harmful purposes? Should they refuse to work in some fields
- Some astronomers have speculated that perhaps aliens from other stars have
not visited us because technological civilizations capable of space travel end up
destroying themselves. What are some examples of how technology has been used for
harm? What are examples of how we have successfully controlled and benefited from
technology? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about the long-range future of our
Suggested Classroom Activities
- Set up a mock panel of advisers arguing whether to drop the atomic bomb on
Japan. Participants might include an American general, an American soldier
scheduled to invade Japan, a sailor who faced kamikaze attacks at Okinawa, an
atomic scientist, a diplomat dealing with the Soviet Union, a Japanese militarist,
a Japanese civilian from Hiroshima, Japan's emperor, a doctor familiar with the
effects of radiation and fallout, a peace advocate, etc.
- As a class, create your own Smithsonian exhibit around the "Enola
Gay." What do you want your museum to say?
- Draw a map of nuclear Washington. Include the Hanford Nuclear Reservation,
active, partially completed and proposed nuclear power plant sites (at Hanford,
Satsop, Trojan plant opposite Kalama, Skagit County) the Trident submarine base at
Bangor, the former B-52 bomber base at Fairchild AFB in Spokane, the nuclear
shipyards at Bremerton, the Boeing design plants in Seattle and Kent, air defense
at McChord AFB near Tacoma, etc.
- Research the probable effects of a nuclear blast, such as a one-megaton
warhead, and plot it on a map of your city, using your school as Ground Zero.
- If nuclear waste is buried underground, scientists have pondered how to
warn future generations not to dig there. What if people of the future have lost
any record of it, or speak other languages? What kind of monuments or visual
warnings can the class imagine to warn people of danger? (For example, one idea
was to cover the site with giant concrete thorns.)
- Research the differences in nuclear power plant design from Russia's
Chernobyl to present-day American plants to newer, safer designs being reviewed by
the Department of Energy right now. Are all nuclear plants alike?
- Draw or graph some comparisons:
- The power of a conventional bomb vs. a Hiroshima-size atomic bomb vs. a
large modern hydrogen weapon.
- The energy available from nuclear fuel vs. coal or oil.
- The fission and fusion processes and how atomic and hydrogen bombs
Books and movies for discussion
- Nonfiction: "The Fate of the Earth," "Hiroshima,"
"Nuclear Renewal" (short book on nuclear power issue).
- Fiction: "Fail-Safe," "On the Beach" (set partly in
Puget Sound), "Warday," "Alas Babylon," "Lord of the
Flies," "The Mouse that Roared" (comic satire), "The Sum of
All Fears" (Tom Clancy novel on terrorist atomic bombing of Denver).
- Videos: "The Day After" (was a TV movie), "On the
Beach," "Dr. Strangelove," "The Bedford Incident,"
"Crimson Tide", "The China Syndrome,"
"Atomic Cafe" (satirical documentary), documentaries on the arms race or
the Cuban missile crisis.
- Trivia contest: Find books, movies or TV shows in which nuclear weapons
or nuclear war play some part in the plot. How has the bomb influenced our
[Trinity stories | Deeper into things | Interactive activities | Internet links | Seattle Times | Up a level]
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