Lesson Plans

News Bite 7: Modernizing Nuclear Weapons

Sandia’s Senior Manager for the B61-12 Brad Boswell, left, with Jamie McIntyre, Al Jazeera America’s national security correspondent on special assignment for the PBS NewsHour. The mock-ups of the old B61-4 nuclear bomb, left, and the refurbished B61-12 bomb, right, look similar. The first production model of the B61-12 is scheduled to be fielded in 2020. It will be a “modernized version of the old bomb, where we are meeting the military requirements while looking for opportunities to improve the safety and the security of the weapon,” Boswell told McIntyre. One improvement is swapping out old-fashioned parts such as vacuum tubes, located in the bomb’s radar system, for modern electronics. Image by Dan Sagalyn. United States, 2015.

Image by Daniel Sagalyn.

The collapse of the former Soviet Union some 25 years ago marked the end the Cold War and a halt to the nuclear arms race that characterized it. Terms like Mutually Assured Destruction, nuclear winter, and fallout shelter now may seem part of the distant past to those old enough to have lived through their popular use and totally unknown to today's high school and even college students. But nuclear weapons are not gone. A vast stockpile is still in the US arsenal, and its components have become outdated and perhaps unreliable. 

Despite a public pledge not to build new nuclear weapons, the Obama administration has committed billions to modernizing some of these aging bombs, increasing their reliability and accuracy and extending their usable lifespan.

In a multi-part series looking at efforts currently underway to update the US nuclear arsenal (Resource 2), Pulitzer Center journalists Jamie McIntyre and Dan Sagalyn have reported on an issue with deep implications for the US national security and its economy, but no easy answers and too little public awareness.

Watch the video (Resource 1) and answer the three accompanying questions. 

Educator Notes: 

In this lesson, students will watch a 9-minute video and answer questions that will demonstrate their comprehension of its presentation of the complex problem of nuclear weapons, a story that has largely faded from public discussion but is still critically relevant.

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