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Banning the use of nuclear weapons

Notes for teachers

In its Centenary year (1914-2014) Australian Red Cross hopes that many Australian secondary students will be introduced to the most important global campaign in which the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement is currently engaged - the global effort to create a legally binding instrument that bans the use of nuclear weapons, because the humanitarian effects of such weapons are absolutely unacceptable.

Purpose and direction of study

Students will explore the ongoing impact that the use of nuclear weapons has had on humanity and on the environment since being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Students will learn the key principles of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war - and be encouraged to question whether the use of nuclear weapons can ever be consistent with the rules of war. They will be informed about the work that the Red Cross internationally, and Australian Red Cross in particular, is playing to ensure that nuclear weapons are never used again - and can learn of ways in which their voices can join with those of others around the world.

It is important to note at the start that the theme is about the use of nuclear weapons but not about nuclear energy.

Relevant subject learning areas

This unit could be included within school learning areas such as: History (Australian National Curriculum links as below) but also Legal Studies, International Studies, Global/Current Affairs, Politics, Environmental Studies, Religion/Ethics, Studies of Society and Environment (SOSE) and Media Studies or Communications.

Australian Curriculum links

Knowledge and Understanding

An examination of significant events of World War 2, including the Holocaust and the use of the atomic bomb (ACDSEH107)

General Capabilities

  • Literacy
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Personal and social capability
  • Ethical understanding
  • Intercultural understanding

Recommended ages

The unit is designed for those in middle school years (7-10) but could easily be adapted to stretch those in year 11.


Some suggestions are made for timing, but these are of necessity quite approximate. A Legal Studies group might spend more time reading and interpreting the actual treaty texts; a Media Studies group might gain an overview of the Nuclear Weapons issue and devote most of its time preparing a public promotional campaign.

Red Cross recommends that at minimum one period of 40-45 minutes be spent on the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons, and a similar time on International Humanitarian Law and its global legal perspectives.

Resources provided

'Memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki'
Powerpoint presentation, 26 slides, with brief speaking notes for each

Starter Reading
Five documents which give essential context to brief teachers, but they may also be used as student handouts

Four blocks of Explore - Research, think, do
These are our options for class activity and engagement.

In this theme the four blocks are designed to be run in sequence. It would be better to abbreviate the time spent on each Exploration rather than to leave out any of the four.

Web links

'Nuclear weapons: a threat to survival and death' by Tilman Ruff, in Australian Red Cross IHL Magazine Issue No 2, 2011, 'Nuclear Weapons: a Unique Threat to Humanity' p 10-11

'Nuclear War: the environmental impacts' by Ira Helfand, in IHL Magazine as above p 7-9

International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons 

Explore - Research, think, do

Exploration 1: Memories of Hiroshima and Nagasaki


  • PPT Slides 1 & 2 Drawing out students' existing knowledge about nuclear bombs dropped on Japan at end of World War 2: what happened on 6 August 1945 at 8.15am


  • PPT Slides 3-5 Impact of the bombs on city, the people then, people now (2014 is the 69th anniversary)
  • Note that PPT Slide 5 includes one confronting image of a boy's burns. Teachers may feel the photo is important to show the highlight the degree of the suffering, or may decide to omit this slide.
  • PPT Slides 6-8 Involvement of the Red Cross in Hiroshima right from the start is little recognised, but helped to set the Movement's voice against any repeated use of nuclear weapons
  • Use in conjunction with Starter Reading: The Impact of the 1945 Nuclear Weapons

Exploration 2: History of the Red Cross Movement

Introducing the world's most well-known humanitarian organisation and Introducing the idea of rules in war

Exploration 3: International Humanitarian Law

'Orangetown' activity

Exploration 4: Making an impact today