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Nuclear Blasts in Mississippi Lesson Plan


As World War II ended in the mid-1940s, it was clear that a new kind of rivalry was developing between Communist and non-Communist countries. The leaders of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union, and other countries, raced to develop arsenals of nuclear weapons. Any new weapons that were designed had to be tested. How Mississippi became a nuclear testing site is the subject of this lesson.


Mississippi Studies Framework: Competencies 1, 2, and 4


Grades 4 (with modifications) through 12


  • Mississippi History Now article, “Nuclear Blasts in Mississippi”
  • Mississippi wall map
  • Mississippi road maps
  • Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (current edition)
  • Butcher paper for graphic organizers (optional) and markers


Students will:

  1. explain why Mississippi was selected to participate in the nuclear testing program of the United States;
  2. determine the consequences of nuclear testing on the physical and human environment of the state.


Allow students to brainstorm their ideas about the nuclear testing program of the United States –– why is testing done and where are the tests conducted? Students may suggest that remote areas of the country and world are usually the sites for such explosions. Indicate that there might be additional reasons to conduct such tests in a place like Mississippi, which was indeed chosen in the mid-1960s to test-fire nuclear weapons. Encourage students to speculate about the reasons why.


1. Read the first two sections of the Mississippi History Now article to find answers to these questions:

  • When and where did the United States test-fire a nuclear weapon in Mississippi?
  • How did that explosion differ from earlier tests conducted by the United States and its allies?
  • Why did the government decide to use a different testing approach?

2. Conduct a classroom discussion to determine that students have answered the questions correctly. Locate Lamar County on a Mississippi map. Ask students to create a mental image of what Lamar County is like by studying the Mississippi Official and Statistical Register (also called “Blue Book”) and Mississippi road maps. Let them share their “images” with each other in small groups or with a partner.

3. Ask them to think again about why this area in Mississippi would be chosen as a nuclear testing site.

4. Students will read the Project Dribble section specifically to determine why Lamar County, and not some other area, was used to detonate nuclear weapons. Have students view the Mississippi segment from the Peter Kuran film “Atomic Journeys.” The link to this film is provided in the article, “Nuclear Blasts in Mississippi.”

5. In a classroom discussion, help students realize the significance of Mississippi’s physical geography (in Lamar County) in the selection process.


1. Students will read the rest of the article.

2. On the board write this term in all caps: HUMAN-ENVIRONMENT INTERACTION. Ask students to talk about what it means. (See Note at end of lesson plan.) It is hoped students will realize that what happened in Lamar County, Mississippi, is an example of this geographic concept.

3. When humans interact with the environment, there are consequences: positive, negative, or perhaps both. Assign students, in groups or individually, to construct a graphic organizer showing the consequences of the nuclear testing in Lamar County, marking each as positive or negative. Display their work. Students should prepare to support their decisions.

4. Lead a discussion addressing only the “facts” on the organizers.

5. As a final activity, students will write an editorial for the local newspaper, stating their position on the issue of nuclear testing in Lamar County. Instruct them not only to state and support their opinion, but also to rebut the opposite opinion.


1. Participation in large-group discussion
2. Completion of graphic organizer
3. Editorial


1. A picture of the Salmon Test Site can be found at the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management website. Click on Fact Sheet. After viewing it, students may wish to draw a larger representation for display.

2. Students could organize a debate on the pros and cons of the nuclear testing program.

3. Students may wish to do additional research on other ways salt domes can be used.

4. The NIMBY (not in my backyard) concept is an interesting topic for exploration; perhaps students can relate it to something happening in their local communities.

NOTE: Human/Environment Interaction is one of the five themes of geography that K-12 teachers can use as a framework for studying the world. This theme addresses the question: What is the relationship between humans and the environment and what are the consequences of such relationships? There are three key concepts to investigate in this theme: humans depend on the environment; humans modify the environment; humans adapt to the environment. (Taken from Directions in Geography—A Guide for Teachers published in 1991 by the National Geographic Society.)

All other websites listed in this lesson plan were accessed July 2008.

Websites with additional five themes information include:

About.Com: Geography

The Five Themes of Geography, Department of Geography, University of North Alabama

Other helpful web resources:

WPA History of Lamar County, Mississippi. Click on Topography.

U.S. Department of Energy Office of Legacy Management

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