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Nuclear Energy Debate (28 Favorites)

ACTIVITY in Renewable Energy, Interdisciplinary, History, Radiation, Pros Cons of Nuclear Power, Radiation. Last updated February 19, 2021.


Summary

In this activity, students will watch a debate between experts on the merits and drawbacks of nuclear energy. They will use this debate, as well as additional research, to write a short position paper on whether or not to continue using nuclear energy that explains and defends their opinion, as well as the chemistry involved in nuclear energy production.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This activity will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-ETS1-1: Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Objectives

By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

  • Identify the pros and cons of using nuclear power as an energy source.
  • Make a conclusion supported by specific evidence.

Chemistry Topics

This activity supports students’ understanding of:

  • Pros and cons of nuclear power

Time

Teacher Preparation: 5 minutes

Lesson: 60–120 minutes

Materials

  • Video equipment
  • Internet access

Safety

  • No safety precautions need to be observed for this activity.

Teacher Notes

  • This lesson fits well towards the end of a unit on nuclear energy. Prior to the lesson, students should have learned what nuclear chemistry is and should be able to differentiate between natural and artificial transmutation. They should have also learned about fission and fusion and how these two processes can be used to create energy. One AACT activity that could introduce these topics is the Fission vs. Fusion Reading activity.
  • This activity can be completed in class with additional support from the teacher, as part of a sub lesson, or at home as homework. It could also be used as a post-AP Chemistry exam activity.
  • Show the TED Talk debate over nuclear power in class and have students take notes on both sides of the argument. You may want to pause it periodically to allow students to keep up in their notes.
  • Pause the video at 21:30. Students will work individually to respond to the question “Do you think the U.S. should continue to develop nuclear power plants? Why or why not?” which they will then, with some additional research, develop into a short position paper. Once all students have written their own initial response (~1 paragraph), several students will share their position and explain why they came to their conclusion. Then press play so students can watch the last few minutes of the debate.
    • As students are writing their initial response to the question “Do you think the U.S. should continue to develop nuclear power plants? Why or why not?” the teacher should circulate to make sure that every student is able to come up with an initial conclusion.
  • You could give students some class time to discuss the arguments presented by the experts with their peers in pairs or small groups. Students could spend a few minutes discussing the issue with like-minded peers, and then switch partners and talk to someone who holds the opposite view, so they have had a chance to discuss both sides of the issue before determining their final stance for their essays.
    • Encourage students to be respectful of each other’s ideas in their discussions. This article from the University of Michigan provides valuable ways to prepare for and approach discussions that may involve controversial issues or opinions.
  • Students will then do additional research to support their position as they prepare their essays. See the student handout for more guidelines for the essay. Since the debate was recorded in 2010 (before the Fukushima accident), they may want to find some more recent statistics on nuclear (and other types of) energy usage. Some possible resources are listed below if you want to provide students with a starting point for their research (please note that some websites require subscriptions and may only allow a certain number of free article views per month without a subscription):
  • Whether you provide students with the above resources or you let them find their own, encourage them to assess the quality of their resources so they are sure they are getting scientifically accurate information. This article is a good place for students to look for guidance on evaluating internet resources. Also be sure to indicate which format (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) you want them to use for their citations. Resources such as www.easybib.com or www.bibme.org might be helpful tools.
  • As students are researching, the teacher should circulate and check in to make sure that all students are able to use evidence to support their conclusion.
  • Students’ position essays on nuclear energy will serve as a summative evaluation. They will be evaluated on both their demonstration that they understand the chemistry content and their ability to formulate a claim and use evidence to back it up.
  • This activity could be paired with other complimentary AACT nuclear chemistry resources:

For the Student

Lesson

Does the World Need Nuclear Energy?

While watching the TED debate between Stewart Brand and Mark Jacobson, take notes on the arguments for and against nuclear energy.

Arguments for Nuclear Energy Arguments Against Nuclear Energy

After watching the debate, what would your answer be to the question: Should the U.S. continue to develop nuclear energy? Why or why not? Write a ~1 paragraph initial response in the space below.


Do some additional research on nuclear energy, including more up-to-date energy statistics for the US and globally, and write a one to two page response to the question: Should the U.S. continue to develop nuclear energy? Why or why not? Cite evidence from the video and additional research.

Your response should include:

  • An explanation of the chemistry behind nuclear energy
  • Your position on the nuclear energy debate
  • Evidence to support your position
  • Acknowledgement of and reasons for disagreeing with the opposing position
  • A bibliography page with at least 3 reliable sources, cited properly

Use the space below to brainstorm for your essay, take notes on your additional research, and record the sources you consulted. (Use additional pages if you'd like.)

Position (circle one): The U.S. (should / should not) continue to develop nuclear energy.

Evidence:

  • Reason 1:


Source:______________________________________________________

  • Reason 2:


Source:_______________________________________________________

  • Reason 3:


Source:_______________________________________________________

  • Reason 4:


Source:_______________________________________________________

Please submit these notes with your final essay on ________________.