In this activity, students will independently learn about acid rain, gas scrubbers, half-life, chain reactions, and other topics around electricity production. They will conduct a debate as members of a factious community faced with the problem of coal power vs. nuclear power.
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
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 scientific evidence.
This lesson supports students’ understanding of:
- Pros/cons of nuclear power
- Nuclear chemistry
- Acid rain
Teacher Preparation: 15 minutes
Lesson: 3 days
- Research tools for their topic
- No safety precautions need to be noted.
- Students could be assigned to one of the stakeholder groups, or they could choose their group, but they should be fairly evenly distributed – ideally, 2 to 3 students per group. This way, all of the perspectives have a similar number of students representing them.
- Encourage students to be respectful of each other’s ideas while debating. This article from the University of Michigan provides valuable ways to prepare for and approach discussions that may involve controversial issues or opinions.
- Students may or may not personally agree with the stakeholder group they represent in the debate – either way is fine, as long as they do their best to communicate their group’s argument based on reliable research. In fact, it might be beneficial for students to be assigned to a group they might not agree with so they can better understand and appreciate the complexity of the issue and the opposing position, even if they don’t agree with it. They can be given time after the debate to debrief and reflect on what they learned and develop their own opinions.
- Regardless of their stakeholder group, students should prepare their argument based on research and data obtained from reliable resources. They should also prepare rebuttals to arguments opposing groups will likely make. This article is a good place for students to look for guidance on evaluating internet resources. They should submit a list of references for any of the evidence they use to support their arguments and rebuttals. 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.
- If you wish, you can have students submit the student handout and/or additional written arguments either before or after the town meeting is held, along with their references.
- Students could do the research aspect of this activity in class, outside of class, or with a substitute teacher, but should be given some in-class time to work with their group on how they wish to present their argument and rebuttals. It could also be a post-AP Chemistry exam activity.
- Since students are working in groups, it is important to make sure all students are engaged. One way of doing this is for each student to have a role (speaker, note taker, source locator). Students could also each research a different aspect of their argument – for example, one could focus on their main stance and the others could focus on rebuttals for different groups’ arguments. You could also have students evaluate the contributions and attitudes of the others in their group and submit that to you privately at the end of the activity.
- As many students as possible should speak during the actual “town meeting,” though if some students are very uncomfortable with public speaking you can choose to allow other group members to speak on their behalf. Alternatively, they could submit a video or audio recording they made before the day of the town hall meeting which could be played during the debate if they would be more comfortable with that format.
- The teacher will be the chair of the meeting. The chair will call on each group and tell them when their time is up, allow each group to make rebuttals, and take the final vote.
- If you wish to provide your students with a starting point for their research on nuclear power and other types of energy, here are some resources you could point them towards:
- Let’s Talk Science: https://letstalkscience.ca/educational-resources/stem-in-context/what-are-pros-and-cons-nuclear-energy (Note that this is a Canadian website so there are references to Canadian organizations and energy usage.)
- ProCon.org: https://alternativeenergy.procon.org/questions/is-nuclear-power-safe-for-humans-and-the-environment/
- Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB121432182593500119#cx
- The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Student Corner: https://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students.html
- Department of Energy Office of Nuclear Energy, STEM Resources: https://www.energy.gov/ne/information-resources/stem-resources
- World Nuclear Association, Nuclear Power in the USA: https://www.world-nuclear.org/information-library/country-profiles/countries-t-z/usa-nuclear-power.aspx
- U.S. Energy Information Association, Energy Kids: https://www.eia.gov/kids/energy-sources/
- Once the debate is completed, you could have students write about or discuss their own opinions (not their stakeholder groups’) on nuclear power. There are several related nuclear chemistry resources in the AACT resource library that could be used:
For the Student
Anderson, Virginia, is a medium-sized Appalachian town whose residents make their living from either coal mining or tourism. The town needs to either update their current coal-burning power plant or build a new nuclear plant. A town meeting will be held soon and residents will debate whether or not to build a nuclear power plant to replace the existing coal-burning power plant. Each special interest group will be given two to three minutes to present their argument for or against the proposed plant. The remaining time will be spent on rebuttal and voting.
The special interest groups are as follows:
- Coal miners. These workers want to keep their jobs and livelihood. They have no additional skills because they have worked all their lives as coal miners. There are no other jobs in the area for them.
- Environmentalists. They have been opposed to coal mining in the area for a long time because of environmental reasons. They are concerned with loss of animal life and damage to the habitat. Many of the town’s environmentalists rent rooms to city people who come to the area to enjoy beautiful nature.
- The Audobon Society. Members of this group are concerned about global warming and smog.
- American Fishing Society. Members of this group are worried about the effect of acid rain on local streams and lakes. The local economy depends on tourism.
- Dr. Jones. This local doctor has treated many cases of black lung, and he hasn’t found it pleasant. He’s also concerned about smog and human health.
- American Coal Society. Representatives from this group know about gas scrubbers and how these devices help reduce pollution released by coal-burning facilities.
- Mothers Afraid of Radioactivity (MAR). Members of this group are concerned about living next to a nuclear power plant. They worry about the day-to-day effects of radiation more than a nuclear meltdown.
- Mr. Smith. He doesn’t think people should split atoms. It’s dangerous and might lead to a horrible nuclear accident. What about Japan? What about terrorists?
- The local Native American tribe. A Native American reservation is next to the proposed nuclear waste dump site. The chief thinks it is unfair to take a risk for the horrible things that could happen to the waste, and therefore the reservation, if the dumping facility is not meticulously maintained.
- Nuclear Engineering Society. Scientists from this group know how a nuclear power plant works and how unlikely it is that the plant will hurt anyone.
Please use the back of this page to make notes and submit it on the day of the town meeting, along with a properly formatted list of the references you used.
My special interest group is: _______________________
The other members of my group are: ___________________________
The Town Meeting will be held on: ______________
My group’s position is ( for / against ) nuclear power because:
The argument of the opposing group, __________________, is not valid because:
The argument of the opposing group, _________________, is not valid because: