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Nuclear Energy: Classroom Activities

Nuclear Power Worldwide


Goal

To explore the global geography of nuclear power plants.

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Background Information

Nuclear power plants are distributed unevenly across Earth's surface. Their distribution reflects the political viewpoints of individual countries about the costs and benefits of nuclear power. Following the Fukushima nuclear accident that occurred in Japan in 2011, many governments have revised their nuclear programs. The natural hazard that caused the accident illustrates how geologic hazards affect environmental safety. Many countries lack alternative sources of energy, such as fossil fuels, and rely on the safe generation of nuclear power. France, for example, generates 80% of its power from nuclear fuel without any serious incidents.

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Activity Overview

Students examine the global distribution of nuclear power plants.

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Materials and Equipment

Internet access.

Activity

  1. Have students search the web to find out about the nuclear programs of France and Japan. Have students answer the following:
    1. What do their programs have in common?
      Student answers will vary. Common answers will include: Both countries rely heavily on nuclear power. France generates over 75% of its electricity from nuclear energy. France has been very active in developing nuclear technology. Reactors and fuel products and services are a major export. Japan has a heavy reliance on nuclear energy with approximately 30% of domestic power from nuclear reactors.
    2. How are their energy resources/needs different?
      Student answers will vary. Common answers will include:
      France has access to larger reserves of oil and natural gas than Japan which has to important fuel to cover more than 80% of its energy needs.
    3. How does their physical geography differ from each other in ways that might affect natural hazards?
      Student answers will vary. Common answers will include:
      Japan, unlike France is situated in a region of active tectonics on the western rim of the Pacific Ocean. Japan is a series of volcanic islands that sits atop a subduction zone. While volcanism is not a serious threat to power plants in Japan, the effects of earthquakes and tsunamis are. This was demonstrated by the catastrophic accident at the Fukushima power plant in 2011.
  2. Have students research which countries are actively expanding their nuclear programs?
    Student answers will vary.
    Russia, China, India, and Republic of Korea are ranked 1 to 4 respectively.
  3. Ask students to find out which countries are reducing their reliance on nuclear power?
    Student answers will vary.
    Approximately 23% of Germany's electricity is generated from nuclear power. Following the accident in Japan, the chancellor of Germany plans to phase out all 17 of their reactors by 2022 8 of which are already offline.
  4. Have students find out which countries do not agree with nuclear power?
    Student answers will vary.
    Australia, Austria, Denmark, Greece, Ireland, Latvia, Lichtenstein, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Israel, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Norway are examples of countries that remain opposed to nuclear power. Following the accident in Japan in 2011, the Italian government delayed the development of a new power station which was eventually scrapped by a referendum.
  5. Have students discuss the following. What are some of the specific reasons they give for choosing not to use nuclear power? Student answers will vary.
    Safety is the major concern both for individual power plants and the risk associated with the proliferation of nuclear resources worldwide. Concerns about high capital costs and waste disposal are also common.

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