Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Harnessing the Power of Nuclear Energy

by: Kristy Homburger, PHS Science/Chemistry teacher
Contact info.

In the classroom it is not uncommon to hear “Why do I need to know this?” As a chemistry teacher I get to teach a very short lesson on nuclear chemistry. During this lesson I always try to introduce the nuclear disasters of Chernobyl and Three Mile Island. Some students become interested and others show no interest. Those who show no interest almost take the attitude of “This is History. Why I am learning this in Chemistry?”

Unfortunately, the very sad event of the nuclear meltdown in Japan at the Fukushima Plant is the perfect illustration of why we should teach nuclear chemistry. Especially since the level of radiation leaked at the Fukushima Plant has reached the same level as what was reached at Chernobyl.  Now my students want to know everything about nuclear energy, nuclear plants, safety and the history of nuclear disasters.  History now has major relevance to my chemistry class.

Many students have entered my classroom with questions like how bad is it; should we be afraid; is it going to reach us, etc. Then they talk about what the media is reporting, and they want to know how accurate it is. Not only do they see what the media is reporting, but they hear what the “officials” are saying, and they question the facts based on their own knowledge and understanding.

Through this unfortunate disaster, I have been able to educate about the facts so that they will not just rely on the information provided by the media. They question; they probe for answers. It is vital for everyone to know what poses a health threat, and when to be concerned. In doing my own research, I have come across a few sources for additional ideas and lessons to help me educate my students on nuclear chemistry and energy. Please refer to the following links for further information:

Argonne National Laboratory has a site titled “Nuclear Energy Resources for Schools”  ( and it provides multiple resources for teaching about nuclear energy in the classroom and at different age levels.
 “Teachable Moment: Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility” ( This website address current domestic issues by including articles and discussion questions.

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