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Nuclear Power

Energy from nuclear power also has benefits and costs.

Atoms Practice
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Mousetrap Fission
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Mousetrap Fission

Why It Matters

What is going on here?

How does this model exponential growth? How does this model nuclear fission?

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  1. As is explained in the Nuclear Power section on CK-12, nuclear energy is formed as the nucleus of an atom is split. The fissile isotope of uranium, U-235, is commonly used in nuclear reactors. Use the following simulation (Nuclear Reaction Java Applet under the “Parts of a Nuclear Reactor” section) to understand why: http://library.thinkquest.org/17940/texts/fission_power/fission_power.html
  2. How does exponential growth relate to nuclear fission? How did the mousetrap and ping pong ball demonstration simulate this reaction? Design your own example of how to demonstrate this reaction.
  3. Now that you have watched two simulations of nuclear fission, try manipulating the settings on this phet simulation to get the highest percentage of U-235 atoms split in one chain reaction: What http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/nuclear-fission What settings allowed for the most success? Why?
  4. Now click on the nuclear reactor tab on the phet simulation. Manipulate the settings to capture the most amount of energy in one run. What did you have to do to capture the most amount of energy? Why?
  5. In March of 2011, Japan experienced a major earthquake that resulted in a tsunami and major destruction at one of their nuclear power plant sites. Here is an explanation of how the nuclear reactor was supposed to automatically shut down during the earthquake and how the nuclear meltdown began: http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/12/world/asia/what-happens-in-a-nuclear-meltdown.html
  6. Japan’s catastrophic experience has reminded the world that while nuclear power can produce a lot of energy, it is very dangerous. http://www.npr.org/2012/03/11/148136383/nuclear-woes-push-japan-into-a-new-energy-future Do you think that Japan (and other nations worldwide) should be shutting down their nuclear power plants? If nuclear energy is not the alternative energy source to fossil fuels, what is the future source of energy going to be?

Resources Cited

Dr. Luke Donev. Ithaca Science Center. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XHitaEy-Xtg&playnext_from=TL&videos=N5lqVIgU9hU

PhET. http://phet.colorado.edu/en/simulation/nuclear-fission

ThinkQuest.Oracle Education Foundation. http://library.thinkquest.org/17940/texts/fission_power/fission_power.html

New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2011/03/12/world/asia/what-happens-in-a-nuclear-meltdown.html

National Public Radio. http://www.npr.org/2012/03/11/148136383/nuclear-woes-push-japan-into-a-new-energy-future

Connections to other CK-12 Subject Areas


  • Exponential Growth


  • Isotopes?
  • Fission?

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