Summer SAVY 2019: Session 1, Day 4 – Nuclear Science and Energy (Rising 5th/6th)
Today we opened class with a quick review game. One student would share a vital piece of information about nuclear energy learned during the class. Then, the student would tag two more students. Those two students would state their facts (no repeats allowed!), and each would tag two more people, and so on from there. As you can imagine, once this hit critical mass, things really started moving along. The students then had to explain how this model of sharing was related to the concepts we were discussing. They, of course, nailed it: this was a simulated nuclear chain reaction. And the crew was definitely producing serious amounts of (mental) energy.
Afterwards, the students were fortunate enough to hear presentations from two guest speakers: Mr. Matt and Mr. Clemson. Mr. Matt talked about the different types of radiation and human error. Mr. Clemson served on a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier and provided his first-hand insights on the design of the ship’s reactor, the procedures for changing and maintaining the fuel rods, and the Navy’s impeccable safety record with nuclear energy. The students had boatloads (sorry!) of questions.
Afterwards, the students wrestled with the big tricky question of nuclear waste, including where and how to store it. We examined the unique problem of marking nuclear waste locations since the material remains lethal for thousands of years, while changes in language and society may make traditional signs useless. The students developed, assessed, and proposed successful designs for addressing this issue and compared their results with the designers and thinkers enlisted by the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant, the only permanent repository for nuclear material in the United States. If you have a chance, parents, ask them about the color-changing cats!
Finally, the students participated in the debate about use of the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage facility. We listened to perspectives on both sides and then students had the opportunity to literally move people closer to their way of seeing things: they stated their case and the rest of the class would move to different positions depending on what they now thought. This debate is particularly timely. Just in the past week, Congress has once again taken up the discussion of whether to move forward with storage at Yucca Mountain. A quick Google news search will turn up videos and articles from this past week if you’d like to discuss further at home!