Nuclear power is the future for humanity, or is it? There are many who are supporting a world with nuclear power at the center, it’s cleaner and more efficient than fossil fuels. That said, are you happy to live next to one? Would you go for a swim in the sea to only then see a towering power station on the shore? As the world moves away from fossil fuels, the debate around nuclear will continue.
Level: Intermediate: B1/B2
Running Time: 90 minutes +
This free lesson plan is suitable for adults, teenagers, and General English classes. Each plan includes:
- A debate motion
- A summary of the controversy
- Points for both Pros and Cons
- Language to use in a debate
- Debate role cards to help identify student groups
- An article
- Statistics (true or false exercise)
- Vocab for the topic
1. What types of energy generation do you know of?
2. By using nuclear energy to produce energy, what benefits and drawbacks are there to using this form of fuel?
3. Should countries which are considered to be politically or financially unstable be allowed to use nuclear technology to produce energy?
4. Given the events in Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and at Fukushima in Japan, how safe do you feel this technology is?
5. How would you feel if the government or private company starting building a nuclear reactor near your home? Would you protest? Would you be confident in how it will be maintained?
Statistics—True or false?
Answers are below
1. In 2016 nuclear power stations produced 2,476 terawatts per hour globally.
2. The United States has 150 nuclear reactors as of 2018.
3. Belgium and Hungary produce 51.7 and 51.1 per cent respectively of their nation’s energy from nuclear.
4. Over 200 people die each year from civilian nuclear reactors.
5. As of 2008, nuclear is half the cost of natural gas.
6. In 2006, nuclear plants avoided the emission of 3.1 million short tons of sulphur dioxide.
7. Brazil nuts contain small amounts of radium, a radioactive element
1. Radioactive – (adj) a material which releases ionizing particles.
2. Oversight – (noun) a mistake, slip, blunder, failure.
3. Meltdown – (noun) when a nuclear power station breakdown.
4. Catastrophic – (adj) causing sudden damage.
5. Lenient – (adj) more tolerant than expected. Mild.
6. Oversee – (verb) to supervise.
7. Tout – (verb) attempt to sell something, or advertise strongly.
Reading – The aftermath of Fukushima
In 1905 a large earthquake and tsunami hit Fukushima, a small town on the eastern coast of Japan, where its impact was so great that local people placed stones warning future generations. So when the government decided to build a nuclear power plant in the same area around 60 years later, were they wise to do so?
With hindsight, it does seem to have been a problem. The town has a 20km area where people cannot pass or travel through. And three of the five reactors have experienced a meltdown, causing radiation to go into the Pacific ocean. While the nuclear industry does tout its safety record, it is important to know that the earthquake which hit the power station was magnitude 9, and the tsunami wave was over 50 meters in height. Both were once in a hundred year event and unlikely to have been predicted.
Since the disaster, many have asked the Japanese government to provide more oversight in the industry. Others have blamed companies and government regulators for being too lenient on TEPCO, the company responsible for the power station.
Despite the disaster global demand for energy is still rising and the technology to replace nuclear does not exist yet. The road to providing clean, safe, reliable, and most importantly cheap energy is still uncertain.
Answers (to the statistics section)
1. True 2. False. It’s 99. 3. True 4. False, it is zero.
5. True. Nuclear Power: 1.82 cents per kWh, Natural gas: 3.69 cents per kWh
6. True 7. True
Nuclear energy is a marvel of the modern age. A single cup full of uranium – the material needed to fuel a nuclear power station – is enough to power a city for many hundreds of years. However, splitting the atom to create energy is a contentious issue. There is much fear surrounding the construction of these power stations, instigated by instances of disasters like that of Chernobyl, Three Mile Island and most recently, Fukushima in Japan. This is a debate that will remain for a long time, as society moves away from fossil fuels to alternative sources, the need to discuss nuclear energy will grow.
Points for nuclear energy
- Solar and wind also have their costs, but nuclear is a long-term solution that can help society transition to better types of energy.
- The cost of construction and decommissioning of nuclear power plants is often overestimated; the French and Swedish nuclear industries estimate decommissioning costs to be just 10 -15 % of the construction costs and budget this into the price charged for electricity
- The scientific understanding and technology needed to generate nuclear power is the same as that needed to create nuclear weapons, and it is all too easy for rogue states to pretend they are only interested in peaceful uses while secretly pursuing military applications.
- Uranium supply is expected to last for over 200 years, which could be extended to 30,000 with modern technologies.
Points against nuclear energy
- They are expensive. Fuel management, plant decommissioning and waste disposal are all costs which solar and wind do not have.
- They are never on budget. Whenever a country builds a power station the initial cost is always far lower than the final cost. Governments and companies can never build them on time and on budget.
- We should promote the peaceful use of nuclear energy, the skills, and manpower
from military weapons can be diverted into civilian uses.
- Uranium is virtually unlimited and can power civilisation for hundreds of years and perhaps more.
Video – the Fukushima cleanup
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