The Secret Push for Nuclear in Schools Overseas

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Nukes in US schools

In the US, the nuclear industry is also engaged in a concerted campaign to ‘educate’ young people about the benefits of nuclear power. Several run colourful websites designed specifically for children, with online games and their own animated characters.

American Nuclear Society

In 2006, the American Nuclear Society “increased the number of workshops it sponsors to teach educators about nuclear science”. During 33 workshops held in 20 states, more than 650 teachers “interacted with nuclear professionals to explore basic concepts, new experiments, and hands-on activities to share with their students”. ANS’ website adds: “Considering that these educators teach an estimated 38,000 students each year, the long-range effect of these training sessions cannot be underestimated.” [1]

These workshops are paid for by a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Nuclear Energy and unspecified “industry-related companies”. [2]

ANS also publishes a newsletter, ReActions, which contains “articles on nuclear technology, classroom activities and upcoming events”.

Nuclear Energy Institute

The Nuclear Energy Institute runs a markedly one-sided Science Club aimed at schoolchildren. It contains information, lesson plans and links to “cool animations and neat experiments”. [3]

The ‘Nuclear World’ section [4] included pages on ‘What Makes Nuclear Plants Safe?’, ‘Taking care of radioactive waste’ and ‘Why nuclear power plants are good for the environment’. These pages make controversial claims for nuclear energy, such as: “Nuclear power plants are good for the environment—and good to the environment. Nuclear plants don't pollute the air. They don't produce any carbon dioxide—the major greenhouse gas—or any sulfur dioxide or nitrogen oxides. The small amount of waste that a nuclear plant produces is carefully contained and safely stored. Radiation levels are checked 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Most nuclear plants have a nature park or wildlife sanctuary, too.”

The '4 your class project' section [5] explains, among other things, ‘The benefits of nuclear energy’ and ‘Why a nuclear power plant is safe’.

Constellation Energy

Constellation Energy, one of America’s largest utilities, supports a range of education initiatives, including:

  • the CollegeBound Foundation, [6] an organization set up by “a group of business and community leaders” that prepares Baltimore City public high school students “to be members of Baltimore's workforce and to contribute to the strengthening of the social and economic fabric of our city”; [7]
  • Junior Achievement, [8] an organisation that “seeks to educate and inspire young people to value free enterprise, business, and economics to improve the quality of their lives”; and [9]
  • sponsoring Oswego State University and Victor Valley College.

Duke Energy

Duke Energy produces a range of six free booklets, lesson plans and tests – all tailored to the curriculum. They aim to educate pupils about energy generation and safety. [10]

Entergy

America’s second largest nuclear operator, Entergy, offers a free “overview of the electric power industry” on its education website. The section on nuclear energy emphasises the environmental benefits of nuclear power. It says: “Nuclear power produces no sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, mercury, or carbon dioxide emissions… Existing nuclear power plant performance continues to improve.” But it does note that “High construction costs and used fuel disposal are two major challenges to building new plants”. [11]

Its 'Nuclear Education for Kids' page [12] contains links to the Nuclear Energy Institute Science Club [13] and the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration Kids' Page. [14]

Exelon

Exelon runs an educational website called Electric Universe, [15] which contains lesson plans, games and suggestions for classroom activities.

It presents energy companies in a positive light, emphasizing that they are “mindful of the sustainability of resources” and “very conscious of the conservation and preservation methods they must practice as global citizens”. It continues: “Electric utilities consider the consequences when working with the Earth's natural resources. They strive to work responsibly with eyes to a sustainable energy future.”

While the section on nuclear power states that “the nuclear power facilities in this country are secure and completely safe to the environment”, it fails to mention nuclear waste or radioactivity. [16]

FPL

Florida Power and Light has invented Captain Conservation, “the world’s best singing, guitar playing, nature conscious, costumed superhero”, who says he is “here to save the day”. In five free videos, available to download on the FPL website's dedicated 'Captain Conservation' section, [17] the superhero challenges children “to get involved in the fight of energy conservation for a better tomorrow” and tells them how to save energy. At the end of each film he asks pupils to visit FPL’s website “to learn more energy saving tips” and find out how “to bring me on a mission to your school”. FPL offers “a free energy education presentation” to schools.

On its FPL for kids website, [18] the company offers games, energy-themed colouring in activities, quizzes and safety advice.

Its page on nuclear energy [19] explains the history of nuclear power, but it fails to mentions the difficulties of working with radioactive material and the waste disposal problem.

The site also contains links to the Nuclear Energy Institute Science Club [20] and World Nuclear Association. [21]

Southern Company

Southern Company also runs a dedicated educational website for children. [22] It tells teachers how to organise a trip to a power station, including nuclear plants, explains how a nuclear power station works, offers free lesson plans, gives tips to children about working in the industry (including at nuclear plants) and emphasises the company’s commitment to the environment.

SCANA Corporation

SCANA runs an educational website called Energetic Minds. [23] It contains games and animations designed specially for children.

The section on nuclear generation [24] empahises how safe nuclear energy is. A question and answer section [25] reiterates nuclear energy’s safety:

  • “Q: Do nuclear power plants give off radioactive energy into the air and surrounding area? A: Nuclear power plants give off hardly any radiation at all. In fact, you are exposed to more radiation while flying across the country on a jet than you’d get living near a nuclear power plant.” Here, again, there is no mention of radioactive waste or possible leaks.

The company also supports Junior Achievement (see above). [26]

Tennessee Valley Authority

Tennessee Valley Authority runs a website for children. [27] It contains information about electrical safety and how energy is generated, including details of the nuclear plants it runs. Of all the sites detailed here, this is the only one that mentions the potential ill-effects of nuclear power, noting, “High doses of radiation can be very dangerous. High doses of radiation can cause diseases such as cancer”. [28]

Westinghouse

Westinghouse runs a programme called N-Vision to “educate communities of the many benefits of nuclear energy”. It consists of a speakers bureau, teacher workshops and educational materials for teachers and community groups.

Three educational booklets “help illustrate the uses and benefits of nuclear power, as well as provide answers to several misconceptions about nuclear energy”.[29]

One book, called ‘Basics’, explains: “nuclear energy is an increasingly popular choice for the future because it is clean, safe and affordable” and “many people feel that nuclear energy should be used in more places for electricity because it doesn’t cause the pollution that coal does.” It briefly discusses concerns about radiation poisoning and terrorist attacks on nuclear plants, but does not mention the radioactive waste problem. [30]

‘Electricity from nuclear energy’ explains how a nuclear power station works. It finishes with the following passage:

Now you know how a nuclear power plant works, but do you know why we need nuclear energy, or for that matter, why we need any additional sources of electricity? Because of the increased demand for energy, we must try to conserve our limited supply of fossil fuels. One way to conserve these valuable fuels is to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used to produce electricity. But what if we didn’t have enough electricity to light our homes, run our hospitals or power our factories? You would not want to live in a world without electricity. Although many people dream of a day when windmills will spin and the sun will shine to produce electricity, these sources of electricity are not practical or economical now for large populations, nor will they be for many years to come. Our nation must have an abundant and available source of electricity to prosper and grow. Nuclear energy can help to provide the electricity we need today and tomorrow in a safe, environmentally friendly manner. [31]

The company also runs a US$1,000 grant programme, clearly aimed at encouraging tomorrow’s nuclear engineers. “Commercial nuclear power is experiencing a resurgence of interest as an environmentally sound, safe and economically competitive means to meet the world's growing demand for energy,” the company explains. “As part of this nuclear renaissance, we will be in need of qualified leaders for our industry in the future and these leaders are possibly some of your students – those in middle school and high school. For that reason, Westinghouse Electric Company has developed the ‘N-Visioning a Brighter Future’ Grant Program and we hope that your school will be interested in applying for it.”

Grants are given to middle and high schools that “exhibit creativity” in science, technology and mathematics education.[32]

Pupils are also encouraged to produce “a three to seven minute video on positive aspects of the various forms of energy, including nuclear energy” to win between US$3,000 and US$5,000 in prize money for their school. [33]

Canada

The Atomic Energy of Canada runs an animated website aimed at children, called Kids Zone.[34] It contains games and information about nuclear power – including its supposed environmental benefits. The site tells children: “Nuclear power keeps Canada cool! Since 1971, reactors in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick have saved Canada's atmosphere from over 1 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, which can contribute to global warming.” Another page adds: “Nuclear power saves the planet from two billion tonnes of carbon dioxide every year!”

Here, too, nuclear power is presented in an entirely positive light.

Australia

The Uranium Southern Australia website [35] and an accompanying information booklet for teachers and students [36] are produced by the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy, on behalf of South Australia’s uranium producers, including BHP Billiton, Southern Cross Resources and Heathgate Resources, “so that informed debate can occur”. The material “aims to present facts and issues associated with uranium”. [37][38]

South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy says the website and booklet “have been designed principally to educate and inform middle school students about uranium and its uses” and so it is “easy to incorporate into your curriculum activities… Lesson plan ideas have been provided for each of the Key Learning Areas. There is a focus on the Science, Design and Technology, and Society & Environment Learning Areas.”

But suggested activities for lessons are distinctly one-sided, such as:

• “Choose one of South Australia’s working uranium mines and find out how uranium is mined there. Make a poster, PowerPoint presentation, e-book or design a website to display your information.”

• Research how the people involved with uranium mines, or any kind of mine, try to minimise their impact on the environment.

• Investigate some of the jobs and career pathways in the mining industry.

• Organise a class debate on the topic: ‘Nuclear energy produces a valid source of electricity in conjunction with alternative energy sources for electricity’.

• Write a story describing a typical day in your life – without electricity.

• In another lesson plan, on a mining method called in-situ leaching, Uranium SA lists suggested websites for research. In addition to two Government sites, it directs pupils to three pro-uranium sites – www.uic.com, [39] run by the Australian Uranium Association, www.wma-minelife.com, [40] a trade association representing 32 mining companies, and its own website. [41] Only one site critical of uranium mining, www.wise-uranium.org, [42] is included.

One suggested activity borders on the bizarre:

• Watch one of the following episodes of the popular television series ‘The Simpson’s’ ‘Homer’s Odyssey’ or ‘The Crepes of Wrath’ (Series One) or ‘Two Cars in Every Garage & Three Eyes on Every Fish’ (Series Two). Watch Homer at work at the Nuclear Power Station. Investigate, then write a report comparing and contrasting what’s seen on the show with the accurate operations at a nuclear power station.

The booklet and website also contains links to the websites of the World Nuclear Association and Nuclear Energy Institute.

References

  1. ‘Teachers and Students’, American Nuclear Society website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  2. ‘Teachers and Students’, American Nuclear Society website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  3. Science Club website, accessed 2 September 2012
  4. NEI website
  5. NEI website, accessed 2 September 2012
  6. website
  7. About us, CollegeBound Foundation website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  8. Junior Achievement website
  9. Junior Achievement Who We Are,Junior Achievement website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  10. Brain Power, Duke Energy, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  11. ‘Electricity 101’ (pdf file), Entergy website, undated, accessed February 2007.
  12. Entergy website
  13. NEI website
  14. NEI website
  15. Electric Universe website
  16. Electricity Generation, Electric Universe website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  17. FPL website
  18. FPL for kids website
  19. FPL for kids website
  20. NEI website
  21. Florida Power and Light Kids’ Corner website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  22. Southern Company website
  23. Energetic Minds website
  24. Energetic Minds website
  25. Energetic Minds website
  26. Social responsibility, SCANA Corporation website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  27. TVAkids.com
  28. Radiation Questions and Answers, TVAkids.com website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  29. N-Vision program, Westinghouse Nuclear website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  30. ‘Basics’, Westinghouse Electricity Company LLC, 2006, unavailable online.
  31. ‘Electricity from nuclear energy’, Westinghouse Electricity Company LLC, 2006, unavailable online.
  32. School Grant Program, Westinghouse Nuclear website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  33. Student Video Contest on the Forms of Energy, Westinghouse Nuclear website, undated, accessed February, 2007.
  34. Atomic Energy of Canada website
  35. [www.uraniumsa.org Uranium SA website]
  36. Uranium SA website
  37. Uranium – information for teachers and students (pdf file)
  38. [www.uraniumsa.org Uranium Southern Australia website], undated, accessed February, 2007.
  39. Uranium Information Centre website
  40. Wyoming Mining Association website
  41. Uranium SA website
  42. WISE website
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