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published by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission
This is a web page for secondary students designed to acquaint them with the basics of nuclear energy, nuclear reactors, dangers of radiation, and radioactive waste. It is easy to read, and filled with age-appropriate diagrams, photos, and illustrations of reactors, waste disposal facilities, and nuclear containment vessels. It would be a solid addition to a unit on nuclear reactions and/or impacts to society of nuclear energy generation.

This resource is part of the NRC's free library of teaching resources. See Related Materials for a link to the full collection.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Modern Physics
- Nuclear Physics
= Nuclear Reactions
= Radioactivity
- Middle School
- High School
- Instructional Material
= Tutorial
- Audio/Visual
= Image/Image Set
Appropriate Courses Categories Ratings
- Physical Science
- Physics First
- Conceptual Physics
- Algebra-based Physics
- Activity
- New teachers
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Intended User:
Access Rights:
Free access
Does not have a copyright, license, or other use restriction.
fission, nuclear chain reaction, nuclear fission, nuclear power, nuclear reactor, nuclear waste, power plant, radioactive isotope, radioactivity
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created July 22, 2011 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
August 23, 2016 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
March 30, 2011

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

3. The Nature of Technology

3C. Issues in Technology
  • 6-8: 3C/M2. Technology cannot always provide successful solutions to problems or fulfill all human needs.
  • 6-8: 3C/M4. Technology is largely responsible for the great revolutions in agriculture, manufacturing, sanitation and medicine, warfare, transportation, information processing, and communications that have radically changed how people live and work.
  • 6-8: 3C/M5. New technologies increase some risks and decrease others. Some of the same technologies that have improved the length and quality of life for many people have also brought new risks.
  • 6-8: 3C/M6. Rarely are technology issues simple and one-sided. Relevant facts alone, even when known and available, usually do not settle matters. That is because contending groups may have different values and priorities. They may stand to gain or lose in different degrees, or may make very different predictions about what the future consequences of the proposed action will be.

4. The Physical Setting

4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 9-12: 4D/H1. Atoms are made of a positively charged nucleus surrounded by negatively charged electrons. The nucleus is a tiny fraction of the volume of an atom but makes up almost all of its mass. The nucleus is composed of protons and neutrons which have roughly the same mass but differ in that protons are positively charged while neutrons have no electric charge.
  • 9-12: 4D/H3. Although neutrons have little effect on how an atom interacts with other atoms, the number of neutrons does affect the mass and stability of the nucleus. Isotopes of the same element have the same number of protons (and therefore of electrons) but differ in the number of neutrons.
  • 9-12: 4D/H4. The nucleus of radioactive isotopes is unstable and spontaneously decays, emitting particles and/or wavelike radiation. It cannot be predicted exactly when, if ever, an unstable nucleus will decay, but a large group of identical nuclei decay at a predictable rate. This predictability of decay rate allows radioactivity to be used for estimating the age of materials that contain radioactive substances.
4E. Energy Transformations
  • 9-12: 4E/H6. Energy is released whenever the nuclei of very heavy atoms, such as uranium or plutonium, split into middleweight ones, or when very light nuclei, such as those of hydrogen and helium, combine into heavier ones. For a given quantity of a substance, the energy released in a nuclear reaction is very much greater than the energy given off in a chemical reaction.

8. The Designed World

8B. Materials and Manufacturing
  • 9-12: 8B/H2. Waste management includes considerations of quantity, safety, degradability, and cost. It requires social and technological innovations, because waste-disposal problems are political and economic as well as technical.
8C. Energy Sources and Use
  • 6-8: 8C/M8. People have invented ingenious ways of deliberately bringing about energy transformations that are useful to them.
  • 9-12: 8C/H3. Nuclear reactions release energy without the combustion products of burning fuels, but the radioactivity of fuels and their by-products poses other risks.
ComPADRE is beta testing Citation Styles!

Record Link
AIP Format
(Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Rockville, 2007), WWW Document, (http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students/what-is-nuclear-energy.html).
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: What Is Nuclear Energy?, (Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Rockville, 2007), <http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students/what-is-nuclear-energy.html>.
APA Format
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: What Is Nuclear Energy?. (2011, March 30). Retrieved February 21, 2017, from Nuclear Regulatory Commission: http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students/what-is-nuclear-energy.html
Chicago Format
Nuclear Regulatory Commission. U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: What Is Nuclear Energy?. Rockville: Nuclear Regulatory Commission, March 30, 2011. http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students/what-is-nuclear-energy.html (accessed 21 February 2017).
MLA Format
U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: What Is Nuclear Energy?. Rockville: Nuclear Regulatory Commission, 2007. 30 Mar. 2011. 21 Feb. 2017 <http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students/what-is-nuclear-energy.html>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: What Is Nuclear Energy?}, Publisher = {Nuclear Regulatory Commission}, Volume = {2017}, Number = {21 February 2017}, Month = {March 30, 2011}, Year = {2007} }
Refer Export Format

%T U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: What Is Nuclear Energy?
%D March 30, 2011
%I Nuclear Regulatory Commission
%C Rockville
%U http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students/what-is-nuclear-energy.html
%O text/html

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source
%D March 30, 2011
%T U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: What Is Nuclear Energy?
%I Nuclear Regulatory Commission
%V 2017
%N 21 February 2017
%8 March 30, 2011
%9 text/html
%U http://www.nrc.gov/reading-rm/basic-ref/students/what-is-nuclear-energy.html

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Citation Source Information

The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

The APA Style presented is based on information from APA Style.org: Electronic References.

The Chicago Style presented is based on information from Examples of Chicago-Style Documentation.

The MLA Style presented is based on information from the MLA FAQ.

U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: What Is Nuclear Energy?:

Is Part Of U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Lesson Plans

A link to the full collection of pre-college teaching resources on nuclear energy. Includes five primary topics: Radiation, Uses of Radiation, Nuclear Reactors, Radioactive Waste, and Radioactive Materials.

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