Reactor Incident

Part of an Access Excellence lesson
Modified for PULSE by Christopher Martin
Edited by Stephanie Nardei, MLS

Time: One class period
20 minutes to print articles for students and upload PowerPoint
Materials: Waste Management PowerPoint
20th Anniversary of Chernobyl PowerPoint
British Baby Deaths;
Cheating Chernobyl;
Chernobyl’s children;
How many more lives will Chernobyl claim?;
Mutation rate doubled in Chernobyl.

Students are introduced to Chernobyl incident and the resulting environmental health impacts. Students watch a PowerPoint presentation, read articles and discuss what they have gained from these sources.

Students will be able to:
1. Articulate the environmental health impacts of Chernobyl in a class discussion
2. Describe the general background and events surrounding the Chernobyl incident

National Science Education Standard
Energy sources and Use

Nuclear reactions release energy without the combustion products of burning fuels, but the radioactivity of fuels and by-products poses other risks, which may last for thousands of years.

Strand 3: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Concept 1: Changes in Environments

Describe the interactions between human populations, natural hazards, and the environment.

Teacher Background
On Friday, April 25, 1986, as a result of human error during experiments being performed by the staff at Chernobyl, USSR, the cooling system failed resulting in the melting of fuel and, of greater importance to the public, the graphite moderator ignited and began the release of what has been approximated as 1.9 x 1018 Becquerel’s of activity to the environment. The most hazardous isotopes released in this accident are known to Cs-137, I-131, and Sr-90. These isotopes have half-lives sufficiently long to allow them to migrate into the human body or, in the case of Iodine, have the tendency to accumulate in the thyroid gland.

The plume from the burning graphite traveled in a northwest direction toward Sweden, Finland and Eastern Europe, exposing the public to levels up to 100 times the normal background radiation. A very serious concern involves the contamination of grain and dairy products from fallout. This may cause permanent internal contamination. Both Sr-90 and I-131 migrate to vital organs in the human body where they are impossible to remove, serving as a source of radiation and cause of cancer or other diseases.

Related and Resource Websites
Chernobyl 1 Lesson Plan: http://pulse.pharmacy.arizona.edu/math/chernobyl1.html

Global Radiation Patterns: http://users.owt.com/smsrpm/Chernobyl/glbrad.html

PULSE Resource Page on Nuclear Radiation http://pulse.pharmacy.arizona.edu/resources/chemicals/nuclear.htm


1. Start the class off with a discussion about waste.

  • Where does their waste go?
  • What happens to it there?
  • What are different types of waste?

2. Show students the Waste Management PowerPoint.

3. Ask the following:

  • Can students think of other forms of waste?
  • What about waste products of energy production?
  • Where does their energy come from?
  • What are the waste products of that production?
  • Explain most forms of waste have positive and negative impacts. Can they think of some of these?

It is likely students will raise the issue of nuclear power and its positive and negative impacts. Share with students one of the following PowerPoint to introduce them to a historic event in nuclear power production which shaped the way the world viewed nuclear power.

  • Chernobyl Reactor Disaster or
  • Time Bomb Nuclear Energy 20 years of Chernobyl.

4. After leading a short discussion about the power point, provide students with one of the following articles:

5. Students may read these aloud, or to themselves, and identify key points from each article and share those with the class.

6. As a class, identify a timeline about the events surrounding Chernobyl and a list of environmental health impacts.

7. Have students list questions that arise and post them throughout the lessons in this learning cycle.

Not Applicable.

Embedded Assessment
During the class discussion of energy production positives and negatives students are informally assessed on their knowledge of risks associated with energy production including environmental health risks. Students may be assessed on what they have articulated. The question list that the students created will also serve as a way to assess student knowledge as the learning cycle progresses.




PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

1996-2007, The University of Arizona
Last update: November 10, 2009
  Page Content: Rachel Hughes
Web Master: Travis Biazo