Author: Mark Roland


1 Class Period

Preparation Time:

10 minutes

Materials: Handouts

During this lesson, students will be exposed to information and images from the Chernobyl power plant accident. Nuclear power is generally considered very safe and clean as long as nothing goes wrong. However, when something does go wrong, the effects can be absolutely devastating. There is a large area around the accident site in Chernobyl that will be uninhabitable for generations to come. The women, men and children who survived the Chernobyl incident saw many deaths and horrendous suffering from radiation sickness and related illnesses. No discussion of nuclear power is complete without bringing up this horrible accident.

Purpose –The purpose of this lesson is to engage students for the unit on nuclear power by demonstrating the potential environmental health risks involved.

Students will be able to:
1. List some of the health effects of radiation exposure.

National Science Education Standard:
Content Standard F- Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
• Materials from human societies affect both physical and chemical cycles of the earth.
• Many factors influence environmental quality. Factors that students might investigate include population growth and distribution, resource use, over- consumption, the capacity of technology to solve problems, poverty, the role of economic, political, and religious views, and different ways humans view the earth.

• Natural and human-induced hazards present the need for humans to assess potential danger and risk. Many changes in the environment designed by humans bring benefits to society, as well as cause risks. Students should understand the costs and trade-offs of various hazards--ranging from those with minor risks to a few people to major catastrophes with major risks to many people. The scale of events and the accuracy with which scientists and engineers can (and cannot) predict events are important considerations.

Related and Resource Websites
http://archive.greenpeace.org/comms/nukes/chernob/cherfoto.html (pictures)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chernobyl_accident#The_accident (sequence of events)
http://www.chernobyl.info/en (website dedicated entirely to Chernobyl information)
http://www.chernobyl.co.uk/ (more info)
http://www.world-nuclear.org/info/chernobyl/inf07.htm (even more)
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/medical_notes/461921.stm (radiation info about Chernobyl)
http://nukeworker.com/study/radiation_faqs/rf09-Radiation-n-risk.shtml (dosage information)



1. After students enter the classroom, begin showing a slide show of pictures from ten years after the Chernobyl accident. These can be found on the website labeled pictures under related and resource websites. There are about 20 photographs to view. The first few are of the city of Pripyat, just miles away from the reactor. Ask the students to gather information from the slides to assess what happened at this site. Many students may think this is the site of war.

2. The next photographs are images of children in a cancer clinic in the Ukraine. See if these images change any opinions on where the images are from. Students should continue to add information gathered from the slides.

3. The last few images show areas that are no longer inhabitable because of radiation. These are important pictures as they show how long lasting the effects of a meltdown can be. Continue to ask students for their opinions and thoughts about these pictures. Ask students to explain what happened here using the information from the slides. If they have not figured out where they are from yet, then let them know they are from the Chernobyl power plant accident.

4. Hopefully, the discussion will lead to questions about what happened at Chernobyl. Many students may know there was a nuclear reactor accident, but what went wrong? Could this happen again? The website labeled sequence of events provides a good description of what happened to cause the accident. This could be viewed with computer access, or distributed as a handout. Go through the sequence of events with the students and try to show why things went wrong. Although students should be made aware of the potential risks of nuclear power, they should also know there are reactors all over the US and the world that operate safely providing much of our electricity. They should realize that a lot of things went wrong on the day of the Chernobyl accident.

5. About 10 minutes should be allowed for closure. If there is more than 10 minutes remaining, allow students some time on their own to look at some of the other websites mentioned. Ask them to focus on finding what the effects of radiation exposure are.

Ask students to respond to a few questions on a half sheet of paper before they leave.
1. Do you think this kind of accident could happen again?
2. If this kind of accident doesn’t happen, then how safe do you think nuclear power is?
3. Describe what might happen if this type of accident occurred somewhere nearby…
4. What are some effects of radiation sickness?

Embedded Assessment
Class discussion at the beginning can act as a pre-assessment. Responses to questions: the fourth question is particularly important because it will demonstrate whether or not students met the second lesson objective.

None needed, unless the discussion went long enough to not allow time for students to look up additional information. If so, students should be required to research radiation sickness on their own.

Embedded Assessment











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

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Last update: November 10, 2009
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