This curriculum unit is intended to assist me in teaching about the seminar subject in my own classroom. Mathematics, Physics, and Computer Science introduce a variety of algorithms and equations for studying both the benefits and risks associated with nuclear energy, independent of fossil fuels and unaffected by fluctuating oil and gas prices. Coal and natural gas power plants emit carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which contributes to climate change. With nuclear power plants, CO
emissions are minimal. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, the power produced by the world's nuclear plants would translate to 2 billion metric tons of CO
per year if that power were produced by fossil fuels. In fact, a properly functioning nuclear power plant actually releases less radioactivity into the atmosphere than a coal-fired power plant. In addition, the fuel requirement is much less. Nuclear fission produces roughly a million times more energy per unit weight than fossil fuel alternatives.
Historically, mining and purifying Uranium hasn't been a very clean process. Even transporting nuclear fuel to and from plants poses a contamination risk. And once the fuel is spent, you can't just throw it in the city dump. It's still radioactive and potentially deadly. On average, a nuclear power plant annually generates 20 metric tons of used nuclear fuel, classified as high-level radioactive waste. When you take into account every nuclear plant on Earth, the combined total climbs to roughly 2,000 metric tons a year. All of this waste emits radiation and heat, meaning that it will eventually corrode any container that holds it. It can also prove lethal to nearby life forms. As if this weren't bad enough, nuclear power plants produce a great deal of low-level radioactive waste in the form of radiated parts and equipment.