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U.S. Navy Museum Cold War Gallery Lesson Plan
Nuclear Energy: A HOT Topic in a COLD War
Developed by Ryan Gardner, South Lenoir High School, Deep Run, NC
2011 Naval Historical Foundation STEM teacher fellowship
  Instructional Goal

In this lesson, students will describe the functions of the parts of a nuclear reactor as well as make a model of the reactors. They will make calculations to determine how much fuel is needed to power a city as well as a submarine. Students will then used this information to evaluate the cost/benefit of using nuclear fuels as compared to fossil fuels in both the urban and submarine setting.

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Cold War: period of time (post WWII-Breakdown of the USSR) in which the United States and Soviet Union had strained relations due to different ideologies (Democracy v. Communism) as each raced to maintain the advantage in weapons capabilities and power. The two nations basically developed the technologies with the potential to cause mutual destruction (along with the ruin of the rest of the world). The reason this was considered a "cold" war, was that there was never actual fighting between the U.S. and USSR, just a combination of threats, posturing, paranoia, and uneasiness. Although there were regional wars, world peace was generally maintained.

Introductory Activity

Read the book Butter Battle. This book gives students a good idea of the mindset of the power nations during the Cold war and can be purchased (easily/cheaply) from amazon.com or in most bookstores.

Although war itself can never be considered a "good" thing, many good things resulted from the advancement of technology that occurred during this period of time. Satellites improved and applications of their data collection sparked the advent and continuous updating of cellular phones and other communication devices. Nuclear technologies also advanced. Not only were submarines already using nuclear energy as a power supply for the vessels, but also they carried weapons containing nuclear warheads. As scary as those warheads were (and still are), the application of nuclear energy as a reliable power supply looks to be promising in a world slowly running out of fossil fuels.

Video Resources

play videoReactor Operations:  This video on the reactor operations of nuclear submarines is part of the Covert Submarine Operations Exhibit, located in the Cold War Gallery, Washington Navy Yard.

play videoNuclear Propulsion: "The Nuclear Navy" (1967):  This segment of a 1967 Navy documentary explains the basics behind nuclear propulsion. It also shares the history of its development in the years after World War II. Source: Naval History and Heritage Command, Photographic Section UMO-2.

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Parts of a Nuclear Reactor

Part I:

Describe the functions of the following parts of a nuclear reactor:

a. Moderator
b. Fuel Rods
c. Control Rods
d. Pressurizer
e. Condenser
f. Generator
g. Turbine
h. Pumps
i. Reactor Vessel
j. Steam Generator

Part II:

Draw a model of a typical nuclear reactor, using the above components. Then, sketch a more complete model of the nuclear reactor (including pipelines and pumps) once you feel that your big piece model is complete and correct.

Part III:

Complete the 2x2 Note Chart showing the advantages and disadvantages of using nuclear energy.

Nuclear Energy Cities Submarines

Part IV:

Answer the following questions:

a. Why is water used as a moderator in many nuclear reactors?

b. In the pressurized nuclear reactor, there are two main cycles happening. Why are the cycles separated from one another?

c. Could the nuclear fuel in the reactor likely be used to make a nuclear weapon? Why or why not?

d. In cities, what is the point of the containment wall that would be found around the whole reactor system? How would this be accomplished in a submarine?



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