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Nuclear Power Plant

Context for this Lesson


GRADE LEVEL: Middle to High School

FOCUS QUESTION: What are the ethical questions involved in the use of nuclear power? What are benefits of nuclear power in a financially depressed community? What are the biological implications of radiation and nuclear waste?


  • A surface for writing (blackboard, whiteboard or large paper)
  • Paper and pencils/pens

Today we are going to talk a bit about ways we create the power that turns on our lights and runs the air conditiontion/heat we are enjoying right now. Ask students to list various forms of energy that are used to produce electricity throughout the state. Have students work together to brainstorm a list of possible sources including: water power, wind power, water turbine, biomass, diesel gas power, coal, and nuclear power. Where does our electricity come from?

SHARE info about topic: Explain that today we will be focusing on what it might be like to be from a small community that is in deep financial trouble. This is a remote, rural community that doesn’t have access to a lot of natural resources for energy (like oil). It could even be a town that had a major manufacturing plant close due to the poor economy. This is a town that is in dire need of jobs, cheaper energy, and a better economic and environmental future. Choose a name for your town. Ask students to imagine that they are adults living in this town. . We are going to imagine that we are all members of the ________ community, adults, who have come to a very important Town Hall Meeting. You’ve come because the economy is bad and many of you are out of work. Think about what your character’s name is. It could be your actual name or a new name. Choose a profession, appropriate for school, that someone might do in a small rural city in Texas. Decide whether you are currently employed in your line of work or not. I’ll know that you have your job when I can see your eyes looking at me. Let’s imagine that I am the assistant to the new mayor of this town. I called the Town Meeting. When I put on my scarf I will become the Mayor.



Teacher in role: "Ladies and Gentlemen of (name of town) I am so pleased that you have come to join us tonight in city hall. Mayor Sterns ate some very bad shrimp for dinner and had to be rushed to the hospital; so I am here in her place. My name is Ms. Dawson, I’m the assistant to the Mayor. I’m here tonight to share some very exciting news.

"As you know mayor made some important campaign promises to you! You said you needed jobs; our unemployment rate is at 15%. You said we need to build a new library, and a community center. You also said that the cost of energy is too high. It’s costing you too much to heat your homes, and run your lights and appliances — well the mayor is ready to deliver on her promises. I have in my hands a copy of contract from the NEC Corporation which should bring many new jobs to our little town." 

"Now all I need from you is a yes vote saying that we do want NEC’s plant located in our town. That we do want jobs and stability for our family. That we want an end to high energy prices. Say yes to the mayor (or me) tonight and our little town of -- can get ready for some BIG changes."

Assistant Mayor tries to get group to sign petition. Then opens the floor to questions. Each student should introduce themselves and their profession. The Assistant Mayor should interact with each community member trying to “sell” them on the power plant. During this conversation the following information can be introduced to encourage students to see multiple perspectives:

Possible Side-Coaching: NEC stands for Nuclear Energy Corporation. They will be building a Nuclear Power Plant in town. NEC has agreed build this power plant with no cost to the town. The plant is a beta project, a new type of power plant based on a battery cell of some sort. This will provide the clean power that our little village has been looking for. NEC has had some difficulties with nuclear waste disposal in the past. Teacher can reference Three Mile Island and Chernobyl as examples of locations where melt downs have occurred.

Teacher could choose to let it slip that NEC was under investigation five years ago concerning allegations of nuclear waste water contamination but explain that there are new people in charge with a stronger commitment to safety and the environment. (If you are team teaching, have the second teacher play a representative from NEC who helps allay concerns around nuclear power.) NEC plans on building the power plant on the banks of the major river in town. This river supplies much of the town’s water supply. Teacher-as-assistant-mayor should instigate a lively discussion. Students will naturally choose sides.

Transition: When issues are out in the open teacher should say: "Well, it seems that we have opinions on both sides in the room. However, the mayor does need to give NEC an answer tonight. I will remind you all that you voted for change and change means sacrifice and faith. You wanted an answer to our economic woes and the mayor has done her best to offer it. I would like to take a vote. I will ask each person what their decision is and they may answer yes or no." Each student makes their decision. Stop the drama and step out of role.


Explain that there was indeed heated debate over this issue, and that the town was divided. A group representing each side of the issue decided to write an editorial to the local newspaper. Divide the class into two groups; it is best to divide along the lines with which people voted. Have each group compose a letter to editor that expresses their feelings on this subject. Have them each sign the bottom of the letter. Teacher should move between groups and make sure that they are working well together. After letters are written, bring entire class back together. Have each group read their letter and discuss the opinions that have been expressed. Comment on the many sides of the argument.

Possible Side-Coaching: Building on the character’s we introduced in our Town Meeting, think about writing from your character’s point of view? What would you character specifically want to say about this issue? If your group was going to title themselves (e.g., Concerned Citizens Against Nuclear Power) what might they call themselves?


REFLECT on the issues:

Describe: What are the ethical and biological issues around nuclear power that were introduced in our drama work?

Analyze: What are the positive effects of nuclear energy? What are some of the negative effects? What would you want to know as an informed member of a community that is considering building a nuclear power plant?

Relate: How would you feel if a nuclear power plant was going to be built in our town? Who in our town do you think would be supportive? Who do you think might be against it? How could we make our opinions heard in our town?

EVALUATE: Were students comfortable taking on their “role”? Did they have enough information to build a character? Were students primarily for or against the power plant? Was I able to introduce the alternate viewpoint? Were students able to consider ways the economic factors in their decisions? Were students able to consider environmental factors in their decisions?

Extensions/Applications : 

OTHER EPISODES: (These are other dramatic activities which could be used to extend the exploration)

IMAGE WORK: Explain that despite the many dissenters the town did finally agree to allow NEC to build their nuclear power plant in town. Invite students to look at what happened to the characters six months in the future on the opening day of the plant. The local paper covered the opening day with some very illuminating pictures of the protest and support of the new plant. In groups of three have students create an image of what happened on opening day. Ask each group to create a title for their picture. Students will then share scenes. Have class close their eyes before each image and open them on your signal. After the image, discuss what students saw happening and what emotions they observe from each of the characters. What are the relationships between these characters? Speculate on the moment before and the moment after each image. After viewing all the images, discuss: What were the results of the power plant being built in town?

RADIO SHOW: Explain that many of the issues that were introduced in our plant opening days continued through the first year of the plant being opened. On the anniversary of the plant opening a local radio show decided to do an interview with some key players from both sides. Interview the students allowing them to call in and talk with each other “on air.”

Credit: Lesson created for students in northern interior of Alaska