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Lesson Plans

Cleanup continues at Japan power plant five years after tsunami

March 14, 2016

Full Lesson

Essential question

Why has the use of nuclear energy been an ongoing source of debate?

An earthquake and tsunami struck the coast of Japan in 2011, generating a triple-reactor nuclear meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Roughly 100,000 people fled their homes and radioactive material spilled into the ocean and countryside.

Over the past five years, radioactive contamination levels have decreased at the plant but still pose a threat to the 7,000 workers who aid in the cleanup; workers must wear special suits, three layers of socks and full face respirators. One of the biggest challenges of the cleanup involves a steady flow of radioactive water underneath the plant’s reactors, which seeps into the soil and flows towards the ocean when it rains.

An international team of scientists has built large holding tanks in order to contain the tainted water and are exploring a long-term solution to find and remove the uranium fuel from the four affected reactors, which has proven difficult given the high level of radioactivity at the site.

Solutions and international collaboration will continue in decades to come as the cleanup is expected to last for the next 40 years.

Key terms

tsunami – a very high, large wave in the ocean that is usually caused by an earthquake under the sea

radioactive material –  having or producing a powerful and dangerous form of energy called radiation

radiation – dangerous and powerful energy that is created by nuclear reactions and radioactive substances

nuclear energy – the energy released during nuclear fission or fusion which uses fuel made from mined and processed uranium to make steam and generate electricity

nuclear power plant – a facility that converts atomic energy into usable power. In a nuclear electric power plant, heat produced by a reactor is used to drive a turbine which then drives an electric generator

Warm up questions (before watching the video)
  1. What is nuclear energy?
  2. What do you know about the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant disaster?
  3. How could a serious earthquake affect an area’s infrastructure, including power plants?
  4. What effects could a nuclear power plant disaster have on the people and environment in a region?
Critical thinking questions (after watching the video)
  1. What are the main challenges facing the cleanup efforts at the Fukushima Daiichi power plant?
  2. What are the advantages of having a team of international experts come up with solutions to help in the cleanup?
  3. Do you think we should continue to use nuclear power plants as a source of electricity? Explain.