2010 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (31 October 3 November 2010)
Paper No. 208-12
Presentation Time: 4:45 PM-5:00 PM

EXPLORING THE POTENTIAL ROLE OF NUCLEAR ENERGY IN A CARBON-CONSTRAINED WORLD: A MULTI-COMPONENT CASE STUDY

MYERS, James D., Geology & Geophysics, Univeristy of Wyoming, Department 3006, 1000 E. University Ave, Laramie, WY 82071, magma@uwyo.edu

Nuclear power is the only energy source capable of generating base load electricity that is virtually carbon-free. Yet, the U.S. public’s opposition to nuclear power has prevented it from expanding significantly since the 1970s. Growing demand for electricity and the need to decarbonize energy has led to new discussions of the possible expansion of nuclear energy in the U.S. Unfortunately, much of the discussion is poorly informed and riddled with misleading and/or incorrect information. To prepare students for this important debate, a series of learning activities examining nuclear energy have been developed for GEOL3650, an upper division energy course for majors and non-majors. Because the course employs a lecture-lab format, activities have been tailored for a variety of learning environments. Lectures and a class Web site present information and content necessary for understanding nuclear power. In particular, the nuclide chart is used as the basis for examining nuclear decay mechanisms, nuclear reactions and nuclear fuel cycle options. Short stand-alone lecture activities investigate the production of actinides during fission, the breeding of plutonium as well as how the different decay rates of short- and long-lived fission products and transuranic elements impact choices about nuclear waste disposal and spent fuel recycling. Lectures also describe the geology, exploration and production of uranium, principles of reactor design, issues of radiation safety and matters of nuclear weapons and proliferation. This background knowledge is critical for successful completion of a nuclear case study done in lab. The multi-component case study addresses geologic, economic, political and social perspectives of nuclear energy in an integrated fashion. The lab consists of four parts. The geology component has students exploring for uranium deposits and designing uranium mines; designing a nation’s fledgling nuclear industry by picking a reactor design that meets national policy goals and applying for IAEA approval; conducting negotiations between Iran and western nations to resolve the current nuclear standoff; and assessing options for safely disposing of spent nuclear fuel. For each component of the case study, students work in groups and prepare both oral presentations and written reports.

2010 GSA Denver Annual Meeting (31 October 3 November 2010)
General Information for this Meeting
Session No. 208
Energy Education in the Geoscience Classroom: Preparing Future Citizens, Scientists, and Policy Makers
Colorado Convention Center: Room 201
1:30 PM-5:30 PM, Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Geological Society of America Abstracts with Programs, Vol. 42, No. 5, p. 497

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