What is nuclear energy for kids?

Written by tamara christine van hooser Google
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What is nuclear energy for kids?
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission enforces the International Atomic Energy Agency's safety standards. (nuclear sparkler image by Pavel Losevsky from Fotolia.com)

Simplify nuclear energy for kids by explaining that the energy stems from an atom's nucleus or core. Atoms are the minuscule particles from which everything in the universe is built. Models, diagrams and demonstrations help students understand an atom's structure and how splitting atoms creates nuclear energy.


The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that nuclear power is generated from a relatively rare form of uranium, U-235, a non-renewable natural resource found in the United States, Australia, Canada, Africa and South America. Students can research the mining and extraction process to create a flow chart of the steps it goes through as it is converted to fuel.


Green-Planet-Solar-Energy explains how the atom of U-235 splits into krypton and barium, releasing three super-fast moving neutrons that set off a chain reaction that produces the heat and converts it to electricity. Uranium South Australia suggests having students locate uranium on the periodic chart and build a model or draw a diagram of an atom to illustrate the fission process. Energy Quest's Chain Reaction experiment provides a visual demonstration of how the chain reaction and control rods operate.

Nuclear Reactors

The Energy for Sustainable Development Bulgaria website states, "Nuclear reactors are basically machines that contain and control chain reactions, while releasing heat at a controlled rate." Students can use Kennesaw State University's Nuclear Power Plant Simulation to familiarise themselves with the inner workings of a nuclear reactor and the controls that keep it from spinning out of control.

Mining, Waste and Safety

Uranium mining operations leave a significant residue of radioactive waste on the ground, the World Almanac for Kids advises. The EIA warns that"the waste can remain dangerous to human health for thousands of years." Put students in pairs or groups and ask them to imagine that a nuclear power plant is being built near their town. Have them research the types of nuclear waste, the hazards generated from them and the protective regulations that exist to guard humans and the environment from radioactive contamination. Convene a "nuclear advisory committee" and let each group present their facts and recommendations for the safe handling of nuclear waste.

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