Archive for the 'Nuclear Energy' Category

eBook – Our choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis

Our choice: A Plan to Solve the Climate Crisis is one eBook that comes highly recommended by a few teachers I know and it was also picked as a Best App or website  for Teaching & Learning 2013 by the American Association of School Librarians. This interactive eBook includes photography, interactive graphics, animations, and more than an hour of documentary footage. In 2011 it won the Apple Design Award for its “groundbreaking interface.” This eBook includes 18 chapters, including chapters on solar and wind energy, geothermal, biofuels, the smart grid, carbon capture and sequestration and nuclear energy! You can purchase this app from iTunes for $4.99.

If you use this resource with your students, I’d love to hear from you!

New online tool provides state and national Sankey diagrams

A newly released tool, Free Energy Data or FRED (Beta stage) allows users to visualize state and national energy flow using Sankey diagrams. FRED was developed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy in partnership with two national laboratories and two non-profit organizations. To acquire Sankey diagrams for North Carolina,click on North Carolina on the home page and then click on “energy flows” and you will gain access to Sankey diagrams showing the energy flow in NC for the year 2010 and all the way back to 1964!  Users can navigate the diagrams by mousing over paths of interest. Users can also compare energy flow diagrams for two states using the 2×2 grid button at the top right of the home page.

To see national level data, open the “layers” button located next to the log in button and click on the pencil which will enable you to change your query from ‘stateprov’ to ‘country.’ Then click on the US and then “energy flows to access to Sankey diagrams showing the energy flow in the US for the year 2010 and all the way back to 1960!

Sankey diagrams to visualize energy flows

Sankey diagrams are visualizations that can help your students learn about the flow of energy in a system.  The first Sankey diagram was introduced by an Irish engineer, Captain Sankey, in an 1898 article about the energy efficiency of a steam engine. Today, Sankey diagrams are valuable tools for visualizing the flow of energy from source to services (end use).  One thing that your students will notice is that in many cases, rejected energy (e.g., heat) is greater than the amount of useful energy generated!

LLNLUSEnergy2011You may already be familiar with the annual energy flow diagrams made available by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. The most recent flow chart is for the year 2011.  A flow chart of US energy-related carbon dioxide emissions is also available (most recent is for 2010).

Teaching Resources

These flow charts can be used with students to promote active learning. The National Academy of Sciences has constructed an interactive Sankey diagram using 2009 US energy flow data titled, Our Energy System, that could be used to introduce students to this visualization tool.

Chapter 6 of the Global Systems Science online book “Energy Use” guides users through an “untangling” process where they consider the energy source with the widest path (petroleum) first to get a sense of how to interpret the flow chart.  Guiding student questions are also provided. And this lesson on the energy economy, provides users with questions that can be used to dissect the US energy flow diagram from 2002, an interesting year from the author’s perspective (see References and Resources section of lesson).

International energy flow charts are also available, with the most recent set summarizing energy flow for the year 2007 for 136 countries.  The link to these flow charts as well as teacher tips for utilizing these Sankey diagrams can be found by clicking here.

State-Level energy flow charts are also available, with the most recent set summarizing energy flow for the year 2008 for all 50 states.  The link to these flow charts as well as teacher tips for utilizing these Sankey diagrams can be found by clicking here.

EIA’s New Interactive Maps: State Energy Portal

ncAccording to the the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), its state energy portal is “the most comprehensive, dynamic, and interactive view of the U.S. government’s national and state energy data and information currently available to the public.”

The profile/map for NC can be found here. By clicking on the “Layers/Legend” tab and selecting one of five available base maps, educators can customize maps and charts for classroom use. Maps can be created to show availability of energy sources, transmission lines, major power plants as well as renewable energy potential for North Carolina.  Electricity, nuclear, natural gas and renewable energy profiles for the state are also available along with supporting data tables in Microsoft Excel. Also, by clicking on a specific power plant, the portal links users directly to that plant’s data in EIA’s electricity data browser (see corresponding blog post).

This tool also shows how NC ranks in comparison to the other 49 states in terms of energy production, consumption, prices for electricity and natural gas, and carbon dioxide emissions.

Thermoelectric-power plants: water withdrawal versus consumption

Conventional Power Plants: Water withdrawal versus consumption

According the US Geological Survey (USGS), production of electrical power results in one of the largest uses of water in the United States and worldwide. In 2005, about 201,000 million gallons of water each day were used to produce electricity (excluding hydroelectric power) and surface water accounted for more than 99 percent of total thermoelectric-power withdrawals. While some of the water withdrawn provides water to drive the steam turbines and generate electricity, much of the water is used for cooling the power-producing equipment.

When evaluating water use by thermoelectric-power plants, a distinction needs to be made between that of water withdrawal and water consumption.  Water withdrawal entails the removal of water from a local water source; the withdrawn water may or may not get returned to its source or made available for use elsewhere. Water consumption refers to the use of water in such a way as to prohibit it being returned to its source, usually because it is lost to evaporation. While water withdrawal by conventional power plants can be high, consumption can be low if the withdrawn water is returned to lakes and streams.  In 2005, withdrawal of water by thermoelectric power plants for cooling represented 44% of water withdrawn nationally, and 6% of water consumed (Congressional Research Service, 2010).

Droughts and hot summers can influence water withdrawals by power plants as they adjust to low water supply levels and/or use warmer water for their cooling operations; a graphic from the Union of Concerned scientists (UCS) illustrating these scenarios is available.  And for power plants that return water to its source, the returned water, now warmer, can impact the aquatic ecosystem in which it is discharged, which is referred to as thermal pollution. Another graphic from the UCS indicates regions around the country that have encountered power production/water supply issues associated with hotter and drier summers.

To learn more about cooling water, cooling water systems at power plants and thermal pollution, the following resources may be helpful:

Thermoelectric Power Water Use, USGS.  This website includes graphics and a schematic of a coal-fired power plant that relies on a closed-loop cooling system.

Thermal pollution, Encyclopedia of Earth.  This website includes satellite image illustrating thermal pollution in association with a power plant.

Cooling water for energy generation and its impact on national-level water statistics, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, 2011 (pdf). This document includes graphics depicting once-through and closed-loop cooling systems, comparison of withdrawal and consumption for each type of system.

Energy’s Water Demand: Trends, Vulnerabilities, and Management, Congressional Research Service, 2010 (pdf).

Energy-water collision, Union of Concerned Scientists. This website includes graphics and links to supporting scientific publications.

Electricity data browser from EIA

EIAThe U.S. Energy Information Administration recently posted an electricity data browser to show generation, consumption, fossil fuel receipts, stockpiles, retail sales, and electricity prices. The data appear on an interactive web page and are updated each month; annual, quarterly and monthly data are available from 2001-2011. All images and datasets are available for download.  Furthermore, data sets can be filtered by fuel type, geographic region or state, or energy sector, enabling you to customize data sets and graphs for your state or region.

I encourage you to check out this tool to get up to date US energy data and to create customized graphs for use in the classroom. For example, this tool can be used to quickly get data and corresponding graphs to answer a variety of questions such as:

How much of NC’s electricity generation comes from biomass? natural gas? coal?

How does NC’s consumption of biomass compare the US as a whole?

How has NC’s consumption of natural gas changed since 2001?

Which region of the US is generating the most electricity from natural gas?

Updated Curriculum: Learn Nuclear Science With Marbles

Learn Nuclear Science With Marbles is a curriculum for grades 7-12 science teachers that uses a marble model nucleus* to provide an interactive learning experience.  The Marble Nuclei Project is co-sponsored by the Joint Institute for Nuclear Astrophysics (JINA) and National Superconducting Cyclotron Laboratory (NSCL). This curriculum was highlighted in The Physics Teacher (Feb 18 2010).

This curriculum was recently updated to include:

      • NEW activities and a heavily-expanded fragmentation box section
      • NEW lesson sections with advanced topics that had been requested by teachers
      • Improved instructions for building your own fragmentation boxes
      • Accompanying Powerpoint presentation (see Guided Lesson)

*According to the teacher’s guide for these lessons, you will need colored magnetic marbles ( 12 yellow, 12 green, 1 blue, 1 pink and two 5/8’’ neodymium sphere magnets (

Duke Energy’s Nuclear Information Center

Since May 2011, experts from Duke Energy’s nuclear fleet have been posting blog entries at Duke Energy’s Nuclear Information Center.  This blog  is updated regularly and is searchable by category/topic.  In addition, links to each of the state’s nuclear power plants are provided along with links to other nuclear energy resources.

Below are some recent posts that may be of interest:

Small, Modular Reactors Driving Nuclear Industry to New Energy Frontiers

Professional Profiles: A Nuclear Plant Operator

Thorium – The Smart Rock

Uranium Enrichment in North Carolina

In fall 2012, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission approved a license to build a state-of-the-art uranium enrichment facility in Wilmington, North Carolina.  This license allows GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to build its own enrichment facility using classified laser separation technology, which will be the first of its kind in the world.

In nature, uranium exists mostly of two isotopes, U-235 and U-238. U-235 is the main isotope used to generate nuclear power through the process of fission.  Natural uranium contains 0.7% of the U-235 isotope and most nuclear power plants require U-235 fuel that has been enriched from 0.7% to 3% to 5%. Isotope separation is a physical process to concentrate (‘enrich’) U-235 relative to U-236.  Currently, according to the World Nuclear Association, the main commercial process employed for U-235 enrichment involves gaseous uranium in centrifuges. A 6:48 minute video describing this process is available from the Federation of American Scientists and additional information along with a fact sheet is also available from the NRC’s Uranium Enrichment page.

Laser separation technology, according to the World Nuclear Association, is a “third-generation technology promising “significant economic advantages” over other uranium enrichment processes.  According to the NRC, General Electric (GE) currently plans to use the Australian laser enrichment technology known as Separation of Isotopes by Laser Excitation (SILEX) to enrich natural UF6 gas in the uranium-235 isotope in its Wilmington, NC testing facility.  While the specific technology of SILEX is classified information, general information about laser separation technologies is available that can be used to introduce your students to this technology.

To learn more visit:

Laser Isotope Separation, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories

Laser Processes,World Nuclear Association (scroll down page to find this section)

Laser uranium enrichment returns from the dead, Laser Focus World Article, October 2011

Small Modular Reactors

In late November 2012, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced its decision to award the Babcock & Wilcox Company to receive government funding in support of commercializing Small Modular Reactors (SMR), a new generation of nuclear power plants. B&W will receive funding that will support accelerated development of its B&W mPower™ SMR technology.  Also see: Nuclear industry looks toward smaller reactors, USA Today, November 27, 2012.

For more information about small modular reactors visit:

World Nuclear Association

International Atomic Energy Agency

NuScale Power

This website includes a video showing how their light water reactor operates as well as a video depicting a 540MW electric power plant housing 12 SMRs, a detailed diagram along with an explanation of NuScale’s SMR is also available.


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