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Chernobyl 20 years on

  • Key Stage 3
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Communication
Topic: Feeding relationships

When the Chernobyl nuclear power plant exploded 20 years ago it caused severe contamination of the surrounding countryside, and raised background radiation levels throughout Northern Europe. Estimates of the numbers who will eventually die from radiation-related illnesses range from 9,000 to 200,000. What is certain is that biodiversity is increasing in the evacuated areas.180 species have moved in and many of these are rare elsewhere. The mammals include moose, wild boar, deer, beavers, wolves, badgers, otters and lynx. Tourists may be tempted to visit the area and need to be aware of the hazards to avoid. Bioaccumulation can concentrate the remaining contamination in living things. Students use data about the distribution of radioactive material to plan a safety video for the visitors' centre.

Published: 28th April 2006
Reviews & Comments: 12

Learning objectives

Students will learn:
-that toxins enter a food chain when plants take them in or are in contact with them.
-that as animals feed on plants they may accumulate toxins taken in by the plant.
-that at each step of the food chain persistent toxins are accumulated in the carnivores and that this process is bioaccumulation.
-an example of how the atmosphere and water resources are affected by natural processes and the activities of humans.

Try the activity

You will need Acrobat Reader installed to open the activity sheets.

11 - 14 (KS3)
Plants for food QCA 9D: Bioaccumulation.
11 - 14 (KS3)
Plants for food QCA 9G: Pollution.

Running the activity

Page 1 sets the scene and introduces the task. Wildlife has flourished in the evacuated area around Chernobyl, but the it is still heavily contaminated. To reduce their risk of developing cancer, tourists need to minimise their exposure to radiation. The task is to plan a safety video to warn tourists what to avoid during their visit. Page 2 shows the data they will need to consult and needs to be copied for individuals or pairs of students.

Further information

The radioactive material released in the explosion contained mainly iodine-131, which has a half life of 8.04 days. The bulk of the remaining radiation comes from caesium -137, a gamma emitter. The caesium is selectively taken up by plant roots and concentrates in animal muscles. This bioaccumulation makes plants and animals grown in contaminated areas unsafe to eat. Bioaccumulation does have a good side though. Rafts of genetically modified sunflowers have been used to extract the caesium from pond water, and other plants have been used to remove it from soil. It is easier to dispose of the contaminated plants than vast amounts of soil and water.

News links

A concise summary of the disaster and its aftermath.
A report on the return of wildlife to the area.
Chernobyl Tour
A photo tour of Chernobyl.
The Rodale Institute
Phytoremediation explained.
Image Gallery
Images of the disaster at Chernobyl.
Summary Article
A word file with comprehensive coverage of the environmental impact of radioactive contamination.

Reviews & Comments

Write your online review to share your feedback and classroom tips with other teachers. How well does it work, how engaging is it, how did you use it, and how could it be improved?


Dec 16th, 2014

5 Star

got students thinking, great to attach theory to real life application

Reviewer: Julie Gould

chernobyl 20 years on

Feb 23rd, 2012

5 Star

I used this with a Yr 10 class, middle-upper ability. They enjoyed it, and found it both interesting and informative.

Reviewer: kevin thompson


Jul 23rd, 2010

5 Star

Excellent for looking at man's impact on the environment as well as looking at biological accumulation and thus impact on man - i.e. a full circle.

Reviewer: Carol Lekkas


Jul 9th, 2010

5 Star

It is very interesting

Reviewer: Olivia Rodríguez


Jan 23rd, 2010

5 Star

Some of the info was a little hard for my year nine set two to grasp, but generally they found the activity interesting. Good if you can get a video camera to film the adverts.

Reviewer: Rebecca Weatherby


May 18th, 2009

5 Star

Found it very useful linking physics and biology content with core pupils

Reviewer: colin white


Jun 10th, 2008

5 Star

This was great, as I work in a Media status school!
I got the students to produce a storyboard of their video, a script and an information leaflet for the more able. The students worked well and enjoyed it. Many students asked lots of questions, which showed their interest!
Hopefully, I might be able to get the digital equipment and producetheir actual short films!!
Many thanks

Reviewer: Emma-Jane Bradbury

Great resource for applied science too

Feb 3rd, 2008

4 Star

I used this activity with a middle ability year 11 applied science group and they loved it. It really fired their interest and they produced some very good, thought provoking pieces of work.

Reviewer: Sarah Magor


Jul 10th, 2006

5 Star

Worked very well. Had to do a little extra background as most of the pupils had never heard of it (yr 10 group).Presentations were videoed and went down a treat with group and also showed the amount learnt and understood. Will be using it again.

Reviewer: paul Bailey


May 6th, 2006

4 Star

This is an important topic, well-presented for pupils. The connection with food chains and webs is intrinsic. Moreover, pupils are shown that this is a subject of current scientific research. The implicit message: there are things that are not fully understood.

The activity will help pupils to appeciate the persistence of radiation in the environment, and understand difficulties in containing it. These have obvious implications for the UK: not only the disposal of the legacy of nuclear wastes but also the coming debate about building new nuclear power stations.

Reviewer: Peter Campbell


May 4th, 2006

4 Star

Fully engaged the class (S.2 Science)
Class drew posters/information leaflets.
Will be using it again.
Landscape format was awkward to use on OHP.

Reviewer: iolanda calder


May 1st, 2006

4 Star

good task but not suitable for my transitional year students as they are in 15-16 age group

Reviewer: breda conneely