You need to login before you download the free activities. You can register here.


Nuclear power: the great debate

  • GCSE
  • Popular Activity
  • Topical

Type: Activity
Learning Strategy: Group discussion
Topic: Generating electricity

This is part of our 'Classics Collection'. For new GCSE activities with up-to-date contexts, see upd8 Crucial.

As fossil fuel prices rocket and arguments about global warming become ever more heated, the government is planning new nuclear power stations as a clean, green alternative to burning coal, oil and gas. In this local Planning Enquiry role play, students get to examine the arguments in detail and come to their own conclusions about the benefits – and dangers – of going nuclear.

14-16 How Science Works:
• develop an argument and draw conclusions
• consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made

Published: 11th September 2006
Reviews & Comments: 31

Learning objectives

Students will:
• Analyse, evaluate and develop arguments about the nuclear energy debate
• Present their arguments in a planning enquiry role play

Try the activity

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

How science works
• 3c: present information, develop an argument and draw a conclusion, using scientific, technical and mathematical language, conventions and ICT tools
• 4b: consider how and why decisions about science and technology are made, including those that raise ethical issues, and about the social, economic and environmental effects of such decisions

GCSE specificiations
13.4 How should we generate the electricity we need?
• The advantages and disadvantages of using fossil fuels, nuclear
fuels and renewable energy sources to generate electricity.
13.6 What are the uses and dangers of emissions from radioactive substances?
• to evaluate the possible hazards associated with the use of
different types of nuclear radiation

Topic 12 - Power of the Atom
• discuss the benefits and drawbacks of nuclear power for generating electricity, including carbon dioxide emissions and safety issues
• describe the environmental and social impact of a nuclear power station on a

Module P4 – Radiation for life: P4h
• recognise nuclear power stations use uranium as a fuel

Twenty First Century
Ideas about science: risk and making decisions about science and technology
Module P3 - Radioactive materials.
• How can electricity be generated?
• What can be done with nuclear waste?

Running the activity

Display page 1. Briefly, get students to speculate what the government's decisive action might be. Display page 2 – a speech by a new Prime Minister promoting nuclear power. Then display page 3, which presents some of the arguments against nuclear power as slogans on placards at a demonstration. Then divide the class into 7 groups. Each group will represent one role at the Planning Enquiry, except for group 7 which organises and chairs the Enquiry.

Display page 4, which sets the task. Give groups 1-6 cards made from one of pages 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and a copy of the Argument Grid (page 13). Give group 7 a copy of page 11.

Groups 1-6 then do the first task on page 4 – using the argument grid to sort their cards into cards that state the problem and arguments in each of these categories: social, scientific, economic, ethical, environmental and emotional. The categories are not clear-cut – some could fit into more than one category. Foundation students might find it helpful to know that the cards are colour-coded: social = red; scientific = blue; economic = green; ethical = yellow; environmental = orange; and emotional = purple. Cards that state the problem are pink. Meanwhile, group 7 gets on with their first task.

Groups 1-6 then plan their contributions to the Planning Enquiry, using the guidance on page 4. Emphasise that they should use just the most relevant arguments. You might like to limit them to a 90-second presentation or to making 3 main points. They could use PowerPoint or acetates to illustrate their talks. Meanwhile, give group 7 a copy of cards made from page 5 and page 13 and ask them to classify the arguments.

Give each individual or group a copy of page 12. Then get group 7 to use the instructions on page 11 to run the Planning Enquiry role play for the rest of the class. During or just after each talk, get individuals or groups to complete page 12 – this summarises the main arguments of each group and forces them to listen!

Finally, group 7 will lead students in voting for or against the power station.

In order to fully meet the curriculum requirements of HSW 3c and 4b, it is vital to get students to engage in reflection and discussion about how the decision was reached – it is about much more than considering only scientific evidence. You might like to do this after students have de-roled at the end of the debate, perhaps by getting students to consider which argument categories were most persuasive in their decision making. Alternatively – or as well – set the following as homework:
Worries about global warming and fossil fuel shortages are prompting the government to consider building new nuclear power stations. List the main benefits and drawbacks of nuclear energy. On balance, should more nuclear power be used? Explain how you reached your decision.

News links

A good starting point for an overview of the nuclear debate. This includes an interactive power calculator
BBC news
Students can use to the above page to try out different mixtures of energy for the UK in 2050 to find combinations that meet our needs.
BBC local news
This includes varied opinions of locals around Dungeness.
Greenpeace's nuclear power policy
Greenpeace's alternative energy policy
British Energy
Factsheets from the owners of 8 UK nuclear power stations about issues relevant to weighing nuclear against other energy resources.
British Energy
An explanation of how nuclear power works

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?

nuclear power

Apr 11th, 2013

4 Star

very good resource

Reviewer: Shola Akintoye


Jul 14th, 2011

4 Star

Really good activity students really enjoyed it.

Reviewer: maz ahmed


Jul 6th, 2011

5 Star

i tried this with my year 8 group but to be honest it was a bit too much to ask of them, not mature enough to discuss without falling out or wanting to swap groups. my top set y9s however lapped it up and got a lot out of it, and really enjoyed doing it.

Reviewer: simon russ


Jul 1st, 2011

5 Star

The sheets give students information so they can have an organised and focussed debate.
The debate worked well with eaker and more able gruops of year 10 physics students

Reviewer: Sylvia Bell

Nuclear power

Apr 16th, 2011

4 Star

good activity - did with a low ability group and they needed a lot of guidance with how to categorize the cards - not sure I would do that task again. Works well to generate debate

Reviewer: Janet Birch

Nuclear debate

Dec 14th, 2010

3 Star

The web sites were good additional resources and the cards worked well to focus discussion on pros and cons. A useful summary table of arguements to prop up students who are less willing to write for themselves

Reviewer: Lesley Bennett


Sep 24th, 2010

5 Star

This was a great resource and the pupils really enjoyed the task and was focused througout the lesson

Reviewer: ozlem agirbas

Year 10

Jun 30th, 2010

4 Star

My Year 10s loved it. The debate was excellent and they recognised and applied several HSW skills. We started a debate club due to the interest caused ny this lesson!

Reviewer: Radha Jaipersad

Nuclear power: the great debate review

Nov 1st, 2009

5 Star

I found this activity very useful with my year 10 students . They were very engaged and enjoyed the activity .

Reviewer: Elaine Dawkins

Nuclear debate

Jul 30th, 2009

5 Star

Really engaged by class of y10 GCSE pupils in this special needs secondary school. Their main problem is 3R's but they coped well with this and they LOVE role play

Reviewer: Sue Barnes


Mar 21st, 2009

4 Star

Hi this activity worked well and saved heaps of time. I teach in Australia so some content was not as relevant to us, but that 's not your fault!

Reviewer: marita nicholas

Nuclear power: the great debate"

Mar 10th, 2009

5 Star

I have used this topic on numerous occasions with students from year 11 down to year 7. They all enjoy the discussion and find the summary sheets really useful to consolidate their ideas. . Dunkerley

Reviewer: Lesley Dunkerley

Nuclear power the great debate

Oct 16th, 2008

4 Star

Very useful for OCR P3 - made students engage with the concepts.

Reviewer: Lisa Hays

Nuclear power: the great debate review

Jul 11th, 2008

4 Star

I used this with my S1 class and it stimulated some well thought debate. Pupils all played their part very seriously but overall they all felt that alternative energy solutions would be a safer option as nobody actually wanted one anywhere near them.

Reviewer: Barbara Stewart

Nuclear Power

Jul 10th, 2008

4 Star

Used this excellent resource to get pupils thinking about the different viewpoints the characters portrayed would have and used it as a vehicle for some Literacy in Science work.

Reviewer: Claire Brown


Jul 8th, 2008

4 Star

Great starting point for Science in the News coursework (Gateway). Raises pupils interest and awareness of the importance of this issue. Now needs updating.

Reviewer: Pam Greenhalgh

nuclear power

Jun 6th, 2008

5 Star

use this on some year nines for my job interview. they had just finish there sats, they loved it . fab lesson, excellent AFL tool. thanks got me the job.

Reviewer: neville hanson

Nuclear Power - the great debate

May 1st, 2008

5 Star

Y11 high and middle ability sets

I used the materials as a starting point for a traditional debate, dividing the students into the six viewpoint groups.

We started by gauging the students' own opinions on a continuum.

I gave the groups 10 minutes to prepare 2 minute addresses to present to the class. These were followed by question/comments from the other five groups.

The lesson was finished off with another go at the continuum.

Great fun was had by all and it is good to see students having to present opinions contrary to their own.

Stephen Brian
All Saints RC

Reviewer: Stephen Brian

Physics year 10 middle ability group

Nov 21st, 2007

4 Star

activity worked well 7/10
kept students engaged for much of the lesson with some good questions being asked 8/10
used activity as a thought stimulator and debating tool and was very useful for organising the kids ideas 8/10
a colour printer for the worksheets would have made the sheets more visually stimulating but that is a school costing issue, overall score 8/10

Reviewer: t khan

Well done

Sep 6th, 2007

5 Star

THis activity really give GCSE students to think for themselves . It allows them to understand the risks and benefits of nuclear power stations from different angles.

Reviewer: Kevin Hungsraz

Nuclear power

Jul 17th, 2007

5 Star

An excellent resource. I used it with my year 8 group studying energy resources and they were all actively engaged and enjoyed the role play.

Reviewer: susan hassell

Nuclear Power - the great debate

Jul 11th, 2007

5 Star

I used this with my year 7 group as we were talking about energy. The graphics are excellent. The students loved using the argument grids and worked hard on coming up with considered responses. The financial aspects were beyond them but they enjoyed having to read out the arguments for and against Nuclear power and took the voting very seriously. Will continue to use the resource in ks3 and ks4.

Reviewer: Lesley Dunkerley

Nuclear Power - the great debate

Jun 6th, 2007

5 Star

An excelllent activity. I used it with a top set and with a good middle ability set. Both groups really got into their roles and enjoyed the debate. I think it would be a very good lead in to the Gateway Science in the News topic 'Should we build Nuclear Power stations'.

Reviewer: Frances Pinsent

Nuclear Power: The Great Debate

Feb 9th, 2007

5 Star

Thanks for this excellent resource.
I have used this while teaching AQA Physics 1a, and it was a great success. I have also introduced it to the other staff at my school who are very impressedand look forward to using it!

St Clement Danes School

Reviewer: Carol Black

Nuclear power: the great debate review

Dec 14th, 2006

5 Star

I am a cover teacher who ends up teaching science. I did this with year 8. They loved it. It made them work in groups. I didn't do the group 7 part. I also split into 2 lessons 1 to prepare and 1 to present and vote. It worked very well as an end of module activity

Reviewer: Jane Reid-Peters

Nuclear Debate

Nov 15th, 2006

5 Star

Used with y11 Applied, low middle set.
Wonderfully organised resources, very engaging, very informative - thank you.

I did wonder why the planning organisers (group 7) had to organise the arguments from the pro-nuclear Lecki-4-all company only - seemed biased, so I gave them a copy of slides 1 -4 instead, and got them to summarise arguments for and against.

It was a tight squeeze into an hour for my lot, though maybe next time I will be stricter on the preparation and talking time allowed!

Overall, very enjoyable, very worthwhile.

St Augustines School

Reviewer: rebecca noble

nuclear debate

Oct 12th, 2006

4 Star

i used this with a middle ability class and found some of the slides useful but had to be selective in what the pupils were expected to do. This would be absolutely great with a higher ability class. I will certainly be using this again and will recommend to all of my department that they try this.

Reviewer: stacia tomlinson

Engaged decision making

Oct 11th, 2006

3 Star

Great resource which provides structure and focus to explore a scientific issue. It not new material but has been structured well

Reviewer: baldev singh

Nuclear Power - the Great Debate

Oct 7th, 2006

5 Star

I trialled this resource with a 'challenging' Y10 GCSE group. The three initial posters certainly held their attention and got them interested. All of the resources were extremely well prepared, colourful and engaging. The teacher notes were excellent and the lesson practically ran itself, which is a reflection of the quality of the materials. The colour coding of the 'arguments cards' was especially helpful with this particular group. I did need longer than the hour with this group; the summary of the arguments and vote was carried over to the following day. This did give me the opportunity to scan each group's summary sheet into PowerPoint, so the whole class could discuss the different interpretations and whether a group had managed to put their point across.

I will be sharing this resource with colleagues at our next Dept. meeting.

Carolyn Potts
Stanground College

Reviewer: Carolyn Potts

Nuclear Power Debate - Oct6th 2006

Oct 6th, 2006

5 Star

I used the Nuclear Debate with a Yr10 GCSE class today. The pupils appeared to enjoy the lesson which went better than I had hoped and was completed within the hour.
I am really impressed with the quality of this resource - not only does it look good but the careful planning that has gone into the role play materials paid off.
I can really recommend this to others looking for an excellent way to involve young people in the issues.

John Eaden
Audenshaw School

Reviewer: John Eaden

Nuclear Power - the Great Debate

Sep 30th, 2006

5 Star

An outstanding resource for GCSE Science - both the upd8 activity and the web-links provided will form an essential part of my future SoW.
Congratulations to all involved in the development of this resource.

I would like to draw your attention to an excellent board game called 'Power Grid' (Rio Grande Games) in which players have to supply energy using a combination of Coal, Oil, Nuclear, Renewable and Nuclear sources.

Tony Reeves
Christ College Brecon

Reviewer: Tony Reeves