Teaching American History Project Lesson
Author: Sue Wood
Unit Title: Saving our Planet
Lesson Title: Yucca Mountain
Subject: U.S. History
Level: 11th grade
Length of Lesson: Four to five 45-minute class periods
Seemingly insurmountable amounts of potentially deadly radioactive waste are being
temporarily stored at sites around the United States. Several sites have been considered
for permanent storage of much of the accumulating waste. Studies have been and are still
in progress by the Department of Energy to determine the suitability of storing waste -
which is generated by nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons manufacturing - in
tunnels deep under Nevada’s Yucca Mountain. Disagreements are ongoing by scientists,
politicians, community activists, environmentalists and others about whether the site is
leak proof, and whether shipping wastes to the site by rail or truck would endanger
communities in the 43 states along the route. In the meantime, President Bush is pushing
for construction of more nuclear power plants to deal with increased need for energy. As
waste continues to build up in temporary storage sites, the urgency to remove it from
temporary storage to a more permanent site has become more pressing. In response to this
urgent matter, Yucca Mountain has been designated as that permanent nuclear waste
storage site by Congress and the President.
Yucca Mountain is located in Nye County, about one hundred miles North of Las Vegas.
It seems imperative that the students living in the surrounding area have an understanding
of the implications of using Yucca Mountain as a storage site for hazardous waste that
would be shipped from all over the country. It is equally important for students and
concerned citizens to be informed, since, when wastes are transported, they will be
shipped by rail or on major freeways that could pass by anyones' home.
Sources to be studied by the students will be extracted from government and professional
publications as well as citizen awareness publications and Internet sources.
Students will be able to identify the sources nuclear waste comes from.
Students will be able to explain the reason a permanent storage site for nuclear waste is
Students will be able to explain the risks of keeping nuclear waste in temporary storage
Students will be able to discuss and explain the risks of transporting nuclear waste across
Students will form and express their personal reasons why they think the Yucca Mountain
site should or should not be used for a permanent storage site for nuclear waste.
Nevada State Standards:
History Content Standard 10.0: New Challenges, 1990 to the Present: Students
understand the political, economic, social and technological issues challenging the world
as it approaches and enters the new millennium.
Benchmark 10.12.3 Describe how global issues affect nations differently, including:
human rights, the environment world and U.S. regional conflicts
In Class Student Activities:
Begin by having the students collect information (pro and con) that relates to the Yucca
Mountain Project. Students should be encouraged to share information when they find
concise, informative articles. The Internet has many sites with excellent information.
On the second day, instruct the students to write two one page essays; one in favor of
Yucca Mountain being America's permanent nuclear waste repository; the other against.
These essays can be started as soon as the students find enough suitable sources. Writing
the essays can be homework if necessary.
For the third day, the students will take a tour of the Yucca Mountain repository. This
tour will need to be arranged well in advance and cleared with the school principal,
making sure there is sufficient time for students to get permission slips signed by their
parents. If a tour of Yucca Mountain is not possible, a guest speaker, a virtual tour on the
Internet with class discussion after, a correlated science lesson relating to the site, or other
alternatives could be substituted.
On the fourth day, divide the students into three groups. They will be role-playing as they
do a moot court. Assign one group to be pro Yucca Mountain as a permanent hazardous
waste site, another to be con, and the third group to be judges. Have the pro and con
groups identify major arguments from their readings and their essays. Also, instruct them
to have supporting evidence to back up their arguments.
Instruct students in pro groups to present their arguments (2-3 minutes per student).
Instruct students in con groups to present their arguments (2-3 minutes per student).
After both groups have presented their arguments, have them each offer their rebuttals (2-
3 minutes per student).
Instruct judges to ask questions of both groups at any time during their presentations and
Allow judges a few minutes for deliberation, then have them present their judgement
based on which group the think gave the most persuasive and well founded arguments.
Have students write letters to their political leaders, expressing their opposition, support,
Since the Yucca Mountain site has already been approved by Congress and President
Bush, have students research and write an essay on the licensing procedure for the Yucca
Assign each student to log onto http://www.mapscience.com/mapresults.php
to see how close the nearest proposed nuclear waste route is to their home or the homes
of people they love and care about.
Other materials, such as official documents, magazines, or books related to the Yucca
Stop watch or other device used for timing.
Map science: http://www.mapscience.com/mapresults.php
Sites for obtaining information to arrange a tour of Yucca Mountain.
Students will be evaluated on the pro and con essays, their group thesis arguments and
their participation in the moot court.
The students who were judges will be graded on the thought they put into the questions
they created for the pro and con group participants.
Citizen Alert Website
This site is a grassroots environmental group based in Nevada. It provides education,
advocacy, and empowerment to citizens on matters of environmental policy and
American Teachers Website
This is a student appropriate site, which has excellent research potential.
Information can be obtained by calling or writing the State of Nevada's
AGENCY FOR NUCLEAR PROJECTS by writing or calling:
STATE OF NEVADA AGENCY FOR NUCLEAR PROJECTS
802 N CARSON ST SUITE 252
CARSON CITY, NV 89701-9936
1-800-366-0990 (Toll Free in Nevada) or 1-775-687-3744
Committee on Energy and Natural Resources (2002, June) Approval of Yucca Mountain
Site. Washington, DC: Author.