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Video Clip Synopsis:
Prime Minister Robert Menzies opens the Lucas Heights nuclear reactor, and marvels at nuclear energy being a relatively new phenomenon in the world.

1min 30sec

Australia’s First Nuclear Reactor is an excerpt from the film Energy Unlimited (15 mins), produced in 1962.

Energy Unlimited: Inside Australia’s first nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights, where scientists from the Australian Atomic Energy Commission “work to bring the power of the atom into the service of man”. This film records the construction and opening of the centre in 1958 and its ongoing work in atomic research and producing radioactive isotopes for industry and medicine.

Energy Unlimited was produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit for the Australian Atomic Energy Commission.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: Science
Year: 7-8
Strand: Natural and processed materials, energy and change
Theme: Science Work

Key Concepts

Nuclear energy and radiation

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Working scientifically: investigating, Natural and processed materials: materials and their uses
NSW:Science 4.11, 4.12, 5.12
NT:Science Band 5: CC5.1, CC5.3
Qld:Science and society 4.1, Natural and processed materials 3.1, 3.3, 4.1, 4.3, 4.4
SA:Energy systems 4.3, 5.3; Matter 5.7
Tas:World futures, Creating Sustainable futures
Vic:Chemical Science 6.1. 6.2. 6.5
WA:Learning outcomes: Natural and processed materials, Science in daily Life

Context / Background Information

There are many kinds of energy in the world such as heat, sound, light, movement, chemical and electrical energy. Energy is the ability to do work. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, but it can be changed from one kind into another.

Nuclear energy which involves atoms and energy is produced when the nucleus of atoms change.

Isotopes of an element are atoms that have the same number of protons in their nuclei, but they have different numbers of neutrons. Many isotopes are unstable or radioactive. They give off radiation and are called radioisotopes.

There are three kinds of radiation that can be given off by the nucleus of unstable atoms. They are alpha (α), beta (β) and gamma (γ) radiation.

This radiation can be used to treat cancer and other serious illnesses in a process called chemotherapy. Radioisotopes can also be used in many other areas of scientific research.

In 1958, Australia's first nuclear reactor was opened at Lucas Heights, Sydney.

Discussion Pointers

  1. Nuclear technology was a new and unknown science in 1958 when this film was made. Discuss what the students know (and don’t know) about nuclear technology and its uses. What are the pros and cons of using nuclear technology?
  2. What new technology is being introduced today? (for example: reproductive technology, advances in information technology, solar technology, nano technology)
  3. Can it be compared with the introduction of nuclear technology?
  4. Is it fully understood by the population?
  5. Are nuclear reactors safe? Have you ever heard of any nuclear reactors being a serious danger?

Suggested Classroom Activities

Before watching the video clip students brainstorm all the uses of nuclear technology. Look up the meanings of the following words: nuclear, radioactive, atomic, radioisotope, yellow cake.

Find out about nuclear reactors in Australia and the rest of the world:

  1. What is the reactor at Lucas Heights used for?
  2. List other uses for nuclear reactors.
  3. Draw a flow chart to show how nuclear reactors can be used to produce electricity.
  4. List the advantages and disadvantages of using nuclear energy to produce electricity compared with using fossil fuels as the energy source.

Australia is the source of much of the raw materials used in the nuclear industry throughout the world.

  1. What are the raw materials used in the nuclear industry?
  2. How and where are they processed?

Working with radioactive materials can be dangerous to your health.

  1. Find out about alpha, beta and gamma radiation. Which of these is most harmful to humans?
  2. What sort of protective clothing do workers use?
  3. What other precautions are taken to keep workers safe?
  4. Do you think the workers in this video clip were safe?

Nuclear Reactors like Lucas Heights from time to time need refurbishment. There are strong opinions both for and against these sorts of proposals. Collect arguments for and against and present a debate.

Modules That Use This Clip

Science Year 7-8, English Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 11-12