The Nuclear Journey or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Outreach

Following on from the post last week by our very own Sarah Kearney I wanted to talk about the outreach practice we did following the training. On the 17th September 2016 the NGN students of this very blog will be running an interactive exhibit at the Manchester Museum of Science and Industry titled “The Nuclear Journey – Keeping it Clean”. We’ll be presenting a series of activities and demonstrations designed to take the participants through the nuclear journey in a fun and interactive way. We’re hoping that this may encourage them to learn more about it themselves and maybe even to think about pursuing a career in science, and even if it doesn’t at least everyone will have some fun along the way.

We designed what we thought would be an interesting series of activities that kids of ages 6-14 could easily engage with, but as the quote goes, no plan survives first contact with the enemy/kids. So to help us test the ‘robustness’ of our activities we had some enthusiastic assistance from the 1st Bramhall Fir Pack Cubs who gave us a good run for our money. I’ve given a brief description of each of the main activities below, but if you want to see how the day went overall you can skip to the end. As well as the ones mentioned here there will also be numerous smaller activities at the event as well as a video display that will be running throughout the day.

The Wall Of Radiation

The Wall Of Radiation

As an intro to the Nuclear Journey the first activity is about radiation, what is it and where can we find it? We asked the cubs to measure (with Geiger counters) everyday items to see which are radioactive, following which the wall of radioactivity can be filled in. Think top gear wall of cool but more cool. It was a nice introduction as it’s honestly surprising to see what things that you use in everyday life that are, albeit slightly, radioactive. We also used a portable UV light to show just how cool uranium glass is, you’ll want to see it trust me.

The Reactor Game

The Reactor Game

Next up in our journey was the reactor game, a competitive challenge that can be done solo or in a group to see who can beat the clock and get the best time. This activity is analogous to the fuel shuffling within the reactor that must be done in order to maintain optimum fuel burn-up as well as to replace depleted fuel rods. It’s trickier than you’d think to wield the grabbers as you definitely can’t get too close!

Build A Nuclear Flask

Build A Nuclear Flask

But once you’ve refueled a reactor what are you to do with all the waste you have? That’s right, transport! Now I know that doesn’t sound like the most glamorous aspect of the nuclear fuel cycle but we did out best to make it fun and the cubs definitely enjoyed it. In order to demonstrate the safety of fuel transportation (apparently people get antsy at the thought of waste being transported via rail, who knew?) a series of public demonstrations dubbed Operation Smash Hit were carried out in the 80’s, all culminating in a 200 tonne train being crashed into a nuclear transport flask. The flask was totally fine, the train not so much. So to demonstrate the safety of the flasks we asked the cubs to build their own and test it in our homebuilt train simulator (box with a slingshot,  same thing) and see if the contents remain safe, perfect if you want to partake in some arts and crafts.

Waste Containers Activity

Waste Containers Activity

Next after transporting the waste you would think that it must be disposed of in a safe manner, and you’d be correct. An interactive demonstration will be available to help demonstrate the different rock types that can be used to surround a buried container of waste. Clay and other materials were used to show how contamination of ground water can be prevented over the long, long, long periods that these containers would be buried for. This was and will be a great chance to talk about the very pressing future of waste disposal in this country and to discuss the research being done in order to keep it safe and secure.

Glove Box Activity

Glove Box Activity

Finally, the end of our journey, the actual waste disposal. This was a chance for the cubs to assemble a waste container by pouring in their own simulated waste. And if that sounds too easy then remember you’ll have to be doing it in a glovebox, because radioactive waste is not good for you (No actual waste will be present, don’t worry).

Once you’ve completed these tasks there will be a small certificate-esque booklet that you can take home with you which contains some fun facts and even a small game, you’ll get a stamp in it for each activity you complete as well, just like a passport!

We only had to run these stands for a couple of hours while the cubs were with us but overall it was a great experience, if exhausting. I think a lot of us were apprehensive about how it would go as dealing with children is perhaps not our forte, but we definitely learnt a lot and the kids really enjoyed it. It was a good learning experience for us though, we saw what worked and what didn’t in our activities and will tweak them accordingly so the final product that will be at MOSI may differ slightly in order to deliver more fun and hopefully engage our audience better. Soon some more information should be on the MOSI website which I’d definitely urge you to check out anyway as there’s loads of other awesome events going on there. Apart from that it’d be great to see you at the event, the more the merrier and while it’s primarily aimed at kids there will be plenty of us students there to answer any questions you may have.

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