Natural Resources on Earth: Nonrenewable

Contributor: Samantha Penna. Lesson ID: 11983

Have you ever run out of milk or soap or something else you use every day? Annoying, isn't it? What if we ran out of electricity? That would be tragic! Learn about energy sources that could run out!


Earth Science

learning style
personality style
Grade Level
Intermediate (3-5)
Lesson Type
Quick Query

Lesson Plan - Get It!


Why do we put gas in our cars and fuel in trains and airplanes? Where does that fuel come from? What if it runs out?

In the previous of the Related Lessons in the two-part Natural Resources on Earth series, found in the right-hand sidebar, you learned about renewable resources that are used to create energy.

Energy is a source of power, like electricity or heat. In this lesson, you will learn about nonrenewable resources.

Nonrenewable resources are natural resources that can be found on Earth. These natural resources cannot be replaced because they take millions of years to form. Natural resources come from the Earth, and man-made resources are created by people. This means once they run out, we won't have any left! 

Some of these nonrenewable resources are harmful to the environment. Many of these resources pollute the air, land, and water, and contribute to habitat destruction. You will learn about different types of nonrenewable resources and how they impact the environment.

oil field

Nonrenewable energy can come from fossil fuels. Coal, natural gas, and crude oil are all fossil fuels that are used in different ways around the world. These fossil fuels can be found deep within the Earth. Fossil fuels come from decaying plants and animals.

Drills are used to retrieve fossil fuels like crude oil and natural gas from beneath the ground. Some drills can even be used to find fossil fuels that are beneath the ocean floor!

Fossil fuels can be dangerous. They pollute the air, land, and water. If there is an oil spill in the ocean, it affects all the life in the ocean and kills off many plants and animals. When fossil fuels are burned, this pollutes the air and has a harmful effect on the ozone layer, the layer of the atmosphere that surrounds and protects the Earth.

oil spill

Coal can be mined and used to generate electricity that is used to create steel and cement, and can be converted into a liquid fuel. Just like all the other fossil fuels, it is dangerous for the environment. Pollution from burning coal causes acid rain, creates hazardous waste, polluting the land and air. Acid rain is rain that is acidic and causes harm to forests and bodies of water.


Nuclear energy is energy that is created from the heat created by uranium, or nuclear fuel. Uranium is radioactive, which means that it is 'unstable' and will therefore break down. This breakdown creates hot steam that is then changed into energy. Although many people think that the billowing white clouds you see above nuclear power plants is some sort of terrible pollution, it's not. It's just steam created from water. In fact, nuclear power is emissions-free, meaning that it doesn't release pollutants into the air like other nonrenewable resources.

nuclear power plant

Like most nonrenewable resources, nuclear power has the potential to be harmful to the environment. When nuclear power is used, an incredibly small amount of dangerous radioactive waste is created. Mining uranium can also harm the land and pollute the air.

There is also a very small chance that a nuclear plant could have a meltdown. This would result in radioactive steam entering the air and anywhere near where the nuclear meltdown happened is rendered unusable.

For example, HBO has popularized the Russian Chernobyl nuclear power plant that had a nuclear meltdown in 1986. To this day, no humans live in the area, although many plant and animal species have returned.



  • Could a nuclear meltdown similar to the one at Chernobyl happen in the United States?

Definitely not.

The Chernobyl nuclear disaster had one cause - human error. Workers at the nuclear power plant were experimenting in unapproved and dangerous ways. Their negligence, coupled with poorly built infrastructure made from the wrong materials, is what caused the meltdown.

The most serious nuclear-related incident in the US took place in 1979 at a power plant in Pennsylvania named Three Mile Island.

Three-mile Island

Human error was to blame here as well. Workers were not adequately trained. Part of the system malfunctioned, and the plant automatically began an emergency cooling system. Everything was working as it should. However, a worker did not see an important warning light and decided to manually override this automatic safety feature, resulting in the meltdown.

Although much of the public points to Three Mile Island as a reason not to use nuclear power, many scientists disagree. They argue that this was a situation where both mechanical and human failure occurred, and yet the disaster was contained.

Residents around the plant were only exposed to a small amount radiation - about 12 times the exposure that you get from a chest X-ray. In the years since Three Mile Island, no observable health effects have been seen.

In this section, you learned about several types of nonrenewable resources. Tell your parent or teacher what the word "nonrenewable" means, and two examples of nonrenewable resources, then move on to the Got It? section.

Elephango's Philosophy

We help prepare learners for a future that cannot yet be defined. They must be ready for change, willing to learn and able to think critically. Elephango is designed to create lifelong learners who are ready for that rapidly changing future.