Host department: Mechanical Engineering

Time slot: AM

Who can study this module: Open to Yr4 from Chemical Engineering and Materials


FHEQ Level: 7

How to apply: Via DSS

August resit opportunity: No

Approximate places available to students from other departments: 20

Historic number of applications from students of other departments: 10

Criteria used to select students: First come, first assigned a place if module is oversubscribed

Nuclear Reactor Physics

Module aims

To provide an introduction to the reactor physics of nuclear reactors.

ECTS units:  7   
Contributing to Course Elements: 7 to ME4-mLCTVS Electives

Learning outcomes

On successfully completing this module, students will be able to:

  • Discuss aspects of reactor physics relevant to nuclear power
  • Understand the concept of criticality, and its estimation in various idealised geometries
  • Understand basic point kinetics concepts, and prompt and delayed criticality
  • Appreciate the main reactivity feedback mechanisms and their significance
  • Perform point-kinetics reactor transient analyses, appreciating the importance of prompt criticality and neutron lifetime
  • Perform analyses on simple reactor geometries

Module syllabus

Overview of nuclear reactor physics; basic concepts. The diffusion equation. Diffusion, neutron current, neutron flux, the diffusion approximation, the diffusion equation. Example solution for a source free region.
Criticality. Multiplying media and criticality: one group reactor equation. The source term, criticality condition for a 1-D slab reactor, spherical reactor, brick reactor. The cylindrical reactor: determination of critical size, minimum critical radius/height. Spatial distribution of flux, energy generation.
Reactor physics of thermal reactors. Thermal reactor analysis, the four-factor formula, resonance escape, fast fission. Neutron life cycle in a thermal reactor.
Reflected reactors. Reflectors. Determination of critical size of a reflected sphere, reflector savings.
Fast reactors. Reactor physics of fast reactors; breeding.
Reactor kinetics. Doubling times, prompt criticality; reactivity feedback mechanisms, positive and negative feedback, power and temperature coefficients. Xenon poisoning.


ME3-hNUCN Introduction to Nuclear Energy

Teaching methods

  • Duration:  Spring Term (11 weeks)
  • Lectures: 2hrs per week.
  • Tutorials: 1hr per week 

Summary of student timetabled hours







Tutorials --- 11  


33 (if 11 tutorials attended)

Expected private study time

3-4 h per week plus exam revision


Written examinations:  title, duration and rubric

Date (approx.)

Max. mark

Pass mark

Nuclear Reactor Physics (3h)

A Data and Formulæ book and ‘NRT Data and Formulae’ are provided.

This is a CLOSED BOOK Examination.

April/ May



Module leaders

Dr Matthew Eaton