Module information on this degree can be found below, separated by year of study.

The module information below applies for the current academic year. The academic year runs from August to July; the 'current year' switches over at the end of July.

Students select optional courses subject to rules specified in the Mechanical Engineering Student Handbook,  for example at most three Design and Business courses. Please note that numbers are limited on some optional courses and selection criteria will apply.

Introduction to Nuclear Energy

Module aims

  • To provide a basic introduction to the engineering, safety, and socio-economic context of nuclear energy.

ECTS units:  5    

Learning outcomes

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

  • Discuss technical, industrial, social, economic and environmental issues related to nuclear energy
  • Discuss the interplay of the many technical (and economic and social) issues that arise in the use of nuclear energy.
  • Analyse, with the aid of appropriate simplifications, the economics of nuclear energy generation.

Module syllabus

  • Units and nomenclature: Radioactivity and nuclear energy. Non-mathematical introduction to nuclear particles and their interactions: Nuclear particles and atomic and nuclear structure. Radioactive decay.
  • Nuclear fission: Binding energy and energy on release of neutrons: diffusion and leakage. Fission and actinide yields, criticality.
  • How reactors work: Components of a nuclear reactor. Spatial neutron distribution, moderation, thermal and fast reactors, spatial distribution of thermal power generation. The fuel cycle.
  • Reactor cooling systems: Alternative coolants; advantages and disadvantages. Figure of merit.
  • Reactor types: Water cooled reactors. PWR, BWR, RBMK etc., Gas cooled reactors. Magnox, AGR.
  • Uranium extraction and fuel production: Fuel element fabrication.
  • Handling spent fuel: Fuel removal and storage. Alternative routes for long term waste disposal - waste fuel storage, reprocessing. Waste reprocessing. Processes. MOX fuel. Long term disposal of waste.
  • Materials aspects: Materials in the fuel cycle: microstructural development and burn-up (fission products), radiation damage/effects. Nuclear waste systems: short-lived and long-lived waste radionuclides. Materials of construction. Structure and properties, degradation mechanisms. To include zircalloy, pressure vessel steels, stainless clad, Inconel 600, control rod materials, nuclear graphite (stored energy).
  • Nuclear reactor safety: General principles. Safety principles, objectives, fallacy of 'zero risk', tolerability of risk, ALARP probabilities, consequences, risk, hazard. Reactor hazards, probabilistic and deterministic analysis, defence in depth, redundancy, diversity. Probabilistic risk assessment, fault trees, event trees.
  • Loss of Coolant Accidents (LOCA's): LOCA phenomena, operational states, small break LOCA, large break LOCA. Examples of LOCA: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl.
  • Socio-economic factors: The economics of nuclear power. Public acceptability issues.
  • Future development of nuclear energy: Advanced reactors. Generation IV.
  • Nuclear fusion: Basic physics, history of development; the ITER project, future prospects for fusion.

Teaching methods

  • Duration: 10 weeks
  • Lecture: 2 per week, including some by external speakers
  • Tutorial: 1 per week

Summary of student timetabled hours










30 (if 10 tutorials attended)

Expected Private Study time

3-4 hrs per week plus exam revision


Written examinations:

Date (approx.)

Max. mark

Pass mark

Introduction to Nuclear Energy (3h total)

Multiple Choice (1½ h)

Essay questions (1½h)




Reading list


Module leaders

Dr Michael Bluck