Oct 31st 2016

Understanding Nuclear Power (FutureLearn)

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Learn more about nuclear power, from the risks and benefits to the technology and its future, with this free online course. Nuclear power remains a contentious issue - does it offer our best chance at sustainable energy future? Or do the risks outweigh the benefits? This course will answer some of these questions and is aimed at a broad audience - whether you’re an engineer or scientist thinking of working in the nuclear industry; a policy adviser working in energy or technology; a technical journalist; a teacher or lecturer; concerned with how infrastructure is financed or simply keep to develop your understanding of nuclear power.

Why do we use nuclear power?

Despite accidents like Fukushima Daiichi, countries around the world are keen to build new nuclear power plants. In the UK, a ‘nuclear renaissance’ is under way, while in other countries, like Poland, there is a lot of interest in building nuclear power plants for the first time. China and India have pressed ahead almost without interruption. In this course you’ll learn why the world has such an enthusiasm for nuclear power.

How does nuclear power work?

This course introduces the engineering aspects of nuclear power and asks how developers can finance these large infrastructures. You’ll learn about the technologies involved and explore how fuels and radioactive waste should be managed. Nuclear safety and the safety culture of organisations are vital issues.

What’s the future of nuclear power?

This course will also examine the future of nuclear power: exploring the challenges that lie ahead for companies and countries alike and whether these challenges can be overcome.


This course is intended for those with a basic understanding of nuclear energy. You’ll need to be familiar with the following concepts: protons, neutrons, elements, isotopes; the difference between nuclear fission energy and nuclear fusion energy; alpha, beta and gamma radiation; radioactive decay; the difference between momentum and kinetic energy; the separate roles played by conduction and convection in heat transfer; the basic concept of a nuclear reactor; and finally the probability of four coin tosses yielding four ‘heads’ results.

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