Online course

Understanding Nuclear Power

Learn more about nuclear power – from the risks and the benefits, to the technology and its future use.

Find out what role nuclear power might play in our energy future

Nuclear power remains contentious – does it offer a sustainable energy future? Or do the risks outweigh the benefits? This online course will answer such questions.

Despite accidents like Fukushima Daiichi, many countries are building new nuclear power plants. You’ll look at the engineering and financial aspects of these large infrastructures; learn about the technologies involved; and explore how fuels and radioactive waste should be managed.

You’ll also examine the outlook for nuclear power, exploring future challenges for companies and countries, and how they can be overcome.

What topics will you cover?

  • The drivers for nuclear energy as a power option, the ‘Energy Policy Trilemma’.
  • Nuclear fission, how a nuclear chain reaction is started and controlled.
  • The features of a pressurised water reactor, the dominant design for nuclear power generation.
  • Fuel cycles, from extraction to disposal, and the implications for proliferation and waste management.
  • The nature of a nuclear safety culture and how past incidents inform present practice.
  • The role of nuclear in a mixed mode power solution, and the achievement of governmental environmental policy.
  • The business risks of developing new nuclear capacity and the necessary conditions in a liberalised energy market to promote new builds.

When would you like to start?

  • Available now
    This course started 11 February 2019

What will you achieve?

By the end of the course, you'll be able to...

  • Evaluate the key policy, environmental and economic dimensions of building new civil nuclear power capacity.
  • Evaluate nuclear power’s contribution to the climate control debate and current EU policy.
  • Debate the role of nuclear power in a modern energy mix.
  • Explore the scientific and engineering dimensions of generating nuclear.
  • Explore the management of waste produced by operating nuclear reactors.

Who is the course for?

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.

If you’re new to this area we’d suggest trying The Science of Nuclear Energy course first.

Who will you learn with?

Mark Wenman

Mark Wenman is a Lecturer in Nuclear Engineering with a specific interest in engineering materials used in reactor systems.

William (Bill) Nuttall

I am Professor of Energy at The Open University. My main focus is on energy technology and policy and a major part of my work relates to nuclear power. My original background was in physics.

Who developed the course?

The Open University (OU) is the largest academic institution in the UK and a world leader in flexible distance learning, with a mission to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.

Join this course

Start this course for free, upgrade for extra benefits, or buy Unlimited to access this course and hundreds of other short courses for a year.


Join free and you will get:

  • Access to this course for 7 weeks


Upgrade this course and you will get:

  • Access to this course for as long as it’s on FutureLearn
  • A print and digital Certificate of Achievement once you’re eligible

Unlimited (New!)
$269 $199 for one year

Buy Unlimited and you will get:

  • Access to this course, and hundreds of other FutureLearn short courses and tests for a year
  • A printable digital Certificate of Achievement on all short courses once you’re eligible
  • The freedom to keep the content of any of the courses you've gained a digital Certificate of Achievement on
  • The flexibility to complete your choice of short courses in your own time within the year
Find out more about upgrades or Unlimited.
Introductory offer. Available until 11 May 2019. T&Cs apply.