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Online course

Understanding Nuclear Power

Learn more about nuclear power, from the risks and benefits to the technology and its future, with this free online course.

What’s the difference between a free course and an upgraded course?


  • Access to the course for its duration + 14 days, regardless of when you join (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • No certificate


  • Unlimited access to the course, for as long as it exists on FutureLearn (this includes access to articles, videos, peer review steps, quizzes)
  • A Statement of Participation when you complete over half the course

Find out more

Understanding Nuclear Power

Why join the 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.

When would you like to start?

  • Date to be announced

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

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 is to be open to people, places, methods and ideas.