• The Open University

The Science of Nuclear Energy

Discover the science behind nuclear energy and its role in energy provision in the past, present and future.

28,192 enrolled on this course

The science of nuclear energy in action – a nuclear power station
  • Duration

    4 weeks
  • Weekly study

    3 hours

Understand the science of nuclear power and the arguments for and against it

With the need to reduce carbon emissions around the world, the way we generate our power has to change and nuclear energy is back on the political agenda.

But do you know your fission from your fusion? Would you like to make an informed decision about whether we should get electricity from nuclear power?

This online course will delve into the science behind nuclear power, explaining what happens inside a nuclear reactor and what radioactive elements are.

It will explore the arguments for and against nuclear power, and its role in future energy planning alongside other energy sources.

Skip to 0 minutes and 9 seconds Sam Smidt: Nuclear energy, what is it? Why is it interesting? Why are so many people worried about it?

Skip to 0 minutes and 14 seconds Gemma Warriner: Over the four weeks we’ll explore four different themes, from looking into the atom and understanding nuclear fission and radioactivity.

Skip to 0 minutes and 23 seconds Sam Smidt: To generating electricity and understanding why is nuclear energy back on the political and economic agenda.

Skip to 0 minutes and 29 seconds Gemma Warriner: We’ll look at the risks of nuclear energy, both real and perceived. We’ll also examine facts around the nuclear accidents that you might of seen on the news, and finally we’ll look at the issue of nuclear waste.

Skip to 0 minutes and 42 seconds Sam Smidt: You’ll do all of this from a scientific viewpoint but you’ll also consider the social viewpoints to.

Skip to 0 minutes and 48 seconds Gemma Warriner: Finally we’ll look to the future in nuclear fusion. We’re filming at the Joint European Torus or JET facility in Culham Oxfordshire. Right now research is going on here to find a new and sustainable clean energy source.

Skip to 1 minute and 7 seconds Steve Cowley: Nuclear energy is a big part of reducing the carbon dioxide output not only of the UK but of the world. So it’s going to be a big energy source for the next decade, and in the future it may be the biggest energy source. I think the people need to understand what the issues are, they need to understand a little bit about the science, because there’s a lot of misinformation about this, and I think this course is to provide exactly that kind of information people need to know.

What topics will you cover?

  • Atomic physics and the nature of isotopes and radioactivity. The processes of fission and fusion.
  • The distinction between energy of power and the increasing need to generate electrical power.
  • The use of nuclear fission in power stations. The production of radioactive waste and some solutions.
  • The cause of nuclear incidents in the past, the effect on the environment and local populations.
  • The national grid and possible energy sources.
  • Future developments in the technology that harnesses nuclear fission and fusion.

Learning on this course

On every step of the course you can meet other learners, share your ideas and join in with active discussions in the comments.

What will you achieve?

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

  • Demonstrate an understanding of the physics of nuclear fission.
  • Explore how a nuclear power station works.
  • Explore and examine the problems associated with nuclear power. Weigh up and debate potential solutions to these problems.
  • Assess the energy needs today and the part that nuclear power has to play.
  • Compare and survey current and future technologies.

Who is the course for?

The course does not assume any prior knowledge of nuclear energy and can be enjoyed by anyone interested in science and becoming more informed of energy choices.

Who will you learn with?

Sam and Gemma studied physics together and both have long experience of teaching a variety of science topics at the OU particularly looking at how science is relevant to society.

Who developed the course?

The Open University

As the UK’s largest university, The Open University (OU) supports thousands of students to achieve their goals and ambitions via supported distance learning, helping to fit learning around professional and personal life commitments.

  • Established

  • Location

    Milton Keynes, UK
  • World ranking

    Top 510Source: Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020

Endorsers and supporters

supported by

Dangoor Education logo

Learning on FutureLearn

Your learning, your rules

  • Courses are split into weeks, activities, and steps to help you keep track of your learning
  • Learn through a mix of bite-sized videos, long- and short-form articles, audio, and practical activities
  • Stay motivated by using the Progress page to keep track of your step completion and assessment scores

Join a global classroom

  • Experience the power of social learning, and get inspired by an international network of learners
  • Share ideas with your peers and course educators on every step of the course
  • Join the conversation by reading, @ing, liking, bookmarking, and replying to comments from others

Map your progress

  • As you work through the course, use notifications and the Progress page to guide your learning
  • Whenever you’re ready, mark each step as complete, you’re in control
  • Complete 90% of course steps and all of the assessments to earn your certificate

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You can use the hashtag #FLnuclear18 to talk about this course on social media.