Online course in Nature & Environment

The Science of Nuclear Energy

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

  • Duration 4 weeks
  • Weekly study 3 hours
  • Certificate Available

Why join the course?

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 the knowledge to make an informed decision?

The question of whether we should get electricity from nuclear power remains a tough one for governments all over the world. While it offers a sustainable, low carbon and secure way of meeting our energy needs, big questions surround the economic viability, the perceived dangers and the public acceptability associated with power plant operations and radioactive wastes.

Nuclear power stations currently generate around 18% of the UK’s electricity production. The majority of the current reactors are scheduled to be decommissioned by 2023 and we could be facing an energy ‘gap’.

This free course will delve into the science behind nuclear power and explain what happens inside a nuclear reactor and what it means for an element to be radioactive. It will explore some of the risks of producing nuclear power and examine the arguments for and against including it in future energy planning as well as looking at other potential future solutions.

You can find out more in Sam Smidt’s post for the FutureLearn blog: “Can nuclear power solve the energy gap?

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

Skip to 0 minutes and 14 secondsGemma 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 secondsSam Smidt: To generating electricity and understanding why is nuclear energy back on the political and economic agenda.

Skip to 0 minutes and 29 secondsGemma 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 secondsSam 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 secondsGemma 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 secondsSteve 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.

When would you like to start?

Most FutureLearn courses run multiple times. Every run of a course has a set start date but you can join it and work through it after it starts. Find out more

  • Available now
    This course started 30 Sep 2019

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 Smidt and Gemma Warriner

Sam Smidt and Gemma Warriner

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 (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.

Buy a personalised, digital and printed certificate

You can buy a Statement of Participation for this course — a personalised certificate in both digital and printed formats, to celebrate taking part.