The science of nuclear energy
The science of nuclear energy

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The science of nuclear energy

Week 1: Into the atom

Introduction

Welcome to this free course, The science of nuclear energy.

In the following video, course authors Sam Smidt and Gemma Warriner introduce themselves and do some experiments with a Geiger counter to show radioactivity.

Download this video clip.Video player: ou_futurelearn_nuclear_energy_vid_1112.mp4
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Transcript

SAM SMIDT
Hello, and welcome to the course. I’m Sam Smidt.
GEMMA WARRINER
And I’m Gemma Warriner. Over the next four weeks, you’ll be taking a good look at the issues that surround nuclear energy and energy supply in general.
SAM SMIDT
You’ll also be looking at some of the issues that make nuclear energy more of a difficult choice and the reasons why governments are sometimes more cautious about adopting it. But this first week’s all about the science.
GEMMA WARRINER
We’re going to be looking at fission and radioactivity. Now, I have a Geiger counter here. You might have seen one of these before. Radioactive materials emit particles, and we’ll be looking at these particles later this week.
When one of these particles enters the tube, it’s registered as a click. So the more clicks you hear, the more radioactive it is nearby. Now, you may hear there’s some clicks going on while I’m talking to you now. Now, that’s to be expected. That’s background radiation, and it’s due to the low level radioactivity that surrounds us all the time.
Now, I have a couple of sources of that radioactivity here. Well, Sam does. We have some bananas. So if I put the Geiger counter next to them, they’re getting a few clicks. So they are contributing to the background.
We’re going to get more clicks if I put the Geiger counter next to Sam’s watch. You can hopefully hear there. We’re getting quite a few more clicks. That’s because Sam’s watch is quite an old watch, and the fluorescent paint actually contains radium, and radium is radioactive.
SAM SMIDT
The other thing we’re going to focus on this week is fission, which is how we get most energy that is produced in nuclear reactors. Fission is when you split nuclei of large unstable elements, usually uranium, into two smaller, more stable nuclei and energy is released in the process. That’s pretty much all there is to it, but you’ll learn about how we measure that energy, and that’s all related to Einstein’s famous equation e equals mc squared. Stay with us and it’ll all become clear.
End transcript
 
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In Week 1 you’ll learn about the science behind nuclear energy. This learning will set you up for the rest of the course as you consider nuclear energy in context.

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