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Free course

The science of nuclear energy

Free statement of participation on completion
The science of nuclear energy

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


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 per cent 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, The science of nuclear energy, 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.

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.

This course is also available to study on FutureLearn, where you have the opportunity to purchase a FutureLearn certificate on completion.

This OpenLearn science course is produced with the kind support of Dangoor Education, the educational arm of The Exilarch's Foundation.

Course learning outcomes

After studying this course, you should be able to:

  • understand the physics of nuclear fusion
  • understand how a nuclear power station works
  • weigh up and debate potential solutions to the problems associated with nuclear power
  • assess the energy needs today and the part that nuclear power has to play
  • identify current and future technologies.

First Published: 02/11/2015

Updated: 20/12/2019

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