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Inside nuclear energy

Nuclear energy is back in the news as governments around the world increasingly commit to building new nuclear reactors. Ranging from fission to fusion, this course explores the scientific and technological background to nuclear energy, the biological effects of radiation and the cost of producing electricity. Inside nuclear energy is one of a series of short, five month 10-credit courses introducing fascinating topics in science. It enables you to try out a new area of study before you commit yourself to a longer course, or top up your knowledge and skills between longer courses.

Standalone study only

This module is available for standalone study only. The credits from this module cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.


Module code
Study level
1 7 4
Study method
Distance Learning
Module cost
See Module registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

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What you will study

For more than half a century, the science of nuclear energy has been harnessed as a source of low carbon electricity, but public perceptions of the nuclear industry during the 1970s had a big impact on its continued development. Today, acknowledging the need to reduce global carbon dioxide emissions has put nuclear energy back on the scientific and political agenda as a possible major contributor to meeting the world’s energy requirements. The issue of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels is likely to remain in the public eye for some time and nuclear energy is likely to have a significant role to play.

Inside nuclear energy explores the scientific and technological concepts relating to atoms, nuclei, radioactivity and energy production in power stations to give an appreciation of the advantages and disadvantages of obtaining energy in this way. Building on these foundations, you will go on to learn more about the role of geology in waste storage and disposal issues, and the difficulties of disposing of highly radioactive waste. The idea of burying nuclear waste deep underground for many years until its radioactivity has reduced to a safe level is being investigated by a number of countries, and a portion of your study will focus on the example of the Yucca Mountain repository in Nevada, USA. You will learn more about the scientific considerations of storing nuclear waste underground and consider other issues, such as the political questions, which make Yucca Mountain’s future uncertain.

You will also explore some of the main issues nuclear energy poses to health and safety, focussing on the biological effects of radiation and how it can be both detrimental and beneficial. You will apply this knowledge to consider the contemporary environment, looking at whether nuclear energy is economically advantageous and also looking forward to potential future developments in nuclear technology.

By the end of this course you will have developed a range of study skills associated with retrieving and interpreting information and data from a variety of sources, including in the form of tables, charts and graphs, as well as from articles, audio and video material.

This course is based on a specially written OU study book, together with a website which will link to online study material covering the economics and future of nuclear energy. The study book will provide questions and answers and activities to help test your understanding, and that you can use for self-assessment throughout the course. A number of activities will only be presented online via the website.

Vocational relevance

The course will be of particular relevance if you are working in the energy supply industry and in particular the nuclear industry. If you have a professional interest in nuclear energy, environmental matters and global warming you will also find this course very relevant.

Teaching and assessment


The assessment details for this course can be found in the facts box above.

You must use the online eTMA system to submit your end-of-module assessment (EMA).

You have to submit the single piece of written work for assessment after 21 weeks. There will be no other opportunity to complete the course.

Future availability

The details given here are for the course that started in April 2014 for the last time.


As a student of The Open University, you should be aware of the content of the Module Regulations and the Student Regulations which are available on our Essential documents website.

Course work includes:

End-of-module assessment
No residential school


Please note: this course is only available for standalone study. You cannot count the credits you gain from the course towards any current OU qualification. It may be possible, however, to count the credits gained towards a qualification if you are already studying with us and have declared your qualification intention before September 2012 – see your qualification description in StudentHome for details.

In this course you will meet a wide range of scientific and technological subjects and will have to be prepared to understand some basic science, e.g. physics, biology, chemistry and geology. While it is designed for people who are new to these subject areas, you will probably find that you can move faster through the study materials if you have a little basic knowledge of general science. However all you really need is an interest in the issues involved in nuclear energy and learning more about the science behind it. If you have read popular books and magazines on the subject, you will find that the course develops your understanding and introduces topics that you have not met before.

Mathematically, you should be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide positive and negative numbers and understand the use of brackets in numerical calculations. You will meet numbers expressed as fractions, decimals and using simple powers (e.g. 103 for 1000). The structured teaching will take you to a level at which you are happy to use maths as a tool in a range of scientific contexts. A maths skills ebook is provided to help you with, for example, fractions, percentages, reading graphs and tables, and scientific units as required.

You should be able to read and understand written English of a style and complexity characteristic of a professional magazine or quality newspaper, and you should be able to communicate your thoughts clearly and comprehensibly in a written format.

If you have any doubt about the suitability of the course, please contact our Student Registration & Enquiry Service.


Start End Fee
- - -

No current presentation - see Future availability

This module is expected to start for the last time in April 2014.

Ways to pay for this module

Open University Student Budget Account

The Open University Student Budget Accounts Ltd (OUSBA) offers a convenient 'pay as you go' option to pay your OU fees, which is a secure, quick and easy way to pay. Please note that The Open University works exclusively with OUSBA and is not able to offer you credit facilities from any other provider. All credit is subject to status and proof that you can afford the repayments.

You pay the OU through OUSBA in one of the following ways:

  • Register now, pay later - OUSBA pays your module fee direct to the OU. You then repay OUSBA interest-free and in full just before your module starts. 0% APR representative. This option could give you the extra time you may need to secure the funding to repay OUSBA.
  • Pay by instalments – OUSBA calculates your annual fees and spreads them out over up to a year, enabling you to pay your fees monthly and walk away with a qualification without any further debt. APR 5.1% representative.

Read more about Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).  

Employer sponsorship

Studying with The Open University can boost your employability. OU qualifications are recognised and respected by employers for their excellence and the commitment they take to achieve one. They also value the skills that students learn and can apply in the workplace.

More than one in 10 OU students are sponsored by their employer, and over 30,000 employers have used the OU to develop staff so far. If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could approach your employer to see if they will sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. 

  • Your employer just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.
  • You won’t need to get your employer to complete the form until after you’ve chosen your modules.  

For more information about employer sponsorship speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Credit/debit card

You can pay part or all of your tuition fees upfront with a debit or credit card when you register for each module. 

We accept American Express, Maestro (UK only), Mastercard, Visa/Delta and Visa Electron. 

Gift vouchers

You can pay for part or all of your tuition fees with OU gift vouchers. Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations, £10, £20, £50 and £100. 

Mixed payments

We know that sometimes you may want to combine payment options. You may, for example wish to pay part of your tuition fee with a debit card and pay the remainder in instalments through an Open University Student Budget Accounts (OUSBA).

For more information about combining payment options, speak to an adviser or request a call back.

Note: Your permanent address/domicile will affect your fee status and therefore the fees you are charged and any financial support available to you. The fees and funding information provided here is based upon current details for  year 1 August 2014 to 31 July 2015.
This information was provided on 25/07/2014.

What's included

Study book, online audio and video activities, study guide, website.

You will need

A basic scientific calculator and access to a digital camera or scanner. We recommend that you have broadband access to the internet as the course contains some video-based activities that will be very slow to load on a dial-up internet connection.

If you have a disability

A proportion of the course is delivered online via the website, so you will have to spend a considerable amount of time using a personal computer and the internet. If you have severely impaired sight you may find the course challenging, as it relies heavily on coloured images, graphs and video material. Written transcripts of the audio-visual material will be available.

You may be required to draw diagrams or to annotate diagrams that you download, and use either a scanner or a digital camera to produce electronic versions of these diagrams for inclusion in your assessment. Alternatively creating diagrams electronically will be acceptable.

Adobe Portable Document Format (PDF) versions of printed material are available. Some Adobe PDF components may not be available or fully accessible using a screen reader and scientific or diagrammatic materials may be particularly difficult to read in this way. Other alternative formats of the study materials may be available in the future.

If you have particular study requirements please tell us as soon as possible, as some of our support services may take several weeks to arrange. Find out more about our services for disabled students.