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Nuclear principles and protection

This 30-hour online course is designed to introduce the principles of the science and engineering that underpin the nuclear industry; the current state of nuclear power in the UK, including relevant legislation; the basic physics of the radiations emitted in nuclear reactions, their measurement, and their effects on living organisms; and the protection and legislative systems that have been put in place to ensure that the nuclear industry delivers its promised benefits at risk levels acceptable to society. It is aimed at people wishing move into or within the nuclear industry whether or not they have a scientific or engineering background.

Standalone study only

You will not be awarded credits for studying this course. It is available for standalone study only and cannot be counted towards an OU qualification.

Short course

Short course code
This is a non-credit bearing course.
Study method
Distance Learning
Short course cost
See Registration
Entry requirements
See Am I ready?

What you will study

The course is designed to provide an introduction to nuclear principles and protection through four blocks of study: 

  • Block 1: Introduction to nuclear fission and nuclear power plant looks at how nuclear fission works and how a nuclear power plant works. It provides a brief history of power generation before focusing on UK power plants and the future of nuclear power plant design.
  • Block 2: Biological effects of radiation asks why radiation is a cause for concern before investigating different types of radiation and how to defend against them. Methods, techniques and equipment for measuring radiation dose are described together with the principles for minimising radiation dose and contamination. The block concludes with a section on working with the ionising radiation regulations.
  • Block 3: Risks and hazards the safety case for a nuclear installation is an essential element of the operating licence and is designed to minimise risk. This block looks at methods of identifying risks and hazards, at the measurement of risk and at the mitigation and reduction of risks.
  • Block 4: Nuclear regulation and law the final section of the course looks at the regulatory framework around the licensing and operation of nuclear facilities in the UK and provides an overview of the relevant legislation and administrative arrangements applicable to nuclear installations.

By the end of this course you should be able to:

  • describe how nuclear fission works
  • describe how a nuclear power plant works
  • summarise the history and current state of the nuclear power industry in the UK
  • understand the biological effects of different types of radiation
  • appreciate the difference between a radioactive dose and radioactive contamination
  • explain the importance of legislation relating to ionising radiation
  • define the words hazard and risk particularly in the context of nuclear installations, and recognise them
  • estimate the risk for a sequence of events and understand how to quantify risk using event tree and fault tree analysis
  • recognise the importance of an institutional and local safety culture in the management and reduction of risk
  • explain the principal articles of UK law covering the operation of nuclear installations
  • describe the UK nuclear regulation framework, and how it relates to your employer and role
  • describe the current state of the new build process for nuclear plants in the UK.

This course will require around 30 hours of your time in total, over whatever period suits you. The strong link between course learning and your work practice creates relevant, enduring and transferable outcomes – and the learning is far richer than more expensive one- to three-day workshops. Register online today and start tomorrow – no need to wait!

The course features the distinctive strengths of The Open University (OU) from its years of expertise in work-based learning:

  • The convenience of accessing its clearly presented and sequenced materials, activities and support whenever suits you and wherever you have access to the protected course website – if you prefer, you can print key materials to work on them offline.
  • A work-based activity helping you to connect the course to your individual and organisational context and needs.
  • Certification of completion from the OU for those who complete the course. You can use this to demonstrate your continuing professional development (CPD) activity to your employer and/or professional body. (N.B. The course does not carry academic credit points.)

Some of the pages within the course contain links to external sites. Accessing these sites is part of the allocated study time. How much time you spend on them, however, is likely to depend on how relevant nuclear legislation, for example, is to your current role. You may also wish to undertake additional background study or reading if some of the concepts introduced are completely unfamiliar to you.

Professional recognition

Successful completion of the course enables us to recognise your achievement of the course learning by issuing an OU certificate that you can use to document your commitment to continuing professional development in your personal portfolio, or to provide evidence to employers or professional body.

Learner support

Support is available via the course forum, library, StudentHome website and computing helpdesk.

Work-based activity

There are two components to the end of course assessment:

  • You will be assessed on your factual knowledge through an online end of course quiz with a high threshold pass mark.
  • You will be assessed on the your professional interpretation and application of the factual knowledge through completion of a work-based activity (WBA) that will take the form of a commentary on your understanding of the relevance of the topics to your work role and how they influence your interactions with professional colleagues.

This second item is the more challenging of the two and one for which there is no single correct answer, your responses will be dependent on your professional expertise and the role you undertake. The WBA for this course has been designed as an integrated ongoing activity that you submit at the end of your study. It will enable you to reflect on your learning and how to use it in your professional work.

Outside the UK

This course has been written primarily for a UK context, in that the examples are drawn from the UK, and UK regulation and law are discussed, but it will have relevance to other contexts, as most nuclear regulation is ultimately based on internationally agreed standards.


Although there are no formal academic requirements to study any of our CPD courses, you are expected to have some experience in the field and the course assumes a familiarity with the subject.

You can register and begin this course at any time during the life of the course. You can study at your own pace and submit your work-based activity at any date before the final submission date for the course. Information about the final submission date is available when you register for the course.

GT099 can count towards the Certificate in Nuclear Professionalism (CoNP), which is gained after successful completion of the OU course Professional practice portfolio (T894). If you are working towards this certificate you have two choices: you can either complete the requisite CPD study prior to registering for T894 or you can register for T894 and GT099 at the same time, following a study pattern that you will agree with your T894 tutor, and probably also your employer. Please be aware that the latter option will require you to commit to approximately 12 hours of study per week so you may wish to consider this when making your choice.

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


Start End England fee Register
At anytime Flexible - see Entry requirements for more detail £495.00 Register

Ways to pay

Credit/Debit Card - We accept American Express, Mastercard, Visa/Delta or Visa Electron.

Sponsorship - If the qualification you’ve chosen is geared towards your job or developing your career, you could ask your employer to sponsor you by paying some or all of the fees. Your sponsor just needs to complete a simple form to confirm how much they will be paying and we will invoice them.

Gift Voucher - Vouchers are currently available in the following denominations: £10, £20, £50 and £100.

What's included

All learning materials, exercises, study support and the work-based activity are delivered entirely online.

If you have a disability

The course is delivered online. 

You can also find information about accessible study materials, the Disabled Students' Allowance, equipment and other services on our Services for disabled students website. It also includes our contact details for advice and support both before you register and while you are studying.