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.
This course 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.
By the end of this course you should be able to:
- Demonstrate general knowledge and understanding of some of the basic facts, concepts and principles relating to nuclear energy and the science and technology underpinning its production, as well as its role in the sustainable energy debate and the issues that arise in connection with nuclear power.
- Demonstrate an understanding of the contribution that science can make to informed debate on environmental and sustainable energy issues.
- Make sense of information presented in a variety of ways, including textual, numerical, graphical and audio/video-based material and make logical deductions.
This course will require around 80–100 hours of your time in total, which can be spread over at least 6 months.
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The course features the distinctive strengths of The Open University (OU) from its years of expertise in distance 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.
- The support of an expert learning adviser who can clarify study materials, answer questions and help you relate the course to your specific needs.
- An online interactive quiz that you can attempt as many times as you wish to help you test your own learning.
- A statement of participation from the OU which you can use to demonstrate your engagement with the course. (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 for the course. You may also wish to undertake additional background study or reading if some of the concepts introduced are completely unfamiliar to you.
Expert, confidential learner support is available when you need it from a learning adviser, who will respond to you directly. Other support is available via the course forum, library, dedicated website and computing helpdesk.