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Unit information: Environmental Radioactivity in 2021/22

Unit name Environmental Radioactivity
Unit code EASC30050
Credit points 10
Level of study H/6
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2D (weeks 19 - 24)
Unit director Professor. Tom Scott
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Earth Sciences
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

The unit addresses the presence and impact of radioactivity in the environment, including the likely roles that geologists and environmental scientists may play within the nuclear industry ranging from the mining and mineralogy of radioactive ores, to the environmental remediation of sites contaminated by radioactive pollutants.

The unit will cover all aspects of radioactivity in the environment, starting with the concepts of radioactivity (nuclear theory, radiometric dating, decay series etc) and the cosmic distribution of radioisotopes. This will extend to a detailed examination of the different processes by which uranium ores may form, using specific case studies as examples.

The unit will also briefly cover the basic concepts of nuclear fission and fusion, through the examination of natural analogues. Emphasis will be placed on the wider implications of radionuclides in the geosphere and highlight the environmental impacts of radioactive pollution (including NORM which poses a problem for the oil industry) and the potential effect it may have on human populations. This will include the challenges of (i) intermittent nuclear disasters and (ii) geological disposal and/or indefinite storage of radioactive waste. For this latter aspect of the course we will bring in experts from industry (NDA and Sellafield) that have already agreed involvement with the course. Sellafield site has been recognised as the most significant radiological liability in Europe and as such we will study the aspects of environmental contamination that have been documented, aided by first-hand descriptions from Sellafield staff.

Intended Learning Outcomes

The unit aims to develop a good understanding of geological and environmental issues related to radioactivity in the environment (both natural and anthropogenic). The unit will also instil a balanced understanding of nuclear energy with respect to other methods of energy generation (wind, solar, wave, tidal, hydro, geothermal, gas, coal etc) and the key geo-environmental challenges related to risk/disaster planning and geological disposal of nuclear waste. The aim is to inform rather than to persuade.

On completing the course the students will be able to: • Explain all basic aspects of radioactivity and related aspects of nuclear theory and energy generation • Explain the different major processes by which radioactive ores may accumulate • Explain the impacts/risks or releases of radioactive materials at significant concentrations into the environment – including transport pathways, radio-toxicity and different methods for site clean-up (with no over-emphasis on any one clean-up method). • Describe the role of earth scientists within the nuclear industry • Lead development towards a renewed UK nuclear environmental programme • Discuss and debate the social, economic and environmental consequences related to different methods of energy generation • Discuss and debate the social, economic and environmental consequences related to different possible approaches to radioactive waste management (storage and disposal options) • Understand the legal framework for nuclear decommissioning, waste storage and waste disposal. • To organise and run workshops on topics in this area

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a combination of

  • asynchronous online materials and, if subsequently possible, synchronous face-to-face lectures
  • synchronous office hours
  • asynchronous directed individual formative activities and exercises
  • guided, structured reading
  • practical work in the laboratory
  • fieldwork

Students who either begin or continue their studies in an online mode may be required to complete laboratory or fieldwork, or alternative activities, in person, either during the academic year 2020/21 or subsequently, in order to meet the intended learning outcomes for the unit, prepare them for subsequent units or to satisfy accreditation requirements.

Assessment Information

End-of-unit timed open-book examination (100%)

Production of the infographic is required for the award of credit points.


If this unit has a Resource List, you will normally find a link to it in the Blackboard area for the unit. Sometimes there will be a separate link for each weekly topic.

If you are unable to access a list through Blackboard, you can also find it via the Resource Lists homepage. Search for the list by the unit name or code (e.g. EASC30050).

How much time the unit requires
Each credit equates to 10 hours of total student input. For example a 20 credit unit will take you 200 hours of study to complete. Your total learning time is made up of contact time, directed learning tasks, independent learning and assessment activity.

See the Faculty workload statement relating to this unit for more information.

The Board of Examiners will consider all cases where students have failed or not completed the assessments required for credit. The Board considers each student's outcomes across all the units which contribute to each year's programme of study. If you have self-certificated your absence from an assessment, you will normally be required to complete it the next time it runs (this is usually in the next assessment period).
The Board of Examiners will take into account any extenuating circumstances and operates within the Regulations and Code of Practice for Taught Programmes.