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Unit information: Nuclear Fuel Cycle in 2021/22

Unit name Nuclear Fuel Cycle
Unit code PHYSM0025
Credit points 10
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 1 (weeks 1 - 12)
Unit director Dr. Martin
Open unit status Not open




School/department School of Physics
Faculty Faculty of Science

Description including Unit Aims

The course is designed to give students an overview of the whole nuclear fuel cycle, beginning with the mining of the uranium ore, processing and enrichment. Students will gain an in-depth knowledge of the physical and chemical structure and behaviour of nuclear fuel, and how this changes as a function of time, during its operational lifetime. There will be a particular focus on the metallurgy and materials science of the fuel at each of the various stages in the cycle, including the effects of irradiation damage and the formation of fission products during reactor operation, and corrosion and radioactive decay during disposal and storage. The most important physical and chemical processes involved in the safe handling and processing of spent nuclear fuel will be covered in detail. The impact of new nuclear technologies such as generation IV and fusion reactors on the fuel cycle process will be considered. Finally, the state-of-play and future of the nuclear industry in the UK and global energy market will be discussed.

Intended Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to:

1. Understand the principal aspects in the overall lifecycle of nuclear fuel,

2. Describe the chemical and physical changes that the fuel undergoes during reactor operation,

3. Identify the key products formed during nuclear fission and the classification of these into different waste categories,

4. Understand the process for treating, transporting and disposing nuclear waste

5. Describe the principal techniques for decommissioning nuclear sites, with particular emphasis on Sellafield and the situation in the UK,

6. Discuss the role of nuclear power in the UK and global energy mix and the potential impact of new reactor technologies on the nuclear fuel cycle.

Teaching Information

The unit will be taught through a combination of

  • asynchronous online materials, including narrated presentations and worked examples
  • synchronous group problems classes, workshops, tutorials and/or office hours
  • asynchronous directed individual formative exercises and other exercises
  • guided, structured reading

Material will be delivered by both University of Bristol staff and current reactor physicists and engineers

Assessment Information

Preliminary assessment:

1500 word essay on which the student will receive feedback on developing essay structure, technical detail, numeracy and scientific writing style. (20%)

Summative assessment:

2000 word essay (80%)


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. PHYSM0025).

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.