Skip to main content

Unit information: Nuclear Fuel Cycle in 2020/21

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


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 details

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 Details

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%)

Reading and References

The Nuclear Fuel Cycle: From Ore to Waste, ed. P. D. Wilson, Oxford Science Publications, Oxford, 1996. ISBN:978-0198565406

Nuclear Energy: An Introduction to the Concepts, Systems, and Applications of Nuclear Processes (Seventh edition), R.L. Murray and K.E. Holbert, Butterworth-Heinemann, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-12-416654-7