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Nuclear Energy: Science, Systems and Society

Learn how a nuclear reactor works, what the future of nuclear fusion looks like, and the numerous useful applications of nuclear radiation in four easy-to-follow modules, complemented with a chance to explore background radiation in your backyard.

Nuclear Energy: Science, Systems and Society
This course is archived
Estimated 11 weeks
8–10 hours per week
Self-paced
Progress at your own speed
Free
Optional upgrade available

About this course

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Nuclear Energy: Science, Systems and Society offers an introduction to the basic physics of nuclear energy and radiation, with an emphasis on the unique attributes and challenges of nuclear energy as a low-carbon solution. Peaceful applications of radiation to help humankind, such as reactors for materials science research, nuclear medicine, security initiatives and quantum technology, will be introduced.

The course will explore fission energy, establishing the scientific, engineering, and economic basis for fission reactors, and will describe the state of the art in nuclear reactor technology.

We will also learn about magnetic fusion energy research, with lectures covering the scientific and engineering basis of tokamaks, the state of the art in world fusion experiments, and the MIT vision for high-magnetic field fusion reactor.

In addition, the course also includes an optional hands-on section using guided exercises available on-line.

As a preview, please enjoy this virtual tour of the MIT Reactor!

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Image Source: http://sciencestockphotos.com/free/electrical/slides/radioactive_smoke_detector.html, Image by http://sciencestockphotos.com

At a glance

  • Institution: MITx
  • Subject: Science
  • Level: Introductory
  • Prerequisites:

    Familiarity with high school level calculus is desirable, but not required.

  • Language: English
  • Video Transcript: English

What you'll learn

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Learners will be able to critically assess questions such as;

  • "What are common and not-so-common sources of radiation, and should I be concerned?"
  • "Can nuclear energy help to solve the climate change problem?"
  • "Is nuclear energy cost competitive?"
  • "Do I want a nuclear power plant in my backyard?"
  • "What is the basic idea behind fusion energy and how viable are proposed paths to develop fusion reactors?"
  • "How much radiation exists around me?"
  • "What are the challenges and opportunities in quantum computation and quantum technology?"

Module 1: Introduces the basics of ionizing radiation - what it is, where it comes from, and how it is used to benefit humanity. We specifically focus on the origins and energetics of ionizing radiation, and quantify what radiation dose is, where it comes from, and how much people can safely tolerate with no adverse effects.

Module 2: Will articulate attributes and challenges of nuclear energy as a commercial source of electric power. Will focus on potential contribution of nuclear energy to decarbonization of the power sector, including discussion of nuclear power plant economics and safety. A few innovations in nuclear energy systems will be described.

Module 3: Will cover the basics of nuclear fusion, including fundamental plasma physics concepts needed to understand the prospects for development of magnetic confinement fusion. Innovation and future directions will be described.

Module 4 : Will cover applications of nuclear science and engineering beyond energy, focusing on the emerging field of quantum science and engineering, where atomic and nuclear science are playing an important role. Innovations, challenges and opportunities in quantum computation and quantum sensing will be described.

About the instructors

Frequently Asked Questions

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Do I have to complete the experiments to get credit for the course? No, the last module is optional, though it is hands-on and experimental.

Will you cover nuclear weapons as part of this course? No, we only focus on peaceful applications of radiation.

Who can take this course?

Unfortunately, learners residing in one or more of the following countries or regions will not be able to register for this course: Iran, Cuba and the Crimea region of Ukraine. While edX has sought licenses from the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to offer our courses to learners in these countries and regions, the licenses we have received are not broad enough to allow us to offer this course in all locations. edX truly regrets that U.S. sanctions prevent us from offering all of our courses to everyone, no matter where they live.

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