MSc in Nuclear Science and Engineering

The MSc in Nuclear Science and Engineering at the University of Bristol exploits existing close inter-faculty collaboration to provide a rich, research-focused, postgraduate programme with significant industry input.

The UK is embarking on an ambitious programme to construct new nuclear power plants, starting with the construction of EDF’s Hinkley Point C in the South West. Simultaneously, the next stage of fusion power is underway with the construction of ITER in France. There is a growing need for new engineers, physicists and materials science to join the growing nuclear sector in the UK and across the globe.

The University of Bristol has a very strong record in attracting research funding and has a very high research quality ranking in the nuclear sector, particularly in the areas of nuclear materials science and engineering, nuclear systems and infrastructure, and we have targeted both the research and the taught components of this MSc to reflect those strengths.

The MSc in nuclear science and engineering is designed to give students a broad backing in the scientific and engineering considerations in nuclear fission and fusion plants, using a hand-tailored selection of nuclear focused lecture courses, site visits and research projects.

Graduates will leave equipped with a familiarity with the nuclear industry and the specialised nature of its safety culture, and they will be prepared to enter the industry or continue towards further research.

Recent graduates have gone to work in the nuclear industry for employers such as Dounreay, EDF Energy, nucleargrads, Frazer-Nash Consultancy and Atkins. Others have gone to PhD study at the University of Bristol and the University of Oxford.

Programme Content

Total credit points

Total number of credit points (CP) for MSc – 180CP

Taught Programme – 100CP

  • Core Units (70CP)
  • Optional Units (select 30CP)

The below six units form the 70 CP worth of core, mandatory units.

Fundamentals of Nuclear Science

This course will give students a solid grounding in nuclear radiation, from the fundamentals of radiative decay to nuclear fission and fusion, with particular focus on those processes used in commercial nuclear reactors.

Students will gain an understanding of the most important types of radiation, why they occur and how they may be detected, with particular focus on the decay chains that are most prominent in the nuclear industry. The mathematical description of radiative flux, intensity and brilliance will be covered in detail.

Nuclear Reactor Engineering

This unit provides a background to common, present and future nuclear reactor designs including materials specifications and fabrication processes. Students will also gain an understanding of methods of structural integrity assessment including assessment codes such as R5 and R6, and an appreciation of nuclear safety cases, including aspects such as plant monitoring.

Nuclear Materials Behaviour

This unit covers the metallurgy and engineering structure-property relationships of reactor materials, focussing on structural and mechanical properties, and key life-limiting degradation mechanisms, such as creep-fatigue, corrosion, and radiation damage within reactor environments (e.g. PWR, AGR). Consequences on nuclear decommissioning will also be discussed.

Nuclear Reactor Physics

The course will include a description of the basic fundamentals of nuclear reactor physics, focussed on the various commercial fission reactors, but also featuring an introduction to nuclear fusion.

The students will gain an understanding of thermal, reflected and fast reactor types, as well as concepts such as neutron current, flux, diffusion and moderation. Reactor kinetics will be discussed with particular attention on criticality, both prompt and delayed. This course will also provide students with an introduction to thermal hydraulics.

Nuclear Fuel Cycle

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.

Research Skills

This unit will equip students with the skills necessary to plan an original research project in the area of nuclear science and/or engineering.

The unit will address both academic research skill and the skills required of a professional in the nuclear industry.

Optional units

Students should pick 30 CP worth of optional units. At least 10CP should be provided from the Faculty not hosting the student’s project

Practical Programme – 80CP

Group Project (20CP – Semesters 1 and 2)

Students with different backgrounds are mixed (e.g. science and engineering) to make competing teams of 4-5 students on a nuclear themed topic – Challenge Events – and include visits to industrial partner sites and specialist lectures on topics such as intellectual property and innovation, communication and leadership, career opportunities in nuclear and aspects of nuclear regulation, delivered by professionals within and external to the University).

Example project topics/titles include:

  1. Produce a design for a reactor plant required to supply 1000 MW electrical power
  2. What is the best choice for UK nuclear waste treatment?
  3. Make a case for the next generation of reactors and fuels.

Teams will cover all aspects of the project in detail, for example, for topic 1); examining aspects such as choice of reactor type, power conversion efficiency, thermal limits on reactor core power, coolant circulation, and heat transfer from the primary circuit. Teams will learn aspects of group dynamics and management and will present their final findings to a panel of academics and industry experts at the end of the 2nd semester.

See examples of previous group projects here:

Individual Research Project – 60CP – All Year (sole activity during semester 3)

Projects are overseen by supervisors from Mechanical Engineering/Civil Engineering/Physics/Chemistry/Earth Sciences.

These projects have academic supervision, but will often be accompanied by industrial support and most of the projects will be aligned to important industrial problems. Potential project contributions for the nuclear MSc will come from strategic partners such as EDF, Sellafield, NNL, Rolls-Royce and RWM. At the University of Bristol we have access to a large suite of instrumentation, some of which is dedicated specifically to nuclear materials research. Some of the research instruments are unique in the UK. Students may also have the opportunity to work on the sites of the project partners.

Research projects normally involve an extended investigation into the application of a novel component or technique, and they offer the opportunity for an in-depth study of a specialised subject. Each project is carried out under the supervision of a member of staff. The project contains a research or investigative element which allows a student to demonstrate individual talent and intellectual ability. It attempts to mirror a research and/or development project of the type that may be encountered upon graduation and as such contains elements of project planning. The project report provides an opportunity for the student to demonstrate report structuring and writing skills.

See examples of previous group projects here:


Apply for the Programme

Contact details

If you would like to find out more about the course, please email or call +44 (0)117 33 17946


This programme is accredited by the Institute for Engineering and Technology.

Further information

Download the MSc Brochure

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