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 focussed, postgraduate programme with significant industry input.

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.

We have summarised the MSc content into five main themes:

1. The Nuclear Cycle

An understanding of the whole life-cycle of nuclear reactors is extremely useful for potential employers in the nuclear sector. Students will learn fuel extraction, enrichment and fabrication processes and how the fuel behaves in reactor operation; in parallel with a deeper knowledge of the physical processes exploited to extract useful energy from nuclear fuel, including an introduction to the key concepts in nuclear thermal hydraulics. In reactor processes have a significant damaging effect on the fuel chemistry and structure - students will learn about the resulting behaviour of spent fuel in storage, the potential future solutions for nuclear waste, and important aspects of decommissioning; now a major component of nuclear industrial research in the UK, due to the anticipated closure of many of the UK’s nuclear reactors.

Taught units

  • Fundamentals of Nuclear Science
  • Nuclear Reactor Physics
  • Nuclear Fuel Cycle
  • Nuclear Reactor Engineering
  • Group Project

Optional units (see note)

  • Solid State Physics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Advanced Physical & Theoretical Chemistry


2. Nuclear Reactor Materials and Design

By combining insights into materials behaviour from both engineering and science perspectives, students will learn the background to common, present and future nuclear reactor designs including materials specifications and fabrication processes; the science and engineering structure-property relationships behind structural materials used in nuclear reactors, focussing on key life-limiting degradation mechanisms such as creep-fatigue, corrosion, and irradiation embrittlement within reactor environments (e.g. PWR and AGR).

Taught units

  • Nuclear Reactor Engineering
  • Nuclear Materials Behaviour
  • Group Project

Optional units (see note)

  • Non-Linear Behaviour of Materials
  • Nanophysics
  • Surface Physics
  • Solid State Physics

3. Nuclear Structural Integrity

Students will gain an understanding of pressure vessel and pipework design codes (e.g. ASME BPV, BS-EN13480 and RCC-M) and structural integrity assessment codes (e.g. R5 and R6) and an appreciation of nuclear safety cases, including aspects such as plant monitoring and non-destructive evaluation. Students will become familiar with advanced stress analysis methods including finite element analysis. Students will learn techniques for low and high temperature fracture mechanics used in R5 and R6 through worked examples, and an understanding of how residual stress impacts on structural integrity of safety critical engineering components. The concept of structural reliability assessment using probabilistic methods will also be introduced, as will a grounding in the basic principles and practices of earthquake engineering in terms of the effects of seismic loads and how to design against these.

Taught units

  • Nuclear Reactor Engineering
  • Group Project

Optional units (see note)

  • Residual Stress - Impact on Materials Performance
  • Earthquake Engineering 4
  • Finite Element Analysis

4. Nuclear Systems, Infrastructure, Hazards and Risk

Students will be prepared to innovate and lead change in the industry and develop a systems perspective towards nuclear infrastructure. They will learn to describe and apply a systems approach to technical and managerial thinking; identify various forms of uncertainty, risk, hazard, vulnerability, turbulence and surprise, and their impact on decision making; and identify the ethical dilemmas of international business. Students will learn to understand natural and man-made hazards (e.g. earthquakes, tsunami, floods, explosions, accidents, human error) and the risks these pose to nuclear infrastructures and the society at large. Students will gain knowledge and understanding of the hazards and resilience, understanding of how nuclear infrastructures are vulnerable to different hazards, and will learn how to carry out a qualitative risk analysis and to identify measures to improve infrastructure resilience.

Taught units

  • Group Project
  • Earthquake Engineering 4

Optional units (see note)

  • Civil Engineering Systems 4
  • Hazards and Infrastructure 2

5. Nuclear Professionalism

Throughout all units students will develop the professional skills required by the nuclear industry. They will learn transferrable skills necessary to effectively execute and communicate research (training in underlying research methods necessary for the planning and execution of a programme of postgraduate level research starting from finding relevant scientific literature, through to writing up and presenting research outcomes in different forms.) A unique aspect to this course is that students will benefit from 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.

Taught units

  • Research Skills
  • Individual Research Project
  • Group Project

Optional units

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

Total credit points

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

Taught Programme – 100CP

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

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.

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.


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 and Atkins. Others have gone to PhD study at the University of Bristol and beyond.