65772 - Historical and technological development of Nuclear Energy (Graduate Course)

Course Unit Page


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Affordable and clean energy

Academic Year 2020/2021

Learning outcomes

An overview of the evolution of nuclear energy is proposed, from the discovery of fission in 1938 to the very recentest models in the development of IV generation reactors. Attention is especially focused on reactor control, on the dynamics of the most significant accidents, and on reactor safety at large. The student will acquire consciousness of the state-of-the-art in the safe utilization of nuclear energy.

Course contents

Part 1: Time behaviour of a fission reactor, viz., Reactor kinetics.Basics of reactor kinetics: relation to reactor statics; prompt and retarded neutrons, characteristics times; controllability of nuclear reactors; effective multiplication factor. The "point model": simplifying assumptions and derivation of point kinetics equations; constant reactivity;Inhourequation; simplified models: small, large reactivity, 2 groups of retarded neutrons. Overview of space kinetics; adjoint flux. Intrinsic reactivity change: reactivity temperature coefficients; reactivity feedback models; power excursions; small oscillations around equilibrium power.
Stability: Routh criterium; Root locus; linear stability of nuclear reactors.

Part 2: Historical and technical evolution.

Nuclear technology development in the 40's: brief review of nuclear physics development, from the beginning to WW2; technological problems for the obtention of controlled chain reaction: technical venues explored during WW2.
Peaceful applications of nuclear energy: "Atoms for peace" and the Geneva conference of 1955; 1st generation reactors; subsequent generations and industrial development; evolution of nuclear power in Italy. The challenge of safety: nuclear reactors and safety/security; the main nuclear accidents: Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, Fukushima; deterministic approach; probabilistic approach; Defence-in depth.


  • Instructor's notes.
  • Tullio Trombetti: Elementi di Controllo del Reattore Nucleare (in Italian).
  • D. Hetrick: Dynamics of Nuclear Reactors, University of Chicago Press, 1971
  • J.A. Mahaffey, The history of nuclear power, Facts on File ISBN 978-0-8160-7649-9
  • J.A. Mahaffey, Atomic Accidents: A History of Nuclear Meltdowns and Disasters: From the Ozark Mountains to Fukushima, Pegasus Books, ISBN 978-1605986807

Teaching methods

Lectures; practical excercises.

Assessment methods

The student will be required to show good understanding of the basic principles: one problem for each pf the two parts of the course (kinetics and history) will be assigned to every student, who will have to work it out and present it to the class.

Teaching tools

Transparencies, projector, possible lectures by external experts

Office hours

See the website of Emanuele Ghedini

See the website of Domiziano Mostacci