Safety of nuclear power plants

Prof. Hubert Druenne – Universiteit Gent
Prof. Pierre- Etienne Labeau – Université Libre de Bruxelles
Seminars: Prof. Greet Maenhout – Universiteit Gent


141 hours study time

42 contact hours theory

6 contact hours excersises/lab sessions/visits
4 hours seminar

0 contact hours personal work

Learning Outcomes

To introduce the students to methods and practices supporting the defense-in-depth approach for nuclear power plants.

More specifically:
  • To present elements of nuclear safety philosophy. 
  • To understand how to insure the link between nuclear safety and reactor operation. 
  • To master all the contributors to the core reactivity balance and power distribution in normal operation. 
  • To understand specific measurement and control issues in nuclear reactors. 
  • To introduce the basic notions and techniques of system reliability engineering. 
  • To understand the concepts of safety analyses (both deterministic and probabilistic), and the fundamentals of probabilistic safety analysis (PSA).
  • To present some PSA-based applications.


Operation & Control (28h)
Cycle specific safety evaluation methodology.
Basic principles of the in-core fuel management based on the linear reactivity model.
Reactivity coefficients (moderator, Doppler), neutron poisons (xenon, samarium, …), their variation with burnup and core state parameters and their impact on core power distribution.
Reactivity control means (boron, control rods, burnable poisons) and their sensitivity to the core burnup and in-core fuel management parameters.
Operating modes, operating limits and protection diagram.
Fuel rod design and thermal-mechanical behavior in normal operation and accidental conditions.
Thermal-design procedures and elaboration of the core thermal limits and core protections.
Core control, surveillance and protection systems

Optional visits and laboratory session:
Visit of a Nuclear Power Plant.
Two day session of compact and full scope Nuclear Power Plant simulator.

Reliability & Safety (14h theory + 6h exercises)
Introduction to nuclear safety and defence in depth
Concept of risk, individual and societal risk criteria, release limits, core damage frequency limit,
safety goals at function or system level
Deterministic vs. probabilistic safety analyses
Probabilistic safety assessment (PSA) methodology and PSA levels
Component reliability
Fault tree and event tree analysis
Markov analysis
Common cause failure analysis
Elements of human reliability analysis
Elements of the level 2 and level 3 PSA methodology
Limits of the classical PSA methodology
PSA-based applications

Seminar: description of nuclear accidents (TMI, Chernobyl, Fukushima-Daiichi…)

Course material and reference books

The PowerPoint presentations of the lectures, and extensive lecture notes, are available on the BNEN website.

Other useful references:

Operation & Control
  • Collection Génie Atomique "La chaudière des réacteurs à eau sous pression" Ed. EDP Sciences, 2004
  • Collection Génie Atomique « Exploitation des coeurs REP », Ed. EDP Sciences, 2008
  • USNRC Technical Training Center, « Pressurized Water Reactor Systems”

Reliability & Safety
  • McCormick, N., Reliability and Risk Analysis – Methods and Nuclear Power Applications, Academic Press, New York, 1981.
  • Henley, E.J. and Kumamoto, H., Reliability Engineering and Risk Analysis, Prentice Hall, Englewood Cliffs, 1981.
  • Modarres, M., What Every Engineer Should Know about Reliability and Risk Analysis, Dekker Inc., New York, 1993.
  • Kumamoto, H., and Henley, E.J., Probabilistic Risk Assessment and Management for Engineers and Scientists, 2nd Edition, John Wiley & Sons, New York, 2001.
  • Bedford, T. and Cooke, R., Probabilistic Risk Analysis, Foundations and Methods, Cambridge University Press, New York, 2001.

Pre-assumed knowledge or prerequisites

Courses in the following field
  • Nuclear reactor theory
  • Nuclear thermal hydraulics

Grading and examination

Operation & Control
First and second session: Individual oral exam, closed book, written preparation

Reliability & Safety
First and second session: An oral examination (closed book) with one question on the concepts and one exercise