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 exercises/laboratory sessions/visits
4 hours seminar

0 hours additional personal work (reading etc.)

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: Written examination (closed book).

  • The grade will be determined by weighing the grades on the separate parts, in proportion to the number of ECTS per part. In case of a failure for one of the parts, the examination committee can decide to penalize by lowering the final grade.
  • The examination of the separate parts of this course can be scheduled on multiple days.