Resources for Nuclear Physics and Engineering

Three weeks have elapsed since the East Japan earthquake and tsunami triggered the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear reactors. Despite many optimistic predictions for a quick resolution to a minor mishap, it is clear that it will take a long time to even determine the exact condition of the reactors and spent fuel pools, not to mention any remediation of the radiation hazard in the immediate area. Data dissemination by TEPCO and the Japanese government has not exactly been smooth since the accident, and this has largely contributed to the confusion. Nonetheless, there has been much speculation and fitting together of puzzle pieces by visitors to this website and others.

But this post is not geared toward understanding what is going on at Fukushima, but rather on improving our collective understanding of all things nuclear. The goal is a compendium of educational and utility resources to make us better prepared to discuss what is happening in Japan and what will happen with nuclear power in the future. Suggestions by readers are requested. Let's keep it civil.

There are many reasons that many feel compelled to come here and follow or contribute to the conversation while the crisis is still unfolding. While it is unlikely that we will in any way contribute to the resolution of the immediate problem in Japan, we are all responsible for the decisions that are being and will be made about the future of nuclear power elsewhere in the world. One thing that hinders a more streamlined discussion of the fate of Fukushima, as well as nuclear power in general, is that nuclear physics and engineering are not easy subjects. The science is rather unintuitive and beyond people's everyday experience. An event like this happens, and everyone is forced to confront their own lack of expertise.

But nuclear physics has been around along time, and certainly in the beginning years of the nuclear age, there was a need to explain the basic concepts in such a way that people could understand it at some level. And scientists at many universities and laboratories have also made available some excellent material. I have identified some links that I believe are very good, and I will plant the seed by listing them below. If you know of others, please submit them in the comments. The best of these will get brought up top. This list is meant to be rather dynamic, and categories might get added as time goes on. No commentary or news on current events, though; use the Fukushima open threads for this.

Note: it is not claimed that any resource is completely without bias -- if that is indeed possible. If you feel that the resources are heavily slanted one way of the other, suggest others.

Tutorials and Online Texts

Atom and Isotope References

Tools and Visualizations


Useful Papers


Garwin and Charpak's Megawatts and Megatons: The Future of Nuclear Power and Nuclear Weapons is an excellent starting point for anyone who wants to learn about things nuclear. They're optimists about the future of nuclear power, but reasonably honest about the problems that have to be addressed. At almost 400 pages it's not a quick read, but this is a big subject and they provide a thorough treatment.

JoulesBurn, the Videos link to "A is for Atom -- BBC Documentary" links to the blog of the author with only a minute long intro in the documentary itself - however with an interesting commentary on its relation to the Fukushima disaster.

The original documentary is called Pandora's Box can be found from YouTube in 30 parts.

The part titled "A is for Atom" is covered in parts 26-30.

Actually, even though it seems to indicate only a minute long, when you start playing it, it is 56 minutes long.

Ah, indeed it does. Sorry my mistake.

And as a further insult to injury - the Youtube versions I linked to above, have whole interviews edited off them by the History Channel for some (ominous) reason, so one should certainly stick to the BBC version linked to here.

Into Eternity - a documentary about the nuclear waste repository being built in Finland, showing the technical as well as ethical aspects of the problem. Possible bias: made in co-operation with both the nuclear industry as well as the nuclear authority.

The Battle of Chernobyl - a french documentary about the cleanup efford following the Chernobyl disaster, following the stories of the engineers, journalists and the military who witnessed the events. Possible bias: personal bias by the artist who made the documentary.

PS: do we really have to point out the bias in various sources - and then argue about them - which we know is the unavoidable fate of this thread - could we instead decide to be 'adults' and leave any such determination to the reader - caveat emptor etc. That way less noise. Just a suggestion.

Almost without exception, a documentary will have a bias. The creator had to be motivated to produce something with (usually) limited commercial potential. You can indicate the bias as you see it, but others will probably accuse you of something anyway.

Funny how things happen. Yesterday one of my local newspapers had this article on Fukishima that contained this really shallow sentence

As the temperature increased, some water would have decomposed to hydrogen, raising the likelihood of explosions.....

In searching for a more technically correct explanation to put in a comment to the article, I find this

which is page 39 from

Safety and Security of Commercial Spent Nuclear Fuel Storage:
Public Report

Then I wake up this morning to find this key post.

A cursory reading from pages 39 through 46 indicates to me that this report is probably very relevant to the Fukushima Dai-ichi debacle. However, the report focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks and appears to have totally overlooked the possibility of natural disasters. Unfortunately this lays out a blueprint for a really nasty terrorist attack or act of war. Funny how mother nature can produce more horrific catastrophes than any terrorist could ever cook up.

Alan from the islands

There is a huge amount of technical material available, and I might add a category for reports and such. My main aim was more along the lines of introductory/summary material, but it doesn't have to be limited to that.

The 2003 Alvarez study describes cooling problems that might arise in pool storage, leading to uncontrolled fire and release of radiation.
They were in favor of shifting to dry casks as soon as the heat generated dropped enough to allow convective air cooling.

The US Nuclear Regulatory Commission disagreed with their conclusions, by law having to publish their rebuttal. The back-and-forth discussion is documented at

The sad part is that this spent fuel is perfectly safe if it's held in water at 250°C or more, as long as the water is under enough pressure to remain all or mostly liquid (BWR fuel is designed to be in a water/steam environment).  Pressurized casks filled with water and surrounded by shielding would get hot, but if they had cooling fins it's only a matter of making them big enough for convective cooling to keep them passively safe.  The bigger they are, the cooler they'd stay.

As there has been little change in nuclear power technology this last 30 years, older texts should still be relevant for the vast majority of sites still 'out there'.

Nuclear safety calculation and measurements of health risk were originally developed from the experience of Japanese nuclear bomb survivors, but more recent data was published last month on the long term health results from Chernobyl. This is a US National Institute of Health study focused on exposure to Iodine 131, which seems to have been the largest source of risk created by Chernobyl. If there is Iodine in the fallout, emergency reaction has a very short time window to be effective, otherwise the damage is done and will manifest over the next decades. For the US NIH study follow the links here: The NIH site links to National Institute for Cancer, other research on Chernobyl and to a CDC Fact Sheet, which includes the basics of Radiological Measurement and Radiation Emergencies.

Why is energyfromthorium blog being puffed by JB?

If it was occasionally that's one thing but it is continuous.

Nobody uses thorium for nuclear fuel.

You might as well recommend a site for naquadah or Zed PM modules.

Here's a list of other fictional power sources which would revolutionize our lives forever!,_materials,_isot...

I haven't written anywhere about the prospects for using thorium as a fuel. The java programs that I pointed to are not directly related to it, but are generally useful for understanding what is going on at Fukushima and elsewhere.

Why is energyfromthorium blog being puffed by JB?

Because while his main goal is to promote thorium reactors, the Energyfromthorium author writes about nuclear safety issues in general, and is good at dealing with the technical complexity of the subject without overwhelming the reader.

I would think that technical minded forward thinkers are exactly the sorts of sources The Oil Drum readers would be most interested in.

UC Santa Barbara once had a nuclear engineering department and a working reactor which i visited on occasion. Alas, it is no more. I had the opportunity to meet Ted Taylor and John Gofman at Santa Barbara functions and also heard Henry Fenech debate Gofman.

"In addition to conducting his own research, Fenech built a topnotch nuclear engineering group at UC Santa Barbara. Having pioneered the technology, he was in a particularly good position to assemble a team of experts to advance the field. Said Lucas, “Had the environment been different in this country in terms of growth of nuclear power, UCSB would have become one of the country's dominant programs. We had the right people.” But reflecting trends across the country, enrollments began to decline in the 1980s. Professor Fenech transferred to emeritus status in 1991. Shortly thereafter, the remaining faculty decided to discontinue the program in nuclear engineering."

A useful table

If you drill doen to an element you get an option for full technical data. Scroll down and you come to known isotopes. Select one and you get the decay chain. There is also an option, here, for the decay chains leading to the element. Plenty more goodies as well.


The best nuclear engineering text IMHO is Glasstone & Sesonske, "Nuclear Reactor Engineering." A book with crystal clear writing for the general audience is Glasstone's "Sourcebook on Atomic Energy." Samuel Glasstone wrote other wonderful science books on diverse topics including Mars, nuclear weapons, physical chemistry and thermodynamics.

I can share this with all of you: If Glasstone's texts offered here as candidates for research/education are half as well-written as other Glasstone texts I have read on a somewhat different yet highly related subject (texts which are not available to most of you due to their nature), then I would highly recommend them for their accurate, very clearly written and understandable nature.

Also, I highly commend TOD and JoulesBurn for launching this 'nuclear power education' keypost. Reasoned debate is enabled by knowledge.

Hopefully this will be a permanent link on the top of the TOD bar, and won't get buried.


I studied nuclear engineering as an undergraduate in the early 80's. Glasstone & Sesonske was recommended as an alternate text for several courses, and I always found its content more helpful than the standard text. The refrain was: So that's what -- meant! More recently, reading Glasstone on thermodynamics and physical chemistry has been like meeting an old friend.

I think this Glasstone text is the one many people reference for the waste heat decay models. I haven't found a copy I can refer to yet,

I browsed through that tome years ago, impressive.

When I looked it up on Amazon, they offered me this handy text too:

Nuclear Power Plant Reactor Training Manual: Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) Design at Japan TEPCO Fukushima Plant and U.S. Plants - Comprehensive Technical Data on Systems, Components, and Operations.

Maybe someone should donate a copy to TEPCO :-p

"Power to save the world - The truth about nuclear energy" is a good read. Written by
someone who was originally opposed to nuclear power, but got the chance to see the industry
from the inside.

Having no Science or math background, I am trying to become more educated using the links posted. I did discover that Wikipedia has a simple side for folks like me, I.e., google "simple physics" and a quite basic article is available.


I did a quick Google search on FMECA and nuclear power and found this:

Failure Mode, Effect and Criticality Analysis
(FMECA) on Mechanical Subsystems of
Diesel Generator at NPP
June 1996
Dr. Tae

The emergency or standby diesel generators in nuclear power plants
take a very important role in point of view of risk. If off-site AC
power source is not available in accident situations in nuclear power
plant, then on-site emergency AC power source i.e. diesel generators
should be available to actuate safety equipments such as pumps and
valves to cool down reactors. Therefore, high reliability is required
for the diesel generators.

All things that radiate radiation radioactively:
National Nuclear Data Canter

NIST virtual library, chemistry:

Richard Rhodes
The Making of the Atomic Bomb
Some pages and where to get, here:
A telling of the history of technology. Information in informal terms.


The Periodic Table by Primo Levi

The rise of fascism is often seen in the setting of "modernization".
The many angry and insulting posts are left by the young fascists.
They see any decry of nuclear as an assault upon their dogma.
So this link may be half joke, but perhaps less.

This might be useful

General Electric Boiling Water Reactor- General Operations Manual

"General Description of a Boiling Water Reactor"
There is no 5 or 7.
Lots of fun stuff!

I once got into the habit of playing a computer simulation that involved running a BWR. It seems there should be an open source extension that allows further development akin to a flight simulator. Where you can add anomalies that screw with the day to day. These would be based on location of the reactor and known local potential for external disruptive events. There is enough imagination out there in academic and industrial expertise, as well as in the gaming corruptive realm. I know this may seem trite in the shadow of the Fukushima problems. It seems to me that, had the shortcomings of the Fukushima complex of reactors been expressed in a gaming environment, maybe enough players and contributors would have at least had the chance to try and circumvent the complacency and insidious relationship between TEPCO and the oversight agency. Regardless of how this post is perceived and reviewed, I would like to thank all the contributors for making this discussion possible. I have contributed financially to the OilDrum. It is where I go when I need a rational fix. In June 1977 I rode my bicycle from Misawa to Sendai and took the train back. The green of the rice fields and the folks working them is a stunning memory.

as reactors start to be built smaller countries what over site agency will they rely on?

For those interested in neutron cross sections and such, the NNDC libraries are freely available:

Oh, that's wonderful.  Bookmarked.

Union of Concerned Scientists - they are a watchdog group, but don't self-describe as anti-nuclear. They have a blog (All Things Nuclear), and they've also been holding near daily press conferences with journalists on the on-going situation in Fukushima.

For Japanese related information, I like Citizens' Nuclear Information Center. They are an anti-nuclear group, but have been hosting some of the most informative engineering and science panels anywhere on the web via their ustream video channel. Perhaps also in the same vein: Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

There's a pretty interesting case of citizen journalism from a former 20-30 year veteran in the nuclear industry and former naval commander: M. Mervin on the following blog site. He hasn't suggested any major revelations from an engineering perspective, but he has been very hard on the Japanese Government, TEPCO officials, and the media for a lack of transparency. Final podcast will be this Saturday (April 09th), perhaps they will do more if there are any major developments. Their post from April 03 mentions lack of content in briefings, and failure to provide information that can be well understood by members of the general public (hence their interest to provide their updates).

I'm also a fan of tracking down University courses or lectures on YouTube. Professor Richard A. Muller on bomb and reactor physics, Google Tech Talks, and things like that.

I'll second The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. I learnt a lot about reactor safety from it in my student days (a long time ago).

They've two resources online from their archives well worth perusal:

Selected Readings on Three Mile Island

Selected Readings on Chernobyl

I wish to note here that no less than 15 comments have recently vanished from this thread, so if you think you saw something that's not there anymore, you're probably right.

Yep, several have been disappeared, including mine. Do we know what the offense was? All I did was point out why it is my opinion that the work of the thorium energy guys is credible, in response to some snark attacking the legitimacy of a reference to their site. I didn't think that was breaking any rules. Obviously I was wrong! Whatever guys...

My apologies, but the intent of this post is to create a collection of educational references, not facilitate a discussion on the relative merits of nuclear alternatives. There is room for some slack, and your original comment was not to bad in this regard, but it initiated several more.

JoulesBurn: You have removed three of my four posts. Do you have a boss on this list to whom that can be appealed? I would rather see posts admonished and then pulled. Would you please respond by posting the deleted items and then stating a reason for the deletion? How many removals have happened, and to what irritating end does this serve?

Steven JF Scannell 508-360-1926 Please respond, or please have someone respond.

I realize we have a wealth of technical data and science/engineering to rationalize nuclear power, both pro and con. And many of the references given here focus on that. What I find most challenging when imagining a nuclear future is the burden we place on future generations, at the core not terribly different from the line, "We have X years of oil/coal/gas." These stories all reflect an assumption that the next generation will be more resourceful than we are, that they will be able to take this trashed planet and perform miracles of "progress" and alchemy to restore the garden of Eden or to transform it into something utopia, without oil or coal or gas or uranium ....

In my book nothing could be further from the truth. We, especially as the peak oil community that has the great good fortune to be sufficiently well-off to contemplate, we have a huge responsibility to our progeny, to bust the promoters of all stripes who would sell out and suck dry the river of life for a few beads and trinkets.

To pile up spent fuel rods in pools that require fuel to carry on their orderly dissipation for years to come, to exhaust even the most remote and inaccessible oil fields, to burn metallurgical coal to run 100 watt incandescents at 10% efficiency, all of this presupposes that future generations will have nothing better to do than to clean up our messes. After all, we gave them the Internet; shouldn't they be grateful?

I hear talk of a new generation of this and that ... new gen (cellulosic?) ethanol, new gen (clean?) coal, now new gen nuclear. As if a single well-phrased word or slogan could wipe clean the slate of misdeeds that puts us where we are today, with a nuclear fleet that in any plausible scenario will demand a level of civil order and continuity without precedent.

As Thoreau put it, "oh for a man with a bone in his back which you cannot put your hand through."

I will listen to the nuclear hype when I see the industry itself taking on the responsibility from cradle to cradle. In the meantime, I will invest in restorative technology.

with a nuclear fleet that in any plausible scenario will demand a level of civil order and continuity without precedent

As Alvin Weinberg pointed out in Science back in 1972 when he coined the term "nuclear priesthood". He found his "Faustian Bargain" acceptable.

I don't.

Thats all true, but let's face this fact:

We could all live like kings if there was only 1% of the world population

Therein lies the root of the problem.

As far as I know there are no reference materials for hybrid sustainable energy in conjunction with nuclear energy. They can work together. But it's hard to collect arguments together for that when there are no lists of ideas, papers, discussions, etc. I believe there are many ways solar power, wave power, wind power, and geothermal power can work with nuclear. I want my posts reinstated, so that you may have a look at the ideas and see what you think. I am a recent convert to nuclear, only because my many sustainable energy designs can be incorporated into nuclear. Steven JF Scannell

Very useful and colorful PDFs from TEPCO (in english) about energy related business.

I learned a few things from their nuclear fuel cycle document. I recommend this to all.

I really like Bernhard Cohen's book, "The Nuclear Energy Option", last published in 1990. It is a not too technical look at nuclear power, but still does attempt to make quantitative arguments.

A quick Google search turned up these links to nuclear power plant simulations...some free, some not, some extremely simplistic, and some more involved.

I loaded and quickly played with some of these.

My WOT Firefox add-on rated the sites as safe.

However, I cannot guarantee anyone's safety or satisfaction with these.

Here they are: