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PE Nuclear Exam Preparation Module Program—Learning Objectives

Below is a listing of the learning objectives for each module in the program.

General Knowledge

Introduction to the Nuclear PE Exam 

Registering for the Exam

  • Know how to register with your state board.
  • Know how to set up a MyNCEES account and register for the exam.
  • Discuss the date and format of the PE Exam in Nuclear Engineering.
  • Discuss appropriate reference materials and where they may be obtained.

Preparations for the Exam

  • Discuss how to prepare prior to taking the exam.
  • Discuss appropriate reference materials and what items can be brought to the exam.
  • Describe the exam check-in process and scoring issues.

General Information

Nuclear History

  • Give a brief history of the discovery of radioactivity, nuclear fission, nuclear weapons, and nuclear power.

Agencies, Regulators, and Professional Organizations (PDF only)

  • Become familiar with the various agencies, regulators, and professional organizations that are involved with the nuclear field.

Science Background

Introduction to Units (PDF only)

  • Appropriate units are needed to arrive at correct answers.
    • Be consistent with the system of units (SI or USCS) used throughout the problem, for all the parts.
    • Units can help you check your answers; e.g., if a question is asking for power and you obtain the result in the units of energy, you will want to check for errors.
    • If you choose to convert the values in the question to a different system from what is given, be sure to convert back!

This topic also includes the following modules (PDFs only):

-Unit Conversions: Nuclear Physics and Basic Units

-Unit Conversions: Flow Calculations

-Unit Conversions: Energy and Power

-Constants and Units

Fundamentals of Nuclear Structure

  • Identify the parts of an atom.
  • Understand the difference between atom, element, and isotope.
  • Recognize the symbol for an isotope and understand the difference between atomic number (Z) and atomic mass (A).

Fundamental Particles

  • Describe the fundamental particles in nuclear engineering.
  • Understand the atomic mass unit and the relative masses of the fundamental particles.
  • Recognize photons and how they relate to the electromagnetic spectrum.

The Electron

  • Describe electron charge (negative) and importance for chemical bonding.
  • Describe the periodic table layout.
  • Describe the electron capture mechanism.

Waves and Particles

  • Understand the wave-particle duality of light and fundamental particles.

Relativity and Time Dilation

  • Understand the formulation of the Theory of Special Relativity.
  • Become familiar with the topic of time dilation, and be able to calculate observed time in different frames of reference.

Length Contraction

  • Understand length contraction and mass increase from an example of muon creation.
  • Identify the energy invariance relationship.
  • Determine which radiation types are affected by relativity effects in typical nuclear engineering situations.

Cerenkov Radiation

  • Familiarize yourself with Cerenkov radiation.
  • Understand the index of refraction and variables in the equation.
  • Calculate the threshold energy for Cerenkov radiation in a medium.

Specification Area 1 – Nuclear Power


Steam Properties

  • Define subcooled, saturated, and superheated as applied to the states of water found in a nuclear power plant.
  • Define quality as applied to a saturated water system.
  • Describe how changes in pressure allow a BWR to produce steam in the core while a PWR doesn’t.

Fluid Parameters

  • Describe the parameters provided in the PE Nuclear Reference Handbook for subcooled water.
  • Describe the parameters provided in the PE Nuclear Reference Handbook for saturated water and steam.
  • Describe the parameters provided in the PE Nuclear Reference Handbook for superheated steam.

Steam Tables Examples, Part I

  • Determine the parameters provided in the PE Nuclear Reference Handbook for subcooled water.
  • Determine the parameters provided in the PE Nuclear Reference Handbook for superheated steam.
  • Determine the condition of steam (saturated or superheated) and use the appropriate table.

Steam Tables Examples, Part II

  • Determine the quality for saturated steam-water mixtures when given a specific volume or enthalpy or entropy at a given condition.
  • Determine any or all of the parameters provided in the PE Nuclear Reference Handbook for saturated steam-water mixtures when given a quality at a given condition.

Steam Tables Examples, Part III

  • Determine the parameters provided in the PE Nuclear Reference Handbook for saturated steam-water mixtures when given a quality and temperature.
  • Calculate parameters using either English units or SI units commonly known as metric units.

Steam Tables Examples, Part IV

  • Using the steam tables, calculate the work done in a turbine based on given inlet and outlet conditions.
  • Using the turbine efficiency, calculate the actual work and the actual turbine outlet conditions.


Fluid Flow and Energy Balance

  • Describe the relationship between Bernoulli’s equation and the First Law of Thermodynamics.
  • Discuss each of the terms in the general energy balance equation.
  • Given the initial and final conditions of the system, calculate the unknown fluid properties using the simplified Bernoulli equation.

Pressure Head

  • Define the term head with respect to its use in fluid flow.
  • Given a set of system conditions, calculate the pump head or friction head using the modified Bernoulli equation.

Laminar and Turbulent Flow

  • Describe the characteristics and flow velocity profiles of laminar flow and turbulent flow.
  • Define viscosity and how it varies with temperature.
  • Describe the relationship between the Reynolds number and the degree of turbulence of the flow.

Friction Factors

  • Define the four different friction factors and how they are related.
  • Discuss the relationship between friction factor and Reynolds number and how this is demonstrated on a Moody chart.

Determination of Friction Factor

  • Determine the value of the friction factor using the Moody Chart.
  • Describe how the roughness is related to pipe material.
  • Discuss how relative roughness is calculated and how it affects the friction factor.

Calculation of Friction Head

  • Determine the value of the friction head for a given set of fluid flow conditions.
  • Define fully developed turbulent flow and how this affects the friction factor.
  • Discuss how the friction head is related to change in velocity and to change in Reynolds number for fully developed turbulent flow.


Pumps: Introduction

  • Define the suction and discharge sides of a pump and where the reference line for elevation is.
  • Calculate the hydraulic horsepower of a pump in terms of gpm and psi.
  • Calculate the brake horsepower of a pump given the pump efficiency and the head and pressure change in either SI or English units.

Pump Head and Calculations

  • Define the four different heads associated with a pumping system.
  • Identify the heads associated with static head and describe why they are “static.”
  • Define the total developed head and describe how it is used to create a manufacturer’s pump curve.

Pumps: Cavitation and NPSH

  • Define cavitation and how it affects pump operation.
  • State the equation for calculating NPSHa and define each of the terms.
  • State the requirement for NPSHa relative to NPSHr for proper pump operation.
  • Discuss how the location of the fluid source with respect to pump centerline affects NPSHa.

Pumps: Examples of NPSH Calculations

  • Calculate the NPSHa for a given pump layout.
  • Calculate NPSHr for a given pump suction head and system layout.
  • Determine minimum fluid level to avoid cavitation.

Pump Performance

  • List the five parameters used to specify a pump.
  • Describe how pump curves are used to indicate variation of head, efficiency, and bhp with flow rate.
  • Discuss how impeller size affects head.

Pump Operation

  • Describe how to create a system curve that gives the system head versus system flow rate.
  • Calculate the system dynamic head for a flow rate given the system dynamic head at another flow rate.
  • Identify the operating point from a given pump curve and system curve.
  • Discuss how valve operation affects flow rate and pump operating point.

Pump Calculations: Examples, Part I

  • Identify characteristics of pump curves.
  • Calculate pump discharge conditions.
  • Describe the effect of changes in valve conditions and/or pipe diameters on the system curve.

Pump Calculations: Examples, Part II

For a given system layout:

  • Calculate head for suction side.
  • Calculate head for discharge side.
  • Calculate static heads and total developed head (TDH).
  • Calculate NPSHa for a given system.
  • Calculate hydraulic and brake horsepower.


Probabilistic Risk Assessment

Probabilistic Risk Assessment: Introduction

  • Define risk assessment.
  • Define risk in terms of frequency and consequences.
  • Identify the three levels of PRA.
  • List three elements of a PRA.

Basic Concepts of Probability

  • Define what is meant by the probability of an event, the complement of an event, the union of two events, and the intersection of two events.
  • Define mutually independent events and mutually exclusive events.
  • Define conditional probability for two events.

Probability Operations

  • Define the rules of addition of probabilities for mutually exclusive and for non-mutually exclusive events.
  • Define the rules of multiplication of probabilities for mutually exclusive events, independent events, and dependent events.
  • Define the rule of subtraction for probabilities.

Probability Models

  • Describe the difference between combinations of items and permutations of subsets of those items.
  • Calculate numbers of combinations or permutations in a given set of items.
  • Identify how the binomial distribution is used in PRA analyses and use the equation to calculate probabilities.
  • Identify how the Poisson/exponential distribution is used in PRA analyses and use the equation to calculate system reliability.

Event and Fault Trees

  • Describe the difference between an event tree and a fault tree.
  • Discuss the relationship between the initiating event (IE) and the consequences.
  • Discuss the relationship between failure probabilities and the reliability of system equipment.

Fault Tree Example

  • Determine a fault tree for an upset in a given operation.
  • Using Boolean operations, determine the probabilities for combinations of events.
  • Calculate the frequency of an upset event.

PRA Example Problems

  • Use the binomial distribution to calculate probability of r failures in N trials.
  • Use concepts of Boolean algebra to calculate the probability of independent failures.
  • Calculate the probability of a sequence of events using conditional probability.
  • Calculate the probability of failure to start for systems with common-cause failures.
  • Define the mean time to failure (MTTF) and how it relates to the reliability of a system.
  • Calculate the probability of failure to run for different time periods given the MTTF.


Heat Exchangers

Heat Exchangers: Introduction

  • Describe how heat exchangers use fluid flow to exchange energy.
  • Identify where convective heat flow and where conductive heat flow is used in a heat exchanger.
  • Describe the arrangement that creates a double-pipe heat exchanger.
  • Define co-current and counter-current flow in a double-pipe heat exchanger.

Overall Heat Transfer Coefficient

  • State the equation for overall heat transfer rate in a heat exchanger and identify the factors.
  • State the equation for fluid content and show how it is related to overall heat transfer rate.
  • Define the overall heat transfer coefficient and describe how it is calculated using the sum of thermal resistances.
  • Define fouling and how it affects the overall heat transfer coefficient and overall heat transfer rate.
  • Define “clean” and “dirty” in relation to heat transfer rates in a heat exchanger.
  • Provide some typical values for fouling resistances.

Log Mean Temperature Difference

  • Define LMTD and describe its relationship to heat exchanger efficiency.
  • Calculate LMTD for a counter-current-flow heat exchanger.
  • Calculate LMTD for a co-current-flow heat exchanger.

Shell-and-Tube Heat Exchangers

  • Describe various components of a shell-and-tube heat exchanger.
  • Define the characteristics of a multipass shell-and-tube heat exchanger.
  • Identify some advantages and disadvantages of a multipass heat exchanger.
  • Discuss the importance of shell-side baffles.

Shell-and-Tube Heat Exchanger Parameters

  • Describe the various tube layouts commonly used in a shell-and-tube heat exchanger.
  • Define tube layout, tube pitch, tube counts, and shell diameter as applied to a shell-and-tube heat exchanger.
  • Define Prandtl number and Nusselt number.
  • Calculate Nusselt number using either the Dittus-Boelter or Sieder-Tate empirical equations.
  • Calculate a film coefficient from the Nusselt number.

Shell-and-Tube Heat Exchanger Example

  • Calculate heat transfer rate (HX duty).
  • Calculate inlet or outlet temperature of a fluid.
  • Calculate LMTD.
  • Calculate velocity; Reynolds number; Prandtl number; Nusselt number; and film coefficient, h, for fluid in the tubes.
  • Calculate outside surface area, Ao, and the overall heat transfer coefficient, Uo, for a shell-and-tube heat exchanger.

Shell-and-Tube Heat Exchanger Example Problems

  • Evaluate typical parameters applicable to heat exchangers and heat transfer.

Specification Area 2 – Nuclear Fuel Cycle

Coming soon.

Specification Area 3 – Interaction of Radiation with Matter

Coming soon.

Specification Area 4 – Nuclear Criticality/Kinetics/Neutronics


Delayed Neutrons

  • Describe the production of prompt and delayed neutrons through fission.
  • Describe the effect of delayed neutrons on the time behavior of a fissile system.
  • Define βeff and what causes it to change in different systems containing the same fissile nuclides.

Reactivity and Period

  • Describe reactivity and the various ways it can be expressed.
  • Define the reactor period and how it relates to reactor power.
  • Define doubling time, halving time, and reactor startup rate and the relationships between these and the reactor period.

Point Kinetics and Prompt Behavior

  • Describe the impact of effective delayed neutrons on the time behavior of a system.
  • State the point kinetics equations and discuss the solution for one effective delayed neutron group.
  • Discuss the concept of prompt jump and prompt drop as related to positive and negative changes in system reactivity.
  • Describe the significance of the longest-lived delayed neutron group in system behavior for large negative reactivity changes.

System Time Behavior

  • Describe the time behavior for negative reactivity changes.
  • Describe the time behavior for small positive reactivity changes.
  • Describe the time behavior for large positive reactivity changes and the impact of the delayed neutron fraction.
  • Define the terms delayed critical, prompt critical, and prompt supercritical.
  • Describe the positive and negative feedback mechanisms that affect time behavior for large positive reactivity changes.
  • Describe the effects of overmoderation and undermoderation on system time behavior.

Kinetics Example Problems

  • Calculate the period, doubling/halving time, and/or SUR for a given reactivity change.
  • Calculate reactor conditions after a reactivity change.

Fission Product Poisoning

  • Describe how xenon poisoning affects reactor shutdown and startup.
  • Identify the typical flux value above which xenon poisoning is important in reactor startup.
  • Describe how samarium poisoning affects reactor operation, shutdown, and startup.
  • Describe the effects of fission products on absorption during reactor operation.
  • Discuss the impact of fission product poisoning on thermal and fast reactors.

Reactivity Coefficients and Transients

  • Describe why reactors are designed with negative moderator temperature coefficients.
  • Identify the two isotopes that dominate the Doppler effect in thermal reactors and describe how the effect depends on temperature.
  • Describe how xenon oscillations occur and their effect on reactor control.
  • Define ATWS and how consideration of such transients influences the design of reactors.

Neutronics and Criticality

Neutron Balance

  • Describe the four ways neutrons can interact in a fissile system.
  • Define critical, supercritical, and subcritical systems.
  • Define the infinite multiplication factor and the effective multiplication factor.
  • Define a reflector and provide examples.
  • Describe the neutron life cycle.

One-Group Diffusion theory

  • State the one-group diffusion equation and describe the interaction characterized by each of the terms.
  • Define the material buckling and geometric buckling and their relationship in critical, supercritical, and subcritical systems.
  • State the equation for the one-group infinite multiplication factor.
  • State the equation for the material buckling in a fast system.

Modified One-Group Diffusion Theory

  • Define the thermalization correction factors for fast leakage, fast fission, and resonance escape.
  • State the four- and six-factor formulas and describe the physical process represented by each term.
  • State the modified one-group diffusion equation and describe the interaction characterized by each of the terms.
  • Define the nonleakage probability.
  • Discuss the applicability and limitations of diffusion theory, one-group, and modified one-group.

Neutron Spectrum

  • Identify and describe the four regions of neutron energy.
  • Describe the characteristics of the fission spectrum.
  • Distinguish between a hard and a soft spectrum and describe how moderators are used to create a soft (thermal) spectrum.
  • Define the characteristics of a neutron moderator and give examples of typical moderating materials.
  • Define a thermal neutron and discuss how it is characterized by a Maxwellian distribution.
  • Describe the behavior of the neutron flux in the three main regions of a thermal reactor.
  • Describe the typical neutron energy spectra in a fast reactor and in a thermal reactor.

Neutron Cross Sections

  • Describe the different neutron interactions, the difference between elastic and inelastic scattering, and the difference between capture and fission events.
  • Define neutron cross sections and the factors that affect the probability of neutron interactions.
  • Distinguish between microscopic and macroscopic cross sections, and identify the units that apply to each.
  • Describe the effects of neutron energy on the probability of the four neutron interactions.
  • Discuss the cross-section behavior of a 1/v absorber as the neutron energy decreases from typical fission energies.

Neutron Cross Section Examples

  • Calculate interaction rate and interaction probability.
  • Calculate macroscopic cross sections for compounds.
  • Define mean-free-path and state how it is calculated for a compound.

Buckling Conversion

  • Describe the concept of buckling conversion and its use in determining equivalent critical geometries.
  • Discuss the impact of shape on the value of extrapolation distance for simple geometries.

Criticality Control

  • Identify the nine criticality parameters (MAGIC MERV).
  • Describe how the criticality parameters affect neutron production, absorption, and leakage—and hence, k-effective.
  • Identify those parameters that are dominant in fast systems and those that are dominant in slow (thermal) systems.
  • Define fast and thermal systems and how moderators and reflectors affect the neutron energy in each of these systems.

Criticality Example Problem

  • Describe the applicability of one-group and modified one-group diffusion theory to systems containing water or other moderators.
  • Discuss the need to correct 2200 m/sec fission and absorption cross sections for Maxwellian distribution, non-1/v behavior, and temperature effects.
  • Describe how to calculate critical slab thickness using modified one-group theory.

Nuclear Reactions and Q-values

  • Describe the four parameters that must be conserved in any nuclear reaction including radioactive decay.
  • Describe how to calculate the Q-value for any nuclear reaction using mass excess values.
  • Discuss the impact of the sign of the Q-value on the probability of a radioactive decay equation.

Nuclear Fission

  • Define high-Z materials as fissionable, fissile, threshold fissionable, or fertile.
  • Describe the fission process in terms of energy generated, particles produced, and the partitioning of the energy among the products.
  • Calculate the fission rate, rate of 235U consumption, and burnup.
  • Discuss the yield of fission products from fission.

Fission Products and Decay Heat

  • Describe the dominant decay process for fission products.
  • Discuss the qualitative behavior of decay heat generation rate after reactor shutdown.
  • Discuss the effect of burnup on the creation of actinide isotopes.
  • Describe how the presence of actinides impacts the decay heat generation rate.

Inverse Multiplication

  • Describe the concept of neutron multiplication as related to count rates from a detector and the effective multiplication factor of a system.
  • Describe the inverse multiplication approach for determining critical conditions.
  • Discuss the 75% rule and the 50% rule and their applications in approach-to-critical experiments.

Last modified February 19, 2020, 1:46pm CST