A suite of GCSE science courses developed in partnership with the University of York

P3 Radioactive materials Module summary

Radioactive materials, their uses, and issues of public concern

This is about the 2006 course. The 2011 modules are mostly similar. See the OCR 2011 specification.

This module summary and the downloadable module map, are taken from the GCSE Science Teacher and Technician Guide published by OUP. We are grateful to OUP for permission to publish these resources on this website.
>> Download Module Map P3 Radioactive materials (77 KB).

Why radioactive materials?

The module explores issues of public concern arising from electrical power production and from the use of radioactive materials in medicine, research, and industry.

Generating electricity (Science explanation)

Students need to understand that electrical blackouts can happen when electricity supply fails to match demand. They explore the implications of growing electricity demand and changing availability of energy sources. What are the risks and benefits of building new nuclear power stations? And why is it so important to improve the efficiency of power stations?

Radioactivity (Science explanation)

Students learn about three types of ionizing radiation, their effects on living cells, and ways of minimizing radiation dose. They learn about isotopes, nuclear fission, and radioactive half-life. Note that the OCR specification expects more detailed knowledge from H Tier students.

Risk (Idea about Science)

Throughout the module, students encounter data on risk in many forms. They are given repeated opportunities to balance benefits and risks while making personal and social decisions.

Making decisions about science and technology (Idea about Science)

The module describes principles of radiation protection and regulatory frameworks. Students weigh up different ways of disposing of of the UK legacy of nuclear waste.

Discussion about different types of power station is deliberately left to the last two lessons. Students can then participate in an informed debate, much better briefed than they were when they considered energy resources at KS3.

They consider how future choices about replacement power stations may be affected by the context: a government-regulated, privatized market in electricity generation and distribution. Factors to consider are not just technical feasibility, but also the social and environmental impact, both now and in the future.

Skills assessment

There are often topical issues related to energy and to radioactive materials being reported in the media. So this module is an excellent opportunity for students to complete a Case Study.

You could also collect data using a renewable energy kit and use this for a Data Analysis task.

Health and safety

You can use sealed radioactive sources in school. However, you need to follow local and national rules when you use them. There are other notes on particular activities.


See our guide to OCR website for the GCSE Science specification to which this module relates.

Module P3 is on pages 45–9: this gives you the Science Explanations and the relevant Ideas about Science.

Read more about Ideas about Science in Appendix F pages 85-91.
For this module you want Idea about Science 2 ‘Correlation and cause’ and 5 ‘Risk’ and 6 ’Making ‘Making decisions about science and technology’. You will find it especially useful to read the overview on page 85.