Nuclear Engineers

Career, Salary and Education Information

Following is everything you need to know about a career as a nuclear engineer with lots of details. As a first step, take a look at some of the following jobs, which are real jobs with real employers. You will be able to see the very real job career requirements for employers who are actively hiring. The link will open in a new tab so that you can come back to this page to continue reading about the career:

Top 3 Nuclear Engineer Jobs

  • Sales Support Engineer - Acromag - Wixom, MI

    A creative problem solver, and pay attention to detail. • Willing to step outside of your comfort zone and

  • Asst/Assoc Professor in Mining Engineering - Missouri University of Science and Technology - Rolla, MO

    Applicants should have

  • Test Engineer - Communication Systems - General Dynamics Electric Boat - Groton, CT

    Leveraging the latest in state-of-the-art technologies, expertise is required for VIRGINIA Submarine systems including SubLan systems. Test

See all Nuclear Engineer jobs

What Nuclear Engineers Do[About this section] [To Top]

Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment. Many others specialize in the development of nuclear power sources for ships or spacecraft.

Duties of Nuclear Engineers

Nuclear engineers typically do the following:

  • Design or develop nuclear equipment, such as reactor cores, radiation shielding, and associated instrumentation
  • Direct operating or maintenance activities of operational nuclear power plants to ensure that they meet safety standards
  • Write operational instructions to be used in nuclear plant operation or in handling and disposing of nuclear waste
  • Monitor nuclear facility operations to identify any design, construction, or operation practices that violate safety regulations and laws
  • Perform experiments to test whether methods of using nuclear material, reclaiming nuclear fuel, or disposing of nuclear waste are acceptable
  • Take corrective actions or order plant shutdowns in emergencies
  • Examine nuclear accidents and gather data that can be used to design preventive measures

In addition, nuclear engineers are at the forefront of developing uses of nuclear material for medical imaging devices, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scanners. They also may develop or design cyclotrons, which produce a high-energy beam that the healthcare industry uses to treat cancerous tumors.

Work Environment for Nuclear Engineers[About this section] [To Top]

Nuclear engineers hold about 17,700 jobs. The largest employers of nuclear engineers are as follows:

Electric power generation 40%
Federal government, excluding postal service 17
Scientific research and development services 15
Engineering services 7
Manufacturing 5

Nuclear engineers typically work in offices. However, their work setting varies with the industry in which they are employed. For example, those employed in power generation and supply work in power plants. Many work for the federal government and for consulting firms.

Nuclear engineers work with others, including mechanical engineers and electrical engineers, and they must be able to incorporate systems designed by these engineers into their own designs.

Nuclear Engineer Work Schedules

The majority of nuclear engineers work full time, and about 1 in 3 work more than 40 hours per week. Their schedules may vary with the industries in which they work.

How to Become a Nuclear Engineer[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Nuclear Engineers near you!

Nuclear engineers must have a bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering or a related field of engineering. Employers also value experience, which can be gained through cooperative-education engineering programs.

Education for Nuclear Engineers

Entry-level nuclear engineering jobs in private industry require a bachelor's degree. Some entry-level nuclear engineering jobs may require at least a master's degree or even a Ph.D.

Students interested in studying nuclear engineering should take high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.

Bachelor's degree programs consist of classroom, laboratory, and field studies in subjects such as mathematics and engineering principles. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative-education programs in which students gain work experience while completing their education.

Some universities offer 5-year programs leading to both a bachelor's and a master's degree. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as an instructor at a university or engage in research and development. Some 5-year or even 6-year cooperative-education plans combine classroom study with work, permitting students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.

Master's and Ph.D. programs consist of classroom, laboratory, and research efforts in areas of advanced mathematics and engineering principles. These programs require the successful completion of a research study, usually conducted in conjunction with a professor, on a government or private research grant.

Programs in nuclear engineering are accredited by ABET.

Important Qualities for Nuclear Engineers

Analytical skills. Nuclear engineers must identify design elements to help build facilities and equipment that produce material needed by various industries.

Communication skills. Nuclear engineers' work depends heavily on their ability to work with other engineers and technicians. They must communicate effectively, both in writing and in person.

Detail oriented. Nuclear engineers supervise the operation of nuclear facilities. They must pay close attention to what is happening at all times and ensure that operations comply with all regulations and laws pertaining to the safety of workers and the environment.

Logical-thinking skills. Nuclear engineers design complex systems. Therefore, they must order information logically and clearly so that others can follow their written information and instructions.

Math skills. Nuclear engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Because of the hazard posed by nuclear materials and by accidents at facilities, nuclear engineers must anticipate problems before they occur and safeguard against them.

Nuclear Engineer Training

A newly hired nuclear engineer at a nuclear power plant usually must complete training onsite, in such areas as safety procedures, practices, and regulations, before being allowed to work independently. Training lasts from 6 weeks to 3 months, depending on the employer. In addition, these engineers must undergo continuous training every year to keep their knowledge, skills, and abilities current with laws, regulations, and safety procedures.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations for Nuclear Engineers

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as a nuclear engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one's career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor's degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Each state issues its own licenses. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state's requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.

Nuclear engineers can obtain licensing as a Senior Reactor Operator, a designation that is granted after an intensive, 2-year, site-specific program. The credential, granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, asserts that the engineer can operate a nuclear power plant within federal government requirements.

Other Experience for Nuclear Engineers

During high school, students can attend engineering summer camps to see what these and other engineers do. Attending these camps can help students plan their coursework for the remainder of their time in high school.

Advancement for Nuclear Engineers

New nuclear engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move on to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Eventually, nuclear engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may become engineering managers or move into sales work. For more information, see the profiles on architectural and engineering managers and sales engineers.

Nuclear engineers also can become medical physicists. A master's degree in health physics, radiological sciences, or a related field is necessary for someone to enter this field.

Nuclear Engineer Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

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Entry Level Experienced

The median annual wage for nuclear engineers is $102,220. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $65,570, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $152,420.

The median annual wages for nuclear engineers in the top industries in which they work are as follows:

Engineering services $111,070
Scientific research and development services 109,000
Electric power generation 103,270
Manufacturing 97,620
Federal government, excluding postal service 92,320

The majority of nuclear engineers work full time, and about 1 in 3 work more than 40 hours per week. Their schedules may vary with the industries in which they work.

Job Outlook for Nuclear Engineers[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of nuclear engineers is projected to grow 4 percent over the next ten years, slower than the average for all occupations. Employment is projected to decline in electric power generation, but projected to increase in research and development in engineering, and in management, scientific, and technical consulting services.

Traditionally, utilities that own or build nuclear power plants have employed the greatest number of nuclear engineers. However, utilities are opting more and more to switch power generation over to cheaper natural gas. In addition, the increasing viability of renewable energy is putting pressure on the economics of traditional nuclear power generation.

Developments in nuclear medicine, diagnostic imaging, and cancer treatment also will drive demand for nuclear engineers, to develop new methods for treatment.

Job Prospects for Nuclear Engineers

Job prospects are expected to be relatively limited. Openings should stem from operating extensions being granted to older nuclear power plants. Those with training in developing fields, such as nuclear medicine, should have better prospects.

Employment projections data for Nuclear Engineers, 2016-26
Occupational Title Employment, 2016 Projected Employment, 2026 Change, 2016-26
Percent Numeric
Nuclear engineers 17,700 18,400 4 700


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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