Nuclear engineers develop the processes and systems for working effectively with nuclear energy and radiation. They focus on finding the benefits of this powerful energy form, and many research industrial, medical, healthcare, or extraterrestrial uses for nuclear energy. Typical duties for these power engineers include:
Developing nuclear equipment, including radiation shields and reactor cores
Operating and maintaining nuclear plants
Writing instructions to ensure safe, efficient nuclear plant operation
Taking action or shutting down plants in case of emergency
Analyzing nuclear accidents to assist with future planning
Nuclear Job Education Requirements
For entry-level jobs, nuclear engineers must have a bachelor's degree in that field. Nuclear engineering undergraduate programs include coursework, fieldwork, and lab work. Most degree programs also include cooperative elements that allow students to gain hands-on experience in their field. Nuclear engineers who want to focus on research and development should also have a master's degree and work experience in the field.
Nuclear engineers are generally required to undertake several months of training at their specific job site in order to become fluent in safety practices and regulations. Regular safety training is also required. Nuclear engineers who work at power plants do not need a specific license, but those who work in different environments may need a professional engineer license. Those who successfully move up in their field have the potential to become engineering managers.
Nuclear Job Market
The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects 9 percent job growth for this field through 2022. This is about average growth among all occupations. The majority of this job growth is likely to come from power plants and firms in need of safety system upgrades specified by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. While these upgrades may drive new jobs, they may also increase the cost of plant construction and thus slow both construction and job growth.
Other job growth for nuclear engineers may come from work overseas, in countries where design and construction of power plants is on the rise. Additional job growth can be attributed to the growing nuclear medicine industry. Engineers in this industry research and develop radiologic imaging and cyclotrons used to treat cancer.
Nuclear Job Salary Information
According to the BLS, nuclear engineers' median pay is about $104,000 per year. Nuclear engineers at the lowest end of this range earn under $69,000, while those at the top 10 percent of their field earn over $150,000. The top-paying industries for nuclear engineers include scientific research services, architectural services, electric power generation, and the federal government.