Nuclear Engineer: Job Description & Requirements

Explore the work responsibilities of a nuclear engineer. Learn about academic requirements as well as employment outlook and salary to decide if this is the right career choice. View article »

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  • 0:01 Nuclear Engineer Definition
  • 0:17 How to Become a…
  • 1:11 Career and Economic Outlook
  • 1:33 Alternative Careers

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Video Transcript

Nuclear Engineer Definition

Nuclear engineers design the equipment and create the operating procedures used in nuclear power plants. Many also operate the machinery that monitors nuclear power and find methods to safely handle and dispose of nuclear waste.

How to Become a Nuclear Engineer

Degree Level Bachelor's degree; master's or doctorate for advanced research and supervisory positions
Degree Field(s) Nuclear science or related field
Licensure/Certification Public sector jobs require licensure
Experience Internship experience required for licensure
Key Skills Detail-oriented; strong math and problem-solving skills; able to operate complex machinery
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 4% decline
Median Annual Salary (2015) $102,950

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Most entry-level nuclear engineering positions require a bachelor degree, but many advanced research or supervisory jobs are only available to people with a master's degree or doctorate. Any engineer who works in the public sector must be licensed by the state. A bachelor's degree takes most students four to five years to obtain and master's degree or doctorate can take between two to four additional years. The process to obtain a license varies by state, but usually requires engineers to pass a test and work as interns for a certain period. Some courses that students will need to take include engineering analysis, nuclear reactor design, ionizing radiation and nuclear reactor engineering.

Nuclear engineers need to be detail-oriented and able to solve problems independently. They also need to be able to operate complex machinery and should have a strong mathematics background.

Career and Economic Outlook

A job decline of about 4% is expected from 2014-2024, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. There may be some growth in the field due to advancements in cancer treatment and nuclear medicine. The median salary for nuclear engineers was $102,950 annually in 2015, per the BLS.

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Alternative Careers

Those interested in becoming a nuclear engineer may also want to consider these alternative careers. For those interested in designing other types of utilities and infrastructure projects, becoming a civil engineer might be a good option. Civil engineers analyze needs, explore costs and other factors, test construction materials, and design structures such as roads, bridges and water treatment plants. They also manage budgets, supervise surveying procedures and oversee infrastructure repair and replacement work.

Civil engineers are required to possess a bachelor's degree in civil engineering or a related field, and may have gone on to earn a master's degree. All states require the licensure of certain types of civil engineers, and licensing requirements generally include completing an approved education program and passing exams. The BLS expects job growth of 8% from 2014-2024, resulting in the creation of almost 24,000 new jobs in this engineering field. In 2015, the median salary for civil engineers was $82,220, based on data from the BLS.

If exploring the nature of nuclear power and the characteristics of energy and matter sound interesting, consider a career as a physicist. Physicists conduct research into areas such as the exploration of space, celestial object development, medical technology, scientific laws and theories of energy creation. They discover new processes and theories that often lead to the development of new types of energy, laser technology, health treatments, communication systems and electronics.

Most physicist positions require a doctorate degree in the scientific field of specialty, but a master's degree may qualify one for research and development job opportunities in healthcare and manufacturing industries. According to BLS figures, an 8% increase in the employment of physicists is projected from 2014-2024. The BLS also estimated that these scientists earned a median income of $111,580 in 2015.

Nuclear engineers require at least a bachelor's degree to enter the field. However, job opportunities are expected to be scarce over the next decade.

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