Nuclear technology can be applied to several different fields. At the undergraduate certificate level, for instance, a program in radiation safety might prepare individuals to work with nuclear equipment in hospitals, power plants or government agencies. Certificate courses are available online, but in-person lab work is always required. Career options expand for individuals who earn associate's or bachelor's degrees in the field. Graduates of these programs can be prepared to work with hazardous or radioactive materials in the capacity of engineers or even managers.
Certificate in Radiation Safety
A certificate in radiation safety provides knowledge of the various types of ionizing radiation, such as alpha, beta and gamma rays and prepares a student for a career as a radiation safety specialist. Radiation safety professionals need to know about acceptable levels of radiation, radiation detection and safety systems put in place at nuclear facilities. Students learn to decontaminate equipment, contain radioactive waste, collect samples and test samples for contaminant leaks in this program over three semesters. Applicants must have a high school diploma or the equivalent. Topics of study include:
- Detection instrumentation
- Decontamination hygiene
- Radiation survey techniques
- Radiological chemistry
- Radiological safety communications
Associate's Degree in Nuclear Technology
While earning a 2-year associate's degree in nuclear technology, students can learn about circuitry, hydraulics and governmental regulations regarding nuclear technology. In addition to learning about monitoring radiation levels, students may learn about the physical effects of radiation exposure as well as the types of instrumentation in a nuclear power plant. Programs train students in radiation safety, recognizing what elements can cause radiation and how to handle radioactive materials. Students must have a high school diploma or GED. Academic preparation often includes subjects such as:
- Human biology
- Reactor operations
- Technical writing
Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering
Bachelor's degree students learn about computer methods, quantum mechanics, radiation generation and electromagnetism. Programs take four years to complete and may offer courses in controlled fusion, thermodynamics and the theories behind the creation of radioisotopes, which can be used in various fields, including aerospace engineering and medicine. These programs may require a large amount of lab work and the completion of a final project or thesis paper. This program requires a high school diploma or GED. Coursework includes:
- Engineering dynamics
- Energy conversion
- Radiation interactions
- Radiological shielding
- Reactor engineering
Bachelor's degree programs prepare students for graduate-level engineering programs and for careers analyzing, operating and designing fission reactors. Higher education and on-the-job experience pave the way for careers in management and senior-level engineering positions.
Associate's degree program graduates can find work in government regulatory agencies, hospitals, universities, national laboratories and nuclear power plants. Graduates can find positions as:
- Electrical technicians
- Instrumentation and control technicians
- Non-licensed reactor operators
- Radiation protection technicians
Further training is available for students interested in continuing the study of nuclear engineering at the master's degree level. Some schools offer a combined 5-year program that bestows both a Bachelor of Science and a Master of Science degree on those who complete the program. PhD programs are also available in relevant subjects such as nuclear science or nuclear engineering and can qualify students for work in the fields of research and academia.
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the BLS, 43,700 hazardous materials removal workers were employed as of 2014, with the number of jobs in the field expected to grow by 7 percent between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). Their median annual salary was $39,690, as of May 2015. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), reports 16,800 people were employed as nuclear engineers, as of 2014.
Certificate programs in radiation safety educate students in ionizing radiation and other safety aspects of radiation. Associate's and bachelor's programs focus on circuitry, government regulations, computer methods, and electromagnetism.