Chemical Engineer Vs. Nuclear Engineer

Although many engineers perform similar general duties, the work environment and objectives can differ. This article looks at how the work of chemical and nuclear engineers is similar as well as how it differs.

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Comparing Chemical Engineers to Nuclear Engineers

Many of the core tasks that chemical engineers and nuclear engineers perform are comparable. The primary difference between them is what they work with and what their goals are. Chemical engineers research and design production processes for things like food or gasoline while nuclear engineers focus on ways to harness and use radiation and nuclear energy.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Outlook (2016-2026)*
Chemical Engineers Bachelor's degree $98,340 8%
Nuclear Engineers Bachelor's degree $102,220 4%

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Chemical Engineers vs. Nuclear Engineers

Chemical engineers and nuclear engineers typically have a similar base goal of developing new products or improving methods of production. They may both be involved with using computer design software to produce design plans and, once they've constructed equipment, they evaluate its performance to ensure it works the way they intended. Both chemical and nuclear engineers may be involved in establishing safety standards and ensuring they're followed. While chemical engineers typically focus more on designing products and modifying them to correct malfunctions or to improve performance, nuclear engineers tend to spend more time overseeing the daily operations at nuclear power plants and other facilities.

Chemical Engineers

Chemical engineers play a key role in determining how things like drugs, clothes, and electronics are produced. Their objective is to correct problems and improve the processes involved in the production of goods that are made with chemicals. Those seeking advancement opportunities may be required to have a Professional Engineer (PE) license and a master's or doctoral degree. Travel may be required in this field as well as occasional overtime hours. When they aren't traveling, chemical engineers typically work in an office or laboratory.

Job responsibilities of a chemical engineer include:

  • Analyzing data about current manufacturing processes
  • Developing modifications to the production process
  • Designing new production machinery
  • Reviewing and testing products or equipment to determine their effectiveness
  • Creating production budgets

Nuclear Engineers

Nuclear engineers use their knowledge and skills to produce nuclear energy or to use radiation for things such as medical treatments. It's common for nuclear engineers in advanced positions to need a Professional Engineer (PE) license and a master's or doctoral degree. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that 40% of those in this field are involved in producing power. Others work in research, manufacturing, consulting firms or the government. They primarily work in offices and it's common for nuclear engineers to be required to work overtime. Attention to detail is important in this field since nuclear engineers must ensure strict adherence to safety protocols in their work.

Job responsibilities of a nuclear engineer include:

  • Assessing equipment used in their field
  • Developing new equipment to process or utilize radiation
  • Refining production methods
  • Evaluating existing production and disposal methods
  • Instructing staff in emergencies

Related Careers

Aspiring chemical engineers may wish to follow the link here to learn more about the work that medical scientists do, since medical scientists also work with the production of drugs. Those considering a career as a nuclear engineer may also be interested in exploring what energy engineers do, which is examined in the content linked to below.

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