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Nuclear Engineering Degree Program Information

Nuclear engineering degree programs are available at the bachelor's, master's and doctoral degree levels. Explore the requirements for these different degree programs, in addition to prerequisites, common coursework, popular career options, job outlook, and salary information.

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Essential Information

Four-year bachelor's programs in nuclear engineering emphasize advanced math and science coursework, along with hands-on lab classes and core engineering courses. Admission requirements for both master's and doctoral programs include a bachelor's degree in engineering, and some schools expect students to submit general GRE scores as well as field-specific scores for the GRE physics test.

Students in doctoral programs often choose specializations like nuclear waste management, radiation safety, fusion system engineering and analysis, nuclear technology chemistry or bionuclear physics. Master's programs generally require completion of a final thesis, while doctoral programs focus on the research-oriented dissertation process.


Bachelor of Science in Nuclear Engineering

The first two years of these undergraduate programs are typically spent completing courses that cover the fundamentals of chemistry, physics, engineering sciences and advanced mathematics. The final years of enrollment focus on nuclear engineering, including reactor design, reactor theory, fluid and heat behavior, radiation measurement and reactor engineering. Substantial laboratory coursework is required, and students typically complete senior research or design projects. The B.S. curriculum includes physics, calculus, and differential equations. Other courses that are often required include:

  • Reactor theory
  • Reactor design
  • Reactor shielding
  • Radiation protection
  • Two-phase flow

Master of Science in Nuclear Engineering

In a Master of Science degree program in Nuclear Engineering, particular attention is given to radiation and its industrial and medical applications. Candidates learn about radiation detection and shielding, power reactor thermal hydraulics and nuclear engineering safety. Design is typically the focus of this graduate nuclear engineering program, and students will spend a majority of time developing and planning ways to make nuclear reactors more efficient and effective. Candidates will also consider ethical issues and solve both common and challenging problems in their designs. Core classes provide advanced grounding in nuclear engineering. Students then select classes that will support their research projects, including nuclear reactor safety, nuclear systems, and materials degradation. Other classes that might be included are:

  • Nuclear reactor dynamics
  • Nuclear product development
  • Engineering modeling and analysis
  • Energy systems risks
  • Operations of reactors

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nuclear Engineering

Nuclear engineering doctoral degree programs prepare graduates for teaching and research careers. Much like a master's degree program in nuclear engineering, a Ph.D. program requires its candidates to complete core coursework before beginning research projects. Coursework varies from school to school but generally includes 5 to 6 classes. Classes may include applied nuclear instrumentation, reactor safety analysis, and health physics. Other courses that might be included are:

  • Nondestructive measurement
  • Management of nuclear waste
  • Reactor design
  • Materials and radiation damage
  • Regulation and licensing

Popular Career Options

A graduate of a bachelor's degree program in nuclear engineering may find opportunities for employment with many different industries. Possible careers include the following:

  • Nuclear waste manager
  • Medical equipment designer
  • Service company consultant
  • Nuclear power systems designer

A Ph.D. qualifies graduates to teach and conduct research at colleges and universities; however, opportunities exist in many other industries. Some possible career outcomes include the following:

  • Nuclear physics professor
  • Radioactive waste manager
  • Diagnostic medical equipment designer
  • Nuclear reactor designer

Salary Information and Job Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of nuclear engineers was expected to decline by 4% from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov). The BLS also reported that the annual median salary of a nuclear engineer was $102,950 in 2015.

Clearly, there are many program levels in the nuclear engineering track from bachelor's to doctorate. Prospective nuclear engineering students now comprehend the prerequisites and expected coursework to pursue these degrees, in addition to employment and salary prospects for those who obtain a career as a nuclear engineer.

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