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Become A Nuclear Engineer

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Working As A Nuclear Engineer

  • Making Decisions and Solving Problems
  • Interacting With Computers
  • Analyzing Data or Information
  • Communicating with Supervisors, Peers, or Subordinates
  • Getting Information
  • Deal with People

  • Mostly Sitting

  • $102,778

    Average Salary

What Does A Nuclear Engineer Do

Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment. Many others specialize in the development of nuclear power sources for ships or spacecraft.

Duties

Nuclear engineers typically do the following:

  • Design or develop nuclear equipment, such as reactor cores, radiation shielding, and associated instrumentation
  • Direct operating or maintenance activities of operational nuclear power plants to ensure that they meet safety standards
  • Write operational instructions to be used in nuclear plant operation or in handling and disposing of nuclear waste
  • Monitor nuclear facility operations to identify any design, construction, or operation practices that violate safety regulations and laws
  • Perform experiments to test whether methods of using nuclear material, reclaiming nuclear fuel, or disposing of nuclear waste are acceptable
  • Take corrective actions or order plant shutdowns in emergencies
  • Examine nuclear accidents and gather data that can be used to design preventive measures

In addition, nuclear engineers are at the forefront of developing uses of nuclear material for medical imaging devices, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scanners. They also may develop or design cyclotrons, which produce a high-energy beam that the healthcare industry uses to treat cancerous tumors.

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How To Become A Nuclear Engineer

Nuclear engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering. Employers also value experience, and this can be gained through cooperative-education engineering programs.

Education

Entry-level nuclear engineering jobs in private industry require a bachelor’s degree. Some entry-level nuclear engineering jobs may require at least a master’s degree, or even a Ph.D.

Students interested in studying nuclear engineering should take high school courses in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.

Bachelor’s degree programs consist of classroom, laboratory, and field studies in areas that include mathematics and engineering principles. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative-education programs in which students gain experience while completing their education.

Some universities offer 5-year programs leading to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as an instructor at a university or engage in research and development. Some 5-year or even 6-year cooperative-education plans combine classroom study with work, permitting students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.

Master’s and Ph.D. programs consist of classroom, laboratory, and research efforts in areas of advanced mathematics and engineering principles. These programs require successful completion of a research study usually conducted in conjunction with a professor on a government or private research grant.

Programs in nuclear engineering are accredited by ABET.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Nuclear engineers must be able to identify design elements in order to help build facilities and equipment that produce material needed by various industries.

Communication skills. Nuclear engineers’ work depends heavily on their ability to work with other engineers and technicians. They need to be able to communicate effectively, both in writing and in person.

Detail oriented. Nuclear engineers supervise the operation of nuclear facilities. They must pay close attention to what is happening at all times and ensure that operations comply with all regulations and laws pertaining to the safety of workers and the environment.

Logical-thinking skills. Nuclear engineers design complex systems. Therefore, they must be able to order information logically and clearly so that others can follow their written information and instructions.

Math skills. Nuclear engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Because of the hazard posed by nuclear materials and by accidents at facilities, nuclear engineers must be able to anticipate problems before they occur and safeguard against them.

Training

A newly hired nuclear engineer at a nuclear power plant must usually complete training onsite, in such areas as safety procedures, safety practices, and regulations, before being allowed to work independently. Training lasts from 6 weeks to 3 months. In addition, these engineers must undergo continuous training every year to keep their knowledge, skills, and abilities current with laws, regulations, and safety procedures.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required for entry-level positions as a nuclear engineer. A Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows for higher levels of leadership and independence, can be acquired later in one’s career. Licensed engineers are called professional engineers (PEs). A PE can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least 4 years
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

The initial FE exam can be taken after one earns a bachelor’s degree. Engineers who pass this exam are commonly called engineers in training (EITs) or engineer interns (EIs). After meeting work experience requirements, EITs and EIs can take the second exam, called the Principles and Practice of Engineering.

Nuclear engineers can obtain licensing as a Senior Reactor Operator, a designation that is granted after an intensive, 2-year, site-specific program. The credential, granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, asserts that the engineer can operate a nuclear power plant within federal government requirements.

Advancement

New nuclear engineers usually work under the supervision of experienced engineers. In large companies, new engineers may receive formal training in classrooms or seminars. As beginning engineers gain knowledge and experience, they move to more difficult projects with greater independence to develop designs, solve problems, and make decisions.

Eventually, nuclear engineers may advance to become technical specialists or to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some may become engineering managers or move into sales work. For more information, see the profiles on architectural and engineering managers and sales engineers.

Nuclear engineers also can become medical physicists. A master’s degree in medical or health physics or a related field is necessary for someone to enter this field.

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Nuclear Engineer Jobs

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Nuclear Engineer Career Paths

Nuclear Engineer
Engineering Manager General Manager Account Manager
Client Services Manager
7 Yearsyrs
Senior Engineer Engineering Manager Program Manager
Deputy Director
9 Yearsyrs
Manufacturing Engineer Operations Manager Service Director
Director Of Support Services
10 Yearsyrs
Manufacturing Engineer Engineering Manager Engineering Director
Engineering And Operations Director
11 Yearsyrs
Engineer Project Engineer Engineering Manager
Engineering Director
13 Yearsyrs
Consulting Engineer Senior Engineer
Engineering Manager
10 Yearsyrs
Design Engineer Process Engineer Senior Manufacturing Engineer
Engineering Services Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Electrical Engineer Engineer Project Engineer
Engineering Supervisor
7 Yearsyrs
Design Engineer Radio Frequency Engineer Field Engineer
Field Engineering Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Systems Engineer Operations Manager Regional Operation Manager
Field Operation Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Electrical Engineer Project Engineer Systems Engineer
Manager, Systems Engineering
9 Yearsyrs
Consulting Engineer Principal Engineer Program Manager
Operations Program Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Senior Project Manager
Project Director
8 Yearsyrs
Engineer Process Engineer Quality Engineer
Quality Assurance Manager
9 Yearsyrs
Project Manager Program Manager General Manager
Regional Manager
8 Yearsyrs
Engineering Manager Consulting Engineer Senior Engineer
Senior Electrical Engineer
11 Yearsyrs
Systems Engineer Senior Engineer Senior Project Engineer
Senior Lead Project Engineer
8 Yearsyrs
Senior Engineer Project Manager Program Manager
Service Program Manager
9 Yearsyrs
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Do you work as a Nuclear Engineer?

Nuclear Engineer Demographics

Gender

Male

82.5%

Female

14.4%

Unknown

3.1%
Ethnicity

White

59.0%

Hispanic or Latino

13.9%

Black or African American

12.2%

Asian

9.9%

Unknown

5.1%
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Languages Spoken

Spanish

40.0%

Japanese

12.0%

French

12.0%

Gothic

12.0%

German

8.0%

Vietnamese

4.0%

Carrier

4.0%

Mandarin

4.0%

Korean

4.0%
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Nuclear Engineer Education

Schools

Old Dominion University

23.5%

Pennsylvania State University

6.1%

North Carolina State University

5.3%

Virginia Commonwealth University

5.3%

George Washington University

5.3%

Purdue University

5.3%

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

5.3%

Georgia Institute of Technology -

4.5%

University of Washington

3.8%

University of Idaho

3.8%

University of Cincinnati

3.8%

University of Arizona

3.8%

University of Florida

3.0%

Washington State University

3.0%

University of California - Berkeley

3.0%

Arizona State University

3.0%

Oregon State University

3.0%

University of California - Los Angeles

3.0%

University of Tennessee - Knoxville

3.0%

University of Pittsburgh -

3.0%
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Majors

Nuclear Engineering

21.4%

Mechanical Engineering

20.4%

Electrical Engineering

9.0%

Business

8.4%

Chemical Engineering

5.0%

Engineering And Industrial Management

4.3%

Physics

4.0%

Civil Engineering

3.4%

Finance

3.1%

Mechanical Engineering Technology

3.1%

Engineering

3.1%

Management

2.8%

Computer Science

2.2%

Materials Science And Engineering

1.9%

Systems Engineering

1.5%

Computer Engineering

1.5%

Legal Research And Advanced Professional Studies

1.2%

Nuclear Engineering Technology

1.2%

Supply Chain Management

1.2%

Chemistry

1.2%
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Degrees

Bachelors

45.3%

Masters

34.3%

Other

9.6%

Doctorate

7.8%

Certificate

1.5%

Associate

1.5%
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Real Nuclear Engineer Salaries

Job Title Company Location Start Date Salary
Nuclear Engineer Energysolutions, LLC Campbell, CA Sep 09, 2016 $135,000
Principal Nuclear Engineer Studsvik Scandpower, Inc. Waltham, MA Jan 19, 2016 $135,000
Nuclear Engineers Scandpower Risk Management Inc. Houston, TX Jul 31, 2012 $131,123
Nuclear Engineers Terrapower, LLC Bellevue, WA Jan 28, 2011 $120,000
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Bement, IL Jun 13, 2016 $117,564
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Lemont, IL Aug 24, 2016 $117,564
Nuclear Engineer R & D Staff Ut-Battelle, LLC (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) Oak Ridge, TN May 26, 2015 $117,315
Nuclear Engineers Nuscale Power, LLC Corvallis, OR Jun 15, 2012 $115,398
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Lemont, IL Jul 01, 2014 $113,712
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Lemont, IL Jul 01, 2015 $113,268
Nuclear Engineers Westinghouse Electric Company Cranberry, PA Apr 11, 2014 $111,996
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Lemont, IL Apr 16, 2016 $111,396
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Ann Arbor, MI Jan 02, 2011 $111,180
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Bement, IL Aug 22, 2016 $111,132
Associate Nuclear Engineer Brookhaven National Laboratory NY Feb 07, 2012 $105,290
Associate Nuclear Engineer Brookhaven National Laboratory NY Jan 13, 2012 $105,290
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Lemont, IL Feb 03, 2016 $105,000
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Lemont, IL Aug 30, 2013 $104,868
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Lemont, IL Jan 16, 2015 $104,856
Senior Nuclear Engineer Holtec International Marlton, NJ May 01, 2016 $104,686
Nuclear Engineer Uchicago Argonne, LLC Lemont, IL Jan 15, 2016 $104,280
Nuclear Engineer Ut-Battelle, LLC (Oak Ridge National Laboratory) Oak Ridge, TN May 29, 2012 $97,320
Asst. Nuclear Engineer Brookhaven National Laboratory NY Dec 05, 2015 $97,317
Nuclear Engineers GSE Systems, Inc. Sykesville, MD Feb 28, 2014 $97,261
Asst. Nuclear Engineer Brookhaven National Laboratory NY Dec 05, 2015 $97,000
Senior Nuclear Engineer Holtec International Marlton, NJ Oct 01, 2014 $95,500
Nuclear Engineer Areva NP Inc. Lynchburg, VA Sep 30, 2012 $94,364
Nuclear Engineer Westinghouse Electric Company Cranberry, PA Jul 25, 2012 $93,150
Nuclear Engineers Holtec International Marlton, NJ Mar 01, 2012 $92,000

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Top Skills for A Nuclear Engineer

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  1. Reactor
  2. Safety Analysis
  3. Submarine
You can check out examples of real life uses of top skills on resumes here:
  • Managed two steam powered engine rooms that included directing complex operation of reactor and auxiliary systems.
  • Performed reactor core design, optimization and safety analysis support for various nuclear power customers.
  • Specified the refurbishment requirements of secondary main steam systems for Navy nuclear-powered submarines and surface vessels.
  • ConsultantSelf-employed project engineer, contracted to direct reactor refueling operations and provide outage audit reports at various commercial nuclear facilities.
  • Mitigated over 95% NRC Concerns critical to Nuclear Plant Construction, start-up and 5% power operations.

How Would You Rate Working As a Nuclear Engineer?

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Top Nuclear Engineer Employers

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