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Become A Nuclear Process Engineer

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Working As A Nuclear Process 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

  • $88,000

    Average Salary

What Does A Nuclear Process 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 Process 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 Process Engineer Demographics

Gender

Male

70.6%

Female

29.4%
Ethnicity

White

55.0%

Asian

16.8%

Black or African American

12.5%

Unknown

9.0%

Hispanic or Latino

6.7%
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Nuclear Process Engineer Education

Schools

University of San Diego

12.5%

University of Washington

6.3%

Purdue University

6.3%

Columbia Basin College

6.3%

Old Dominion University

6.3%

Mary Washington Hospital

6.3%

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

6.3%

University of Tennessee - Knoxville

6.3%

Pennsylvania State University

6.3%

Clemson University

6.3%

Stevens Institute of Technology

6.3%

University of Florida

6.3%

University of Missouri - Columbia

6.3%

Georgia Institute of Technology -

6.3%

West Virginia University

6.3%
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Majors

Mechanical Engineering

16.7%

Chemical Engineering

16.7%

Management

5.6%

Public Administration

5.6%

Drafting And Design

5.6%

Industrial Engineering

5.6%

Nuclear Engineering

5.6%

Physics

5.6%

Civil Engineering

5.6%

Construction Management

5.6%

Business

5.6%

Health Care Administration

5.6%

Elementary Education

5.6%

Project Management

5.6%
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Degrees

Bachelors

38.9%

Masters

27.8%

Other

16.7%

Certificate

16.7%
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