How to Become a Nuclear Engineer

How to Become a Nuclear Engineer: Career Path Guide

If you want to become a nuclear engineer, you first need to determine if this career path is a good fit for you. If the following description sounds like you, then you’re probably well suited for a career as a nuclear engineer:


Those who become nuclear engineers are typically individuals who are detail-oriented, have a high degree of mental focus and discipline, and they have a natural aptitude in physics and mathematics. They are individuals that have a keen interest in science and technology, as well as a professional interest in ensuring nuclear energy systems are created safely and efficiently.


In order to become a nuclear engineer, you will also need the emotional and intellectual capacity to complete all of the necessary academic work. You will also need a high stress tolerance, as this is required for when you don’t achieve immediate results in your work. In order to succeed in a career as a nuclear engineer, you must be able to visualize complex processes, and you must be very precise in your work activities and when you perform calculations.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a nuclear engineer. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Nuclear Engineer

To become a nuclear engineer, you must being by earning a bachelor’s degree in a field of science (physics being one of the most relevant to this career), or in a field of engineering.


Currently, there are few schools in North America that offer bachelor-level programs in nuclear engineering, although programs in mechanical, electrical or chemical engineering can also be very helpful for gaining the required knowledge to work as a nuclear engineer, as nuclear engineering applies knowledge from different areas of science and engineering.


After earning a bachelor’s degree in one of these areas, you will need to earn a master’s or doctoral degree in a relevant field of engineering in order to become a nuclear engineer that works in research and development, or education.  




What is a Nuclear Engineer?

Nuclear engineers are engineers that design and develop nuclear equipment, as well as conduct research into problems surrounding nuclear energy systems. Nuclear engineers may also monitor the testing of and operate nuclear reactors.


Nuclear Engineer Job Description

Nuclear engineers may have different job responsibilities; depending on which field they choose to apply their knowledge in. Nuclear engineers may:


• Work to design systems and equipment that produce energy for business and domestic use

• Perform academic research in the field of nuclear engineering or instruct university classes in this area

• Conduct research for the diagnosis and treatment of disease in medicine

• Develop and build nuclear-powered submarines for the Navy



Nuclear Engineer Job Duties

Nuclear engineers may have different job duties depending on their level of responsibility, where they work, or the field they work within. Generally, nuclear engineers are responsible for:


• Planning and conducting nuclear research in order to make new discoveries

• Planning and conducting nuclear research to test, prove or modify known nuclear theories concerning the release, control and utilization of nuclear energy

• Planning, designing and developing nuclear equipment such as reactor cores, radiation shielding and associated instrumentation and control mechanisms

• Preparing technical reports based on knowledge obtained during research and development activities

• Studying the nuclear fuel cycle to determine most efficient uses of nuclear material and safest means of nuclear waste disposal

• Keep abreast of developments and changes in the nuclear energy field by reading technical journals and by independent study and research

• Monitoring nuclear tests and examine operations of facilities which process or utilize radioactive or fissionable material to ensure efficient functioning and conformity with safety specifications, regulations, and laws



Who Creates Jobs for Nuclear Engineers?

Nuclear engineers are hired by organizations involved in performing research pertaining to nuclear energy and energy systems, as well as by organizations that make use of nuclear technology.


Organizations that hire Nuclear Engineers include:


• Engineering and energy consulting firms

• Universities and colleges

• Federal, state and provincial government departments

• Private and public research facilities

• Electric power generation, transmission and distribution companies

• Manufacturing and other private sector firms

• Resource and high technology industries (such as the telecommunications, microelectronics, and aerospace industries)





Licensing for Nuclear Engineers

Although licensing requirements can vary by region and by employer, nuclear engineers are generally required to be licensed as professional engineers. Those who become licensed carry the designation of professional engineer (PE). To be licensed as a professional engineer, you generally need to meet the following requirements:


• A degree from an accredited engineering program

• A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam

• Relevant work experience

• A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam



Skills and Traits Needed to Become a Nuclear Engineer

In order to become effective in a career as a nuclear engineer, you need to posses certain personality traits and skills. These traits and skills will allow you to perform your job with competence, and will allow you to maintain a positive attitude towards your work.


• A keen interest in science and technology

• Excellent mathematical and computer skills

• The ability to manage projects, budgets and people

• The ability to visualize complex processes

• The ability to be very precise in work and calculations

• Creativity and persistence in work activities

• Excellent spoken and written communication skills

• Respect for safety and the environment

• Able to order information logically and clearly so others can follow their information and instructions

• Able to work effectively with mechanical engineers and electrical engineers



Nuclear Engineer Salary

The salary level of nuclear engineers can vary depending on their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many other factors.


Nuclear Engineer Salary Alberta: According to the 2011 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working as part of the Other Professional Engineers occupational group earn an average of between $35.74 and $51.92 per hour. The mean wage for this group is $47.72 an hour.


Nuclear Engineer Salary Canada: According to Service Canada, workers in the Mechanical Engineers occupational group earn an average salary of $71,122 per year.


Nuclear Engineer Salary United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Nuclear Engineers is $99,920 per year. The lowest 10% of salaries in this group are less than $67,250, and the top 10% are more than $142,290 per year.



Career Advancement for Nuclear Engineers

New graduates that choose to become nuclear engineers typically begin their careers by working under the supervision of nuclear engineers that are more experienced in the field. As more experience and knowledge is gained, nuclear engineers typically take on projects of increasing levels of difficulty or responsibility.


With enough experience, knowledge and professional competence, nuclear engineers may move on to become specialists in a certain area, or may supervise a team of engineers or technicians. They may also move into other areas, such as technical sales or executive management.


With a master’s degree in engineering, or supplementary education medical science, nuclear engineers may also move into the field of medical physics.



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Careers Similar to Nuclear Engineer

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to Nuclear Engineer, as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.


Electrical Engineer

Energy Researcher

Mechanical Engineer

Nuclear Chemist

Nuclear Physicist



References: How to Become a Nuclear Engineer

Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a Nuclear Engineer.


Occupations in Alberta:Engineering Physicist.” (March 20, 2014). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 5, 2020.

Architecture & Engineering:Nuclear Engineers.” (September 10, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved January 5, 2020.

Explore Careers:Nuclear Engineer.” (n.d.). National Careers Service website. Retrieved January 5, 2020.

Science & Engineering Careers:Nuclear Engineer.” (n.d.). Science Buddies website. Retrieved January 5, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Nuclear Engineer

Scholarships listed for majors that apply to becoming a Nuclear Engineer can be found on our All Scholarships by Major page.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Nuclear Engineer: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the university majors listed below is an excellent starting point to becoming a nuclear engineer. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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