Nuclear engineers essential career information:
- 2011 median pay: 101,930
- 2011, number of jobs: 18,430
- Employment growth forecast, 2010-2020: 10 percent
- Entry-level education requirements: Bachelor’s degree
Nuclear engineers; what they do:
Nuclear engineers bring nuclear energy to the average person. Nuclear engineers develop processes, tools, and systems that use nuclear energy and radiation to help with everything from cancer treatment to spacecrafts. How many people can say that about their job?
Nuclear engineers hold a massive responsibility to keep society safe, as they design and build nuclear equipment and radiation shielding, as well as test, monitor, and troubleshoot nuclear equipment and plant operations. A nuclear engineer career may include writing the operational instructions used in nuclear plants or for any other organizations or individuals handling and disposing nuclear waste.
When nuclear accidents do occur, nuclear engineers can order a plant shut down and must assess the situation, determining the source of the problem and a plan of action to avoid any future similar problems. A nuclear engineer career may include directly overseeing maintenance and operations at nuclear power plants to ensure the facilities meet safety standards.
Nuclear engineers job titles:
- Nuclear Reactor Engineer
- Nuclear Design Engineer
- Nuclear Licensing Engineer
- Resident Inspector
- System Engineer
- Generation Engineer
- Criticality Safety Engineer
Nuclear Engineers, Education, Certification and License Requirements
A Bachelor in Nuclear Engineering degree is required for nuclear engineer entry-level positions. It is not uncommon for the required bachelor’s degree from an ABET (formerly the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology) accredited university to take engineers four to five years to earn, as internships and co-ops are often done in conjunction with the university program, which stretches out the completion time but provides students with valuable work experience.
Some engineering schools award a dual bachelor’s degree to students who spend three years in a liberal arts college studying pre-engineering subjects followed by two years in an engineering school focused on core subjects.
Some colleges offer a five-year program where students can concurrently earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree. There are also universities that offer five and six-year cooperative plans providing students with engineering work experience through classroom study and practical work cooperative plans.
Nuclear engineers programs cover subjects such as:
- Nuclear reactors
- Nuclear waste management
- Medical physics
- Nuclear materials
- Behavior of heat and fluids
- Thermal hydraulics
- Radiation technology
A nuclear engineer working in a nuclear power plant doesn’t need a license. However, nuclear engineers may want to carry the title of professional engineer (PE), obtained only through graduating with an engineering degree from an ABET accredited university, passing the Fundamentals of Engineering test, having relevant work experience, and passing the PE test.
Some states require ongoing enrollment in continuing education classes for engineers to maintain their licenses. Many states will recognize a license obtained from a different state, so long as the requirements for the obtained license meets or exceeds the requirements for the current state’s license.
Career Advancement Opportunities
After working under a more experienced engineer for some time or receiving training via company seminars and classes, a nuclear engineer may advance by gradually earning more independence to work on more difficult projects or managing a group of engineers or technicians. Some nuclear engineers become a technical specialist, an engineering manager or get involved with sales work.
A nuclear engineer with a master’s degree can become a medical physicist and work in the nuclear medicine field.
Nuclear Engineers Job Outlook
Forecast: 10 percent employment growth from 2010 to 2020 for nuclear engineers, which is on par with the average for all occupations.
Job prospects for nuclear engineers are positive, as the estimated number of new graduates with a nuclear engineering degree is expected to be quite similar to the number of aging individuals retiring from the field. Additional nuclear plants built in and out of the U.S. and the growing new field of nuclear medicine will also provide more jobs in nuclear engineering.
Nuclear Engineers Salary
- 2011 median annual wage: $101,930
- 2011, workers at the 75th percentile annual wage: $120,470
- 2011, workers at the 25th percentile annual wage: $83,270
Nuclear Engineers Major Employers
- Electric power generation, transmission and distribution
- Federal government
- Management, scientific, and technical consulting services
- Architectural, engineering, and related services
- Scientific research and development services