Nuclear Engineer Career Description


Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation.


What they 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.

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.


Work Environment

Nuclear engineers typically work in offices. However, their work setting varies with the industry in which they are employed. For example, those employed in power generation and supply work in power plants. Many work for the federal government and for consulting firms.

Nuclear engineers work with others, including mechanical engineers and electrical engineers, and they must be able to incorporate systems designed by these engineers into their own designs.


How to become a Nuclear Engineer

Nuclear engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering or a related field of engineering. Employers also value experience, which can be gained through cooperative-education engineering programs.

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 subjects such as mathematics and engineering principles. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative-education programs in which students gain work 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 the 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.



The median annual wage for nuclear engineers was $113,460 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $71,860, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $179,430.


Job Outlook

Employment of nuclear engineers is projected to decline 13 percent from 2019 to 2029. Traditionally, utilities that own or build nuclear power plants have employed the greatest number of nuclear engineers. However, utilities often are opting for cheaper natural gas in power generation. In addition, the increasing viability of renewable energy is putting economic pressure on traditional nuclear power generation.


Similar Job Titles

Engineer, Nuclear Design Engineer, Nuclear Engineer, Nuclear Licensing Engineer, Nuclear Process Engineer, Nuclear Reactor Engineer, Radiological Engineer, Resident Inspector, Scientist, System Engineer


Related Occupations

Logistics Engineer, Chemical Engineer, Electrical Engineer, Fire-Prevention and Protection Engineer, Energy Engineer


More Information

The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field.  Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas.  As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.


Magazines and Publications



Video Transcript

Tremendous energy is trapped in the nucleus of a tiny atom. Harnessing that energy is the work of nuclear engineers. They search for efficient ways to capture the energy from disintegrating atoms, or from the fusion of atoms, and put it to use. Nuclear engineers develop a variety of applications for nuclear energy, including diagnosing and treating illnesses… and in systems to power ships and spacecraft. Many of these engineers work with nuclear reactors, the source of energy for power plants to provide heat and electricity to many homes and businesses. The resources used in nuclear power generate potentially dangerous radioactivity. So nuclear engineers in power plants develop safety practices, and ensure that nuclear waste is disposed of with care. Their job doesn’t stop after designing cutting-edge new technology— they oversee operations and maintenance, and issue immediate emergency shutdowns if there are malfunctions. The majority of nuclear engineers work full-time for public utilities or engineering consulting firms. They sometimes collaborate with other kinds of engineers to improve each other’s system designs. A bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering is the typical entry-level requirement for this field some positions require a master’s degree or Ph.D. Nuclear engineers carry a large responsibility to safely manage a resource many people have come to depend on.


Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH,
CareerOneStop, O*Net Online