Overseeing research projects on power generation is the main responsibility of nuclear power chemists. They may also monitor the performance of power plants, develop systems to measure radiation levels and conduct research on substances exposed to radiation. Nuclear power chemists often find themselves working for companies that generate, transmit and distribute power.
In 2012, chemists earned an average of $76,870 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The top 10 percent of earners made more than $120,600, while the bottom 10 percent earned less than $41,080 annually. Nuclear power chemists, though, can expect to average closer to $83,440 a year.
Rarely will nuclear power chemists work alone. They often get some assistance from nuclear technicians, who monitor power generation equipment, measure radiation levels and collect samples of air, water and other substances for later testing. As of 2012, these techs earned an average of $69,720 a year, notes the BLS. Those working in concert with nuclear power chemists likely earn closer to $70,840 annually.
Employers typically seek candidates with at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, but a master’s degree or Ph.D. can often improve employment opportunities. In fact, graduate schools are where most chemists specialize in a subfield of chemistry, such as nuclear power. Fellowships and internships can also improve employability, especially with the practical experience you’ll gain through these programs. Nuclear technicians, on the other hand, need only an associate degree in nuclear science, nuclear technology or a related field to enter the industry.
The BLS expects employment for chemists as a whole to grow by just 4 percent through 2020. This is much slower than the average growth rate for all U.S. occupations, a projected 14 percent. In this relatively small field, the 4 percent growth works out to the creation of 3,200 new jobs. Chemists retiring or leaving the field should create additional openings.