In 2010, there were 19,100 nuclear engineers in industries such as electric power generation, scientific and technical consulting services, the federal government and scientific research and development services, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The BLS predicts a growth of 10 percent in employment for nuclear engineers between 2010 and 2020, and reports the median annual salary for those working in the field in 2012 was $104,270.
Nuclear Engineer Job Description
Nuclear engineers use the principles of engineering to develop the systems and processes for using radiation and nuclear energy. Engineers specializing in the nuclear discipline design equipment, monitor nuclear facilities, develop safety standards, and write instructions for operations in nuclear power plants. Some nuclear engineers specialize in the medical industry and develop uses for nuclear energy and radiation such as in the treatment of cancer and diagnostic imaging equipment.
Bachelor’s Degree Programs
The minimum requirement for a position as a nuclear engineer is a bachelor’s degree. Bachelor’s degree programs include courses in chemistry, physics, nuclear engineering, reactor engineering, radiation safety, fluid mechanics and advanced mathematics. According to the BLS, engineering programs also include laboratory and fieldwork to provide students with hands-on training. The program may also include a project requirement. A bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering also requires students to complete general education courses in the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences. Courses such as writing and communication prepare aspiring nuclear engineers to communicate with a non-technical audience.
Graduate Degree Programs
Nuclear engineers planning a career in research and development may need a graduate degree. Some schools offer dual degree programs that allow students to complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree in five years. Master’s degree programs include courses in reactor analysis, nuclear reactor design, thermal hydraulics and applied mathematics. Nuclear engineers planning to teach at the university level need a doctorate in the field. Graduate degree programs in nuclear engineering also allow students to specialize in an area of the field.
A professional engineering license requires engineers to complete a minimum of a bachelor’s degree and at least four years of experience in the field. While a license is not a requirement for all nuclear engineers, it can enhance employment opportunities. According to the National Society of Professional Engineers, some states require engineers who teach to obtain a professional engineering license. Work experience provides the nuclear engineer with the opportunity to train under the guidance of an experienced engineer. Some universities offer cooperative education plans that combine work experience with classroom studies, according to the BLS.