How to Become a Nuclear Engineer
Nuclear engineers need a working knowledge of programming languages and computer systems.
Nuclear engineers typically need at least bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering or a related field of engineering.
High school students interested in studying nuclear engineering should take classes in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.
Entry-level nuclear engineering jobs commonly require a bachelor’s degree in engineering, engineering technologies, or a physical science field. Some jobs, such as those in research and development, require a master’s degree or Ph.D.
Bachelor’s degree engineering programs often consist of classroom, laboratory, and field studies. Courses include calculus, physics, and nuclear design. Colleges and universities may offer internship or cooperative-education programs with businesses, allowing students to gain work experience while completing their education.
Some colleges and universities offer 5-year programs that lead to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Programs in nuclear engineering are accredited by ABET.
At a nuclear power plant, new employees usually must complete onsite training in topics such as safety procedures, practices, and regulations. Length of training varies, depending on the employer and the power plant. In addition, nuclear engineers must undergo training every year to stay current on applicable laws, regulations, and safety procedures.
Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
Licensure is not required for entry-level nuclear engineer positions. Experienced engineers may obtain a Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows them to oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public.
State licensure typically requires a bachelor’s or higher degree in engineering, a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, several years of relevant work experience, and a passing score on the PE exam.
Each state issues its own license. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.
Nuclear engineers may be licensed as a Senior Reactor Operator, a credential granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Contact the NRC for more information.
Some nuclear engineers get their training in the military. Experience in a related military occupation may be beneficial for transferring to a civilian position.
Nuclear engineers may advance to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some become engineering managers or move into sales work. For more information, see the profiles on architectural and engineering managers and sales engineers.
Analytical skills. Nuclear engineers must evaluate technical information for safe use of nuclear energy and materials.
Communication skills. Nuclear engineers collaborate with other engineers and technicians. They must be able to convey information clearly, both in writing and in person.
Computer skills. Nuclear engineers need a working knowledge of programming languages and computer systems.
Detail oriented. Nuclear engineers supervise nuclear facilities and must pay attention to ensure that they operate safely.
Logical-thinking skills. In designing complex systems, nuclear engineers must order information clearly and sequentially.
Math skills. Nuclear engineers use calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced math in their work.
Problem-solving skills. Nuclear engineers must be able to identify and fix problems that arise in designing and maintaining facilities.