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Summary

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Video transcript available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RX_V2Tt0c4w.
Quick Facts: Nuclear Engineers
2021 Median Pay $120,380 per year
$57.87 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Bachelor's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2021 13,900
Job Outlook, 2021-31 -11% (Decline)
Employment Change, 2021-31 -1,500

What Nuclear Engineers Do

Nuclear engineers research and develop projects or address problems concerning the release, control, and use of nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal.

Work Environment

Nuclear engineers typically work in office settings, but it may vary by employer. Most nuclear engineers work full time.

How to Become a Nuclear Engineer

Nuclear engineers typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering or a related field. They typically do not need a license to enter the occupation.

Pay

The median annual wage for nuclear engineers was $120,380 in May 2021.

Job Outlook

Employment of nuclear engineers is projected to decline 11 percent from 2021 to 2031.

Despite declining employment, about 700 openings for nuclear engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. All of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for nuclear engineers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of nuclear engineers with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about nuclear engineers by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Nuclear Engineers Do About this section

Nuclear engineers
Nuclear engineers monitor nuclear facility operations.

Nuclear engineers research and develop projects or address problems concerning the release, control, and use of nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal. Some of these engineers research new reactor designs. Others may specialize in the development of safety regulations related to the handling of nuclear materials or operation of nuclear power.

Duties

Nuclear engineers typically do the following:

  • Design or develop nuclear equipment —such as reactor cores, nuclear batteries, and radiation shielding—and its associated instruments
  • Test whether methods of managing nuclear material or reclaiming nuclear fuel are acceptable
  • Write instructions to be used in operating nuclear plants or other nuclear equipment or in managing nuclear materials
  • Monitor nuclear facility design, construction, and operation practices to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations

Nuclear engineers may work in the following areas:

Defense. Nuclear engineers in the military work on nuclear propulsion systems for naval vessels. They may help design or evaluate these systems to ensure compliance with safety standards and system specifications. They also work aboard nuclear-powered vessels to monitor and maintain the nuclear systems. In addition, they may review and evaluate technical information related to nuclear weapons, such as readiness and safe storage.

Medical. Nuclear engineers provide dose and shielding calculations for medical isotope production. They design and conduct irradiation experiments and then analyze and document the results of these experiments.

Research and regulation. Nuclear engineers research new uses and management of nuclear power or material. They examine nuclear accidents and analyze the data to aid in designing preventive measures. Some test whether methods of using and managing nuclear material or reclaiming nuclear fuel are acceptable. They may assist in drafting new regulations and standards based on research and experiments.

Space exploration. Nuclear engineers design nuclear batteries used in spacecraft, satellites, and space rovers. They also may design radiation shielding for spacecraft and calculate and analyze radiation in space.

Utility power generation. Nuclear engineers who work for utilities help design and operate nuclear power plants. They also may direct maintenance activities to ensure that these plants meet safety standards.

Work Environment About this section

Nuclear engineers
Nuclear engineers typically work in office settings, often at a computer.

Nuclear engineers held about 13,900 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of nuclear engineers were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 21%
Scientific research and development services 13
Engineering services 8
Manufacturing 5

Nuclear engineers typically work in office settings. However, where their office is located varies with the industry in which they work. For example, those employed in power generation and supply work in power plants. Those working for the federal government may be in the military or employed by a regulatory agency or a national laboratory. Others may work for professional, scientific, and technical services, which include consulting firms.

Nuclear engineers work with others, including mechanical engineers and electrical engineers, to incorporate other systems into their own designs.

Work Schedules

Most nuclear engineers work full time. Their schedules vary with the industries in which they work.

How to Become a Nuclear Engineer About this section

Nuclear engineers
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.

Education

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.

Training

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.

Other Experience

Some nuclear engineers get their training in the military. Experience in a related military occupation may be beneficial for transferring to a civilian position.

Advancement

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.

Important Qualities

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.

Pay About this section

Nuclear Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Nuclear engineers

$120,380

Engineers

$99,040

Total, all occupations

$45,760

 

The median annual wage for nuclear engineers was $120,380 in May 2021. 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 $75,460, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $169,000.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for nuclear engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Scientific research and development services $151,980
Engineering services 127,290
Manufacturing 102,910
Federal government, excluding postal service 100,650

Most nuclear engineers work full time.

Job Outlook About this section

Nuclear Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31

Engineers

5%

Total, all occupations

5%

Nuclear engineers

-11%

 

Employment of nuclear engineers is projected to decline 11 percent from 2021 to 2031.

Despite declining employment, about 700 openings for nuclear engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. All of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.

Employment

Traditionally, utilities that own or build nuclear power plants have employed the greatest number of nuclear engineers. However, the increasing viability of renewable energy and limited construction of new nuclear power plants puts economic pressure on traditional nuclear power generation and reduces demand for these engineers.

Employment projections data for nuclear engineers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Nuclear engineers

17-2161 13,900 12,400 -11 -1,500 Get data

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS)

The Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OEWS data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

CareerOneStop

CareerOneStop includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of nuclear engineers.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help on Entry-Level Education 2021 MEDIAN PAY Help on Median Pay
Civil engineers Civil Engineers

Civil engineers design, build, and supervise infrastructure projects and systems. 

Bachelor's degree $88,050
Electrical and electronic engineering technicians Electrical and Electronic Engineering Technologists and Technicians

Electrical and electronic engineering technologists and technicians help engineers design and develop equipment that is powered by electricity or electric current.

Associate's degree $63,640
Electrical and electronics engineers Electrical and Electronics Engineers

Electrical engineers design, develop, test, and supervise the manufacture of electrical equipment.

Bachelor's degree $101,780
Health and safety engineers Health and Safety Engineers

Health and safety engineers combine knowledge of engineering and of health and safety to develop procedures and design systems to protect people from illness and injury and property from damage.

Bachelor's degree $99,040
Mechanical engineers Mechanical Engineers

Mechanical engineers design, develop, build, and test mechanical and thermal sensors and devices.

Bachelor's degree $95,300
Physicists and astronomers Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers study the interactions of matter and energy.

Doctoral or professional degree $147,450

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Nuclear Society

American Society for Engineering Education

Health Physics Society

Nuclear Energy Institute

Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

Technology Student Association

For more information about licensure as a nuclear engineer, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For more information about accredited engineering programs, visit

ABET

For information about engineering summer camps, visit

Engineering For Kids

To see vacancies for nuclear engineer positions in the federal government, visit

USAJOBS

O*NET

Nuclear Engineers

Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Nuclear Engineers,
at https://www.bls.gov/ooh/architecture-and-engineering/nuclear-engineers.htm (visited December 01, 2022).

Last Modified Date: Wednesday, September 14, 2022

What They Do

The What They Do tab describes the typical duties and responsibilities of workers in the occupation, including what tools and equipment they use and how closely they are supervised. This tab also covers different types of occupational specialties.

Work Environment

The Work Environment tab includes the number of jobs held in the occupation and describes the workplace, the level of physical activity expected, and typical hours worked. It may also discuss the major industries that employed the occupation. This tab may also describe opportunities for part-time work, the amount and type of travel required, any safety equipment that is used, and the risk of injury that workers may face.

How to Become One

The How to Become One tab describes how to prepare for a job in the occupation. This tab can include information on education, training, work experience, licensing and certification, and important qualities that are required or helpful for entering or working in the occupation.

Pay

The Pay tab describes typical earnings and how workers in the occupation are compensated—annual salaries, hourly wages, commissions, tips, or bonuses. Within every occupation, earnings vary by experience, responsibility, performance, tenure, and geographic area. For most profiles, this tab has a table with wages in the major industries employing the occupation. It does not include pay for self-employed workers, agriculture workers, or workers in private households because these data are not collected by the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) survey, the source of BLS wage data in the OOH.

State & Area Data

The State and Area Data tab provides links to state and area occupational data from the Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics (OEWS) program, state projections data from Projections Central, and occupational information from the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

Job Outlook

The Job Outlook tab describes the factors that affect employment growth or decline in the occupation, and in some instances, describes the relationship between the number of job seekers and the number of job openings.

Similar Occupations

The Similar Occupations tab describes occupations that share similar duties, skills, interests, education, or training with the occupation covered in the profile.

Contacts for More Information

The More Information tab provides the Internet addresses of associations, government agencies, unions, and other organizations that can provide additional information on the occupation. This tab also includes links to relevant occupational information from the Occupational Information Network (O*NET).

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2021

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2021, which is the base year of the 2021-31 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2021-31

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031. The average growth rate for all occupations is 5 percent.

Employment Change, 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2021-31

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2021 to 2031.

2021 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics survey. In May 2021, the median annual wage for all workers was $45,760.