Nuclear engineers work to develop nuclear solutions such as handling tools, radiation shielding, reactor cores, and the instrumentation needed to operate and monitor nuclear equipment. You'll find yourself designing, building, running or decommissioning nuclear power stations.
They may monitor nuclear power plants for quality control and safety management by identifying design flaws, pinpointing construction and operation problems in complex equipment. Nuclear engineers may perform testing to see whether the practices used with nuclear material and waste are acceptable to humans and to the environment. They may also serve in emergency roles such as during and after nuclear accidents—even managing nuclear power plant shutdowns. Other nuclear engineering applications are in food production, submarine propulsion systems, medicine, industrial production, and nuclear weapon development.
Nuclear engineers work in an industry that both provides power to much of the world and poses a potential threat to humanity and the environment if not properly controlled and discarded. These professionals must have the proper education and training to succeed in this field. Nuclear engineers need to have a solid foundation of mathematics, science, observational skills, problem-solving, collaboration, and best safety practices. Additional certifications may add to an engineer’s employability and specialised nuclear engineering focus.
This guide provides an overview of key advice on how to become a nuclear engineer, including information about the roles, the requirements, day-to-day activities and what you can expect to be paid.
What Nuclear Engineers Do
designing and building new plants and equipment
monitoring and measuring radiation levels
carrying out maintenance work
making sure the plant structure complies with legislation
being responsible for security and safety
supervising power-station technicians
planning safe methods of disposing of nuclear waste
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
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.
Responsibilities of nuclear engineers
understand the science behind how nuclear facilities work
analyse energy transmission, conversion and storage systems
solve design or operational problems with reactor cores and shielding, hydraulic and electrical systems, and complex instrumentation such as monitoring equipment
manage staff and budgets for complex design, construction, maintenance, expansion, safety and decommissioning projects
always keep the safety of people and the environment in mind, cooperate with local emergency services, and work with national, EU and international industry regulatory bodies
be aware of and address security concerns regarding the use, transport, storage and disposal of radioactive materials
interpret data and respond to emerging issues to ensure equipment is always working properlywrite reports, project plans and other documents that provide information about new facilities, existing processes, problems and solutions, and safety exercises for regulators, energy firms and co-workers in facility construction and management
discuss engineering issues with people from other fields, such as construction professionals, power grid managers and government officials
plan and assist with the safe decommissioning of facilities that have reached the end of their lifespan, including temporary and long-term disposal of high-hazard radioactive materialuse mathematical and computer models, and run pilot projects to try out new ideas.
Working Environment to consider when considering how to become a Nuclear Engineer
You could work at a power station, in a laboratory, in an office or in a control room.
You may need to wear safety clothing and use safety equipment.
Nuclear science and technology is always moving forward, which can be exciting.
Some people have negative opinions about the nuclear industry. You should expect to have to explain or defend what you do at times. Major companies in the field are very proactive about recruiting women and minorities. Initiatives are in place such as Women in Nuclear UK and EDF Energy's Diversity and Inclusion policy.
Currently, nuclear energy is a crucial part of the world's energy system. This means you will have a good level of job security.
There are opportunities to work abroad as many major companies operate internationally.
You'll need to dress appropriately for your role, which could range from office casual to formal (for meetings with major partners) to safety gear when on-site.
Functions covered when you look how to become a nuclear engineer
health and safety specialist
instrumentation and control engineer
Academic Route to becoming a nuclear engineer
Five GCSEs (A-C)
Three A levels, including maths and a science subject
Qualifications needed to become a nuclear engineer
HNC/HND, foundation degree or degree
Sometimes postgraduate qualifications
There are a few universities that offer MPhil or MEng postgraduate courses in nuclear engineering. You could also choose to complete postgraduate work abroad.
Some universities offer programmes that specialise in nuclear engineering or combine it with another related discipline. For a list of relevant courses, see Nuclear Institute: Universities.
There are also opportunities via an apprenticeship or graduate training scheme
Apprenticeships entry requirements for nuclear engineers
4 or 5 GCSEs at grades 9 to 4 (A* to C) and A levels, or equivalent, for a degree apprenticeship
Related Skills needed when looking how to become a nuclear engineer
knowledge of engineering science and technology
knowledge of physics
to be thorough and pay attention to detail
thinking and reasoning skills
design skills and knowledge
analytical thinking skills
excellent verbal communication skills
to be able to carry out basic tasks on a computer or hand-held device
good analytical skills for understanding complex operational and monitoring systems
problem-solving skills for dealing with construction issues or repairsstrong aptitude in maths and IT
a willingness to keep up with fast-moving developments in science and technology
the ability to communicate with colleagues and outside specialists about work issues
communication skills to speak with the general public about the nuclear industry or safety issues.
Average Salary of a nuclear engineer
The average salary for a beginner nuclear engineer is £24,000
The average salary for an experienced nuclear engineer is £70,000
Typical working hours per week is 90 to 41 hours
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Below is a video from the Imperial College in London around careers in nuclear engineering:
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