Nuclear Engineer Career Guide

Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments and systems used to derive benefits for nuclear energy. Successful nuclear engineers will have excellent mathematical knowledge and knowledge of physics. They show thinking, reasoning and analytical skills and are excellent communicators that work well as part of a team.

If this sounds like you, then read on, as we think you might just be a very successful nuclear engineer!

Nuclear Engineer Career Ratings



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What an nuclear engineer actually does

A nuclear engineer researches and develops the processes, instruments and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. They also help maintain and resolve any emergencies with nuclear plants and the electrical supply. The typical responsibilities of a nuclear engineer differ depending on how much experience they have and who they work for. However, as a nuclear engineer you can expect to carry out duties such as:

  • Designing or developing nuclear equipment, such as reactor cores, radiation shielding and other associated instrumentation
  • Carrying out the activities required to ensure effective operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants
  • Ensuring power plants meet safety standards
  • Writing operational instructions to be used in nuclear plants or in the handling and disposing of nuclear waste
  • Monitoring the operation of nuclear facilities to identify any design, construction, or operation practices that violate safety regulations and laws
  • Performing experiments to test whether methods of using nuclear material, reclaiming nuclear fuel, or disposing of nuclear waste are acceptable
  • Dealing with nuclear emergencies and taking corrective action where necessary
  • Examining nuclear accidents and gathering data that can be used to design preventive measures

Why they are needed

The nuclear industry supplies nuclear energy to submarines, ships and spacecrafts. It also supplies electricity to homes and businesses through nuclear power plants. Nuclear engineers work tirelessly to maintain these systems, ensure they are safe and ensure that they are repaired when necessary to avoid major issues.

Nuclear engineers may also work in research. These engineers work to develop and test new applications that will further increase the benefits from nuclear energy. For example, they research ways to make reactors safer and more efficient in order to avoid catastrophes. Nuclear engineers also have a major role in medical research. Nuclear engineers in the medical field aid the development of the instruments and equipment used in the diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. Therefore, they are needed in our society because they play a crucial role in helping people with treatment and detection.

Pros and cons of a career as a nuclear engineer:


  • Nuclear engineers have a rewarding job as they help the world find more ways to produce electricity
  • Like most engineers, nuclear engineers are offered competitive salaries
  • Nuclear engineers have lots of opportunity for advancement and progression
  • Nuclear engineers may get the chance to work globally. Therefore, they get lots of exciting travel opportunities


  • Engineering is a competitive market and there can be a lot of competition for jobs
  • There is often a lot of studying required to become a nuclear engineer (e.g., a bachelors degree, a masters degree and further training)
  • Nuclear engineers may often have to work and unpredictable long hours, especially during emergencies
  • The employment of nuclear engineers is on the decline, creating additional competition for jobs
  • Nuclear engineers may be exposed to hazardous substances
  • There is a lot of maths involved, meaning it is not an accessible career for everyone


Job market

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of nuclear engineers is projected to decline 13 percent from 2019 to 2029. This decline is expected because utilities are opting for cheaper natural gases to generate power. In addition, the increasing viability of renewable energy is putting economic pressure on traditional nuclear power generation.

The best opportunities for nuclear engineers are in utilities that own or build nuclear power plants. Job prospects are expected to stem from operating extensions being granted to older nuclear power plants. For the best employment opportunities, nuclear engineers should aim to train in developing fields, such as nuclear medicine.

Career paths

To get an entry-level nuclear engineering job in the private sector, you will need a bachelor’s degree that is accredited by the ABET. Bachelor’s degree programs typically consist of classroom, laboratory, and field studies in subjects such as mathematics and engineering principles. Most colleges and universities offer cooperative-education programs in which students gain work experience while completing their education.

Furthermore, more and more employers are looking for applicants with at least a masters degree or Ph.D. These programs consist of classroom, laboratory, and research modules in areas of advanced mathematics and engineering principles. To achieve a masters degree or Ph.D, aspiring nuclear engineers need to complete a research study, usually conducted in conjunction with a professor, on a government or private research grant.

Some universities offer 5-year programs leading to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. A graduate degree allows an engineer to work as an instructor at a university or engage in research and development. Some 5-year or even 6-year cooperative-education plans combine classroom study with work, permitting students to gain experience and to finance part of their education.

Once hired, nuclear engineers must complete training onsite before they are allowed to work independently. Often, this training lasts 6 weeks to 3 months and is in areas such as safety procedures, practices and regulations. In addition, nuclear engineers must undergo continuous training every year to keep their knowledge, skills and abilities current.

Example Job Titles for Nuclear Engineer

Below is a list of common job titles in the Nuclear Engineer field. Click the links below for more information about these job titles, or view the next section for actual real-life job profiles.

Benefits & Conditions

Income and benefits

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for nuclear engineers in the United States was $113,460 in 2019. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $71,860 and the highest 10 percent earned more than $179,430. The top paying industry was engineering services, where the median annual salary was $136,340. This is followed by scientific research and developmental services ($134,810), federal government ($94,610) and manufacturing ($89,480). 

Autonomy and Flexibility

When nuclear engineers start out in their career, they are likely to have to work under other, more experienced, engineers. However, as they progress through their career, they quickly gain more responsibility and autonomy. When nuclear engineers get to a senior level (after completing the required training and gathering more experience and knowledge) they will have a lot of control over their decisions.

Flexibility is likely to be lower as nuclear engineers are likely to have set hours and schedules.

Locations and commute

According to Zippia, the best states to be a nuclear engineer, based on average annual salary and number of job opportunities, are:

  • Alaska, where the average annual salary is $108,640
  • District of Columbia, where the average annual salary is $112,180
  • Oregon, where the average annual salary is $99,386
  • Maryland, where the average annual salary is $103,412
  • Idaho, where the average annual salary is $98,473

The worst states, according to Zippia, are Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, Maine and Arkansas.

Work environment

The largest employer of nuclear engineers in the United States was the federal government, which hired 20% of all nuclear engineers in 2019. 14% of nuclear engineers were employed by the scientific research and development services industry, 9% were employed by manufacturing services and 6% by engineering services.

Nuclear engineers tend to work in offices. However, the setting they work in varies with the industry in which they are employed as some nuclear engineers may work on power plants. It is typical that nuclear engineers will work with other engineering professionals, such as mechanical or electrical engineers to incorporate the system they have designed.

Career Satisfaction

Common Matching Personality Types

Which personalities tend to succeed and thrive in Nuclear Engineer careers? Based on our research, there is a relatively strong positive correlation between the following personality types and Nuclear Engineer career satisfaction. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t many exceptions, of course, but if you fit into one of the following personality types then we suggest you give strong consideration to a career in Nuclear Engineer.

16 Types (Myers-Briggs)

Big Five (OCEAN)

  • None


Holland Codes (RIASEC)

Personality types

There has been no scientific exploration into exactly what personality types will make a successful nuclear engineer. However, successful engineers are likely to be the the ISTP, or otherwise known as “The Craftsperson” personality type. ISTP are typically natural born troubleshooters, which will aide them in finding problems with nuclear systems. They also want to be experts in their field and thus will enjoy the extra training nuclear engineers need to complete.

Accomplishment and mastery

Like most engineering careers, it takes a reasonably long time for nuclear engineers to become fully qualified and have autonomy and responsibility. Therefore, when they do eventually qualify, they are likely to feel a huge sense of achievement. Furthermore, throughout their careers, nuclear engineers must complete continuous training. This ensures that their sense of accomplishment and mastery is high, and remains high, throughout the entirety of their career.

Meaning and contribution

The work of a nuclear engineer is important to society. The provide ships, submarines and aircrafts with fuel. They also contribute to the electrical supply of many homes and businesses. However, the work of nuclear engineers in the medical field probably has the most meaning and contribution. These engineers work to improve medical equipment, which directly saves lives.

Life fit

Most nuclear engineers will work normal full time hours. However, some may work overtimes and their schedules will vary depending on the industry in which they work.

Who will thrive in this career?

There are many qualities that a nuclear engineer needs in order to thrive. The main thing a nuclear engineer needs is a mathematical mind as they must be able to use the principles of calculus, trigonometry and other advanced topics for analysis, design and troubleshooting. Nuclear engineers should also have strong teamwork skills and be able to work well with other engineering professionals. Finally, those who can remain calm and collected under pressure will have the best chance of thriving in this career.

Who will struggle in this career?

Firstly, those who are not natural born problem solvers are likely to thrive in this career. A major part of nuclear engineering involves troubleshooting and solving problems. Those who are not academic, or willing to commit to the training required, will struggle as nuclear engineers, who must complete training throughout their career. Finally, those who prefer sociable and competitive careers may become bored and frustrated as a nuclear engineer.


Quick Glance

Skills and talents

Nuclear engineers will learn many of the skills they need during their education and studying. However, they must also have skills such as:

  • Mathematical skills, as nuclear engineers must use the principles of calculus, trigonometry and other advanced topics for analysis, design and troubleshooting
  • Analytical skills, as nuclear engineers need to design elements to help build facilities and equipment that produce the material needed by various industries
  • Communication skills, as nuclear engineers work closely with other engineers and technicians and must be able to communicate instructions and ideas
  • Problem-solving skills are important as nuclear engineers may have to deal with emergencies that are incredibly hazardous. They also need to be logical problem-solvers, as they will design complexed systems
  • Written communication skills, as nuclear engineers must prepare documentation for other engineers and for scientists.


Nuclear engineers need a bachelor’s degree in  engineering that is accredited by the ABET. Many colleges and universities offer cooperative education programs in which students gain practical experience while completing their education. More commonly, employers are looking for applicants with at least a masters degree or Ph.D. To achieve a masters degree or Ph.D, aspiring nuclear engineers need to complete a research study, usually conducted in conjunction with a professor, on a government or private research grant.

Alternatively, several colleges and universities offer 5-year degree programs in nuclear engineering that lead to a bachelor’s and master’s degree upon completion.


Nuclear engineers should aim to achieve a professional engineering (PE) license, this will give them more opportunities. Engineers with a professional license can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off projects and provide service directly to the public. To achieve a PE license, aspiring engineers will need:

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam
  • Relevant work experience
  • A passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam

How to Become


Nuclear engineers are responsible for researching and developing the processes, instruments and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. It is a career with a variety of different career paths. For example, nuclear engineers can work to find industrial and medical uses for radioactive material. Or, they may specialize in the development of nuclear power sources for ships or spacecrafts.

Immediate action

If you’re at high school and aspiring to become a  nuclear engineer, you may want to take courses in in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics. Furthermore, to have the best chance of getting accepted onto an engineering degree programs, we advise having lots of extra-curricular activities (e.g., sports teams, art classes).

Education and learning

Nuclear engineers will need a bachelors degree in engineering that is accredited by the ABET. Some aspiring engineers will enrol in 5-year programs, where they can obtain a bachelors degree and a master’s degree as this is often preferred by employers.

Skill development

Nuclear engineers will learn many of the advanced skills and knowledge they need through their education. Once they graduate, they can take continuous training throughout their career in order further advance their skills and knowledge.


Ask a Question

Have a question about Nuclear Engineer careers? If so, our mentors would love to help! Just click on a mentor’s profile below and then fill out the “Ask a Question” form on that page. Your question will then be emailed to the mentor, who can then email you a reply.

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