How to Become a Nuclear Engineer

Nuclear Engineer Key Stats
Avg. Salary / year $108,100
Avg. Pay / hour $51.97
Education 4+ Years
Job Outlook 1%

Nuclear Engineers are experts on nuclear energy and are responsible for controlling many aspects of it: its use, its disposal and its release to create things such as energy.

Nuclear Engineers perform these duties by applying nuclear science theories and principles they learned while in college or university.

Nuclear Engineers can work in many sectors including government institutions, defense companies or for private organizations.

Those established in the Federal Government and working for defense companies or contractors must meet security clearances due to the nature of their work.

One important component to this profession is the responsible use of radioactive material or nuclear energy.

Nuclear energy provides a lot of benefits to the world, but it can also be extremely hazardous.

Nuclear Engineers are required to strictly follow safety precautions in order to protect the public’s safety.

This is one likely reason why licensure is required for Nuclear Engineers who work for the public.

Students who want to become a Nuclear Engineer probably have a knack for science and mathematics.

They probably also enjoy problem solving which is why reading further ahead will help them determine whether becoming a Nuclear Engineer is a great move in their career.

Education Requirements to Become a Nuclear Engineer

The minimum educational requirement for someone who wants to become a Nuclear Engineer is a Bachelor’s degree which typically takes about four years to complete.

Candidates interested in becoming a Nuclear Engineer can focus on this major or a related specialty in engineering.

During their time as undergraduates, engineering students will gain an understanding about their preferred field as well as take some general courses.

Courses in mathematics, the physical and life sciences, social sciences, the humanities, as well as some basic engineering courses are required in order to have a wide range of knowledge.

Those who want to become a Nuclear Engineer may also think about completing a graduate program to strengthen their skills.

Some research engineering positions actually require candidates to hold a minimum of a graduate degree in Nuclear Science or Engineering.

In addition, Nuclear Engineers who provide their services to the public must seek licensure and pass a security clearance in order to work in the field.

This requirement is for candidates who work on behalf of the Federal Government or defense agencies or contractors.

The reason why licensure is important is because it shows that a candidate has skills and expertise in the field and that their work is in the best interest of the public.

The American Nuclear Society is the national organization that manages and creates the standards for licensure.

They also provide testing preparation and training as well as managing examinations.

Visit their website at ANS for more information regarding licensure and program information.

Nuclear Engineer Job Description

Nuclear Engineers are responsible for developing nuclear energy and radiation by performing research on the processes, using instruments to create radioactive material as well as using the systems needed to create this type of energy.

Nuclear Engineers can find a specialty within the field to become experienced in.

They can work on the nuclear field cycle that includes the handling, production and use of nuclear fuel.

On the other hand, some Nuclear Engineers are involved in the creation of fusion energy.

Some Nuclear Engineers specialize in creating nuclear energy in order to make marine vessels or spacecrafts travel.

Finally, some Nuclear Engineers may find ways to use nuclear energy or radioactive materials for medical purposes.

For example, radioactive materials can be used to run medical equipment that helps diagnose or treat patients.

Nuclear Engineers can be responsible for maintaining and operating operations that run nuclear power plants.

They do this by implementing nuclear science theories and principles in order to responsibly manage and operate nuclear energy as well as the disposal of such energies.

They must follow safety protocol and be able to handle and inspect accidents or spills.

Nuclear Engineer Salary and Career Path

The Engineering field pays some of the highest salaries amongst professionals with a Bachelor’s degree.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average starting salary for Nuclear Engineers was approximately $61,600 per year.

The highest earners in this specialty can make upwards of $136,800 depending on years of experience, location and sector.

The job outlook through the year 2018 is considered good and is average in comparison to other specialties.

The biggest growth is expected for professionals in research and development.

There are programs that offer a lot of information to individuals regarding their engineering specialty.

For more information regarding Nuclear Engineering such as jobs or general information, visiting the American Nuclear Society website will provide great resources.

Visit them at: ANS.

BLSThe below information is based on the 2021 BLS national averages.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

National Average Salary


Average Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$146,190
Georgia- NA -
New Hampshire$128,780
New Jersey$131,170
New Mexico- NA -
New York$112,750
North Carolina$113,920
South Carolina$102,930

The top earning state in the field is Kentucky, where the average salary is $198,900.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

Kentucky - $198,900
California - $147,060
Idaho - $146,580
District of Columbia - $146,190
Oregon - $134,040
* Salary information based on the May 2021 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey for Nuclear Engineers, OCC Code 17-2161, BLS.
* Employment conditions in your area may vary.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a nuclear engineer?

Nuclear engineers monitor nuclear facilities and design the systems and instruments used to derive benefits from nuclear energy.

Most of them try to find methods of using radioactive materials for medical and industrial uses.

For example, radioactive materials are used in medical diagnosis and treatment; nuclear material is also used for medical imaging devices, such as PET scanners.

Other nuclear engineers specialize in developing sources of nuclear power for ships and spacecraft.

In order to be able to perform their job duties, nuclear engineers need good technical and scientific knowledge but also problem-solving and math skills.

How much does a nuclear engineer make?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage for nuclear engineers was $107,600 in May 2018.

Salaries vary widely, depending on the industry where they work.

For instance, nuclear engineers employed in the manufacturing industry earned a median annual wage of a little over $91,000 while those employed in engineering services earned around $128,000 a year.

How much does it cost to become a nuclear engineer?

Nuclear engineers need a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering or a related engineering field.

A four-year college program will cost you, on average, around $170,000 but tuition costs vary widely, depending on the college you choose.

Having a few years of experience or holding a master’s degree will give you better job prospects.

A master’s degree in engineering can cost you anywhere between $30,000 and more than $100,000, depending on the college you choose and the duration of the program.

What is the demand for nuclear engineers?

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment for nuclear engineers is expected to show little or no difference in the next years.

The job is projected to decline by 1% from 2018 to 2028.

Although job prospects are expected to be relatively limited, those who are specialized in nuclear medicine or related fields should have the best job prospects.

How long does it take to become a nuclear engineer?

In order to become a nuclear engineer, you will need a bachelor’s degree program in nuclear engineering or a related field.

If you want to study nuclear engineering in college you should start by taking high school courses in mathematics and science.

Getting your bachelor’s degree will usually take around 4 years.

Some colleges also offer accelerated 5-year programs which lead to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.

Programs in nuclear engineering are accredited by Accrediting Board for Engineering and Technology.

Getting your Ph.D. may be required for some positions and will usually take another 3 to 5 years.

Although licensure is not required for entry-level positions, a Professional Engineer license may give you better job prospects and more independence.

Exact licensing requirements can vary depending on the state who issues the license but you will usually have to take and pass two exams in order to get your license.

The licensure process can start right after graduating from college when you can take the Fundamentals of Engineering exam.

Getting your final Professional Engineering exam usually requires at least four years of experience in the field.

Jamie Willis
Career Specialist at BecomeopediaHi, my name is Jamie Willis, and I have been helping students find their perfect internships and education paths for the last ten years. It is a passion of mine, and there really is nothing better than seeing students of mine succeed with further studies.

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