What Nuclear Engineers Do
Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation.
Nuclear engineers typically work in offices; however, their work setting varies with the industry in which they are employed. Most nuclear engineers work full time.
How to Become a Nuclear Engineer
Nuclear engineers must have a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering. Employers also value experience, which can be gained through cooperative-education engineering programs.
The median annual wage for nuclear engineers was $113,460 in May 2019.
Employment of nuclear engineers is projected to decline 13 percent from 2019 to 2029. Traditionally, utilities that own or build nuclear power plants have employed the greatest number of nuclear engineers. However, utilities often are opting for cheaper natural gas in power generation.
Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment. Many others specialize in the development of nuclear power sources for ships or spacecraft.
Nuclear engineers typically do the following:
- 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
In addition, 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.
Nuclear engineers held about 16,400 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of nuclear engineers were as follows:
|Federal government, excluding postal service||20%|
|Scientific research and development services||14|
Nuclear engineers typically work in offices. However, their work setting varies with the industry in which they are employed. For example, those employed in power generation and supply work in power plants. Many work for the federal government and for consulting firms.
Nuclear engineers work with others, including mechanical engineers and electrical engineers, and they must be able to incorporate systems designed by these engineers into their own designs.
The majority of nuclear engineers work full time and some work more than 40 hours per week. Their schedules may vary with the industries in which they work.
This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of nuclear engineers.
For more information about general engineering education and career resources, visit
For more information about licensure as a nuclear engineer, visit
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For more information about federal government education requirements for nuclear engineer positions, visit
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 ).