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Nuclear Engineers

At a Glance

  • Design and operate nuclear power plants
  • Many also conduct research
  • Are responsible for the health and safety of others
  • Sometimes wear safety gear such as work boots and hard hats
  • Have a bachelor's degree
  • May need a license

Career summary

Nuclear engineers design and operate nuclear processes and facilities, including nuclear power plants. They also conduct research on nuclear energy.

Nuclear power plants

Nuclear engineers who work at nuclear power plants monitor plant operations to ensure safety and identify problems when they occur.

Some of the tasks they perform include:

If engineers find problems at a nuclear power plant, they recommend ways to fix them. They review accidents to prevent them from happening again.

Nuclear research

Many nuclear engineers conduct and evaluate research. Research is conducted in areas such as:

Once engineers have collected their data, they analyze it and write reports about their findings. They may also consult with other scientists.

Nuclear engineers may specialize in one of the following areas:

Related careers

This career is part of the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics cluster of careers.

Related careers include:

Military careers

Job duties

Task list

The following list of tasks is specific to nuclear engineers.

Common work activities

Nuclear engineers perform the following tasks. These tasks are common to many careers.

Work requirements

Working conditions

In a typical work setting, nuclear engineers:

Interpersonal relationships

Physical work conditions

Work performance


Physical demands

Nuclear engineers frequently:

It is important for nuclear engineers to be able to:

It is not as important, but still necessary, for nuclear engineers to be able to:

Skills and abilities

Nuclear engineers need to:


Reason and problem solve

Use math and science

Manage oneself, people, time, and things

Work with people

Work with things

Perceive and visualize

Education and training

Educational programs

The programs of study listed below will help you prepare for the occupation or career cluster you are exploring.

Programs of study directly related to this occupation

Other programs of study to consider


To work as a nuclear engineer, you typically need to:

Education after high school

Most students prepare for this field by earning a bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering. Many nuclear engineers have a master's or doctoral (PhD) degree.

Only a few four-year colleges and universities offer bachelor's degree programs in nuclear engineering. A smaller number of schools offer advanced degrees.

Nuclear engineering has several specialties, such as:

Work experience

You should consider participating in an engineering internship while in college. An internship is usually part of a four-year degree program. It offers you a chance to apply what you have learned in the classroom to a work situation. It also allows you to build skills and make contacts with people in the field.

On-the-job training

New graduates work under the guidance of experienced engineers. In large companies, you may also receive formal classroom training. You work on more difficult tasks as you gain knowledge and experience. Training generally lasts for two to four years.

Military training

The military does not provide initial training in this field. However, the military may provide work experience to nuclear engineering graduates.

Helpful high school courses

In high school, take classes that prepare you for college. A college preparatory curriculum (external link) may be different from your state's graduation requirements (external link). Engineers use math and science frequently. Try to take math classes through Trigonometry and science classes through Physics.

You should also consider taking some advanced courses in high school. This includes Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses if they are available in your school. If you do well in these courses, you may receive college credit for them. Advanced courses can also strengthen your college application.

Helpful electives to take in high school that prepare you for this career include:

The courses listed above are meant to help you create your high school plan. If you have not already done so, talk to a school counselor or parent about the courses you are considering taking.

You should also check with a teacher or counselor to see if work-based learning opportunities are available in your school and community. These might include field trips, job shadowing, internships, and actual work experience. The goal of these activities is to help you connect your school experiences with real-life work.

Join some groups, try some hobbies, or volunteer with an organization that interests you. By participating in activities you can have fun, make new friends, and learn about yourself. Maybe one of them will help direct you to a future career. Here are examples of activities and groups (PDF file) that may be available in your high school or community.

Things to know

Employers prefer to hire nuclear engineers who have kept up with the latest advances in the field. They also look for people who are detail-oriented and analytical. Oral and written communication skills are also important. Employers look for people who can work on a team. Nuclear engineers may work with people from different cultures or countries.

Some employers require a security clearance before hiring prospective employees.


Post-bachelor's or master's research internship programs can help students develop professional skills and gain experience.

#Added 3/7/11 after seeing numerous such internships noted in Richland through Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, cj.

Costs to workers

Some workers may wish to join a professional association, which may have annual dues. Workers may have to pay for continuing education classes to keep up with changes in the field.


Engineers employed in responsible positions in government or in firms offering services to the public, or who stamp their work as being done by an engineer, must be licensed by the Washington State Department of Licensing.

Getting a license as an engineer-in-training requires:

Professional engineer licensing requirements include:

Engineers who wish to be licensed as professional engineers must pay $65 to the State for an initial national exam application. After State approval, engineers must pay for the registration examination from the National Council of Examiners for Engineers and Surveyors. The license renewal fee is $116 every two years. Not all engineers in Washington must be licensed.

For licensing information, contact:

Washington State Department of Licensing
Board of Registration for Professional Engineers and
Land Surveyors Licensing Program (external link)

PO Box 9025
Olympia, WA 98507-9025

For information on testing, contact:

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (external link)
PO Box 1686
Clemson, SC 29633-1686


Job listings

Listed below are links to job categories from the National Labor Exchange that relate to this career. Once you get a list of jobs, you can view information about individual jobs and find out how to apply. If your job search finds too many openings, or if you wish to search for jobs outside of Washington, you will need to refine your search.

To get a listing of current jobs from the WorkSource system, go to the WorkSource website (external link).


#In Washington, the average entry-level wage for nuclear engineers is $5,794 per month ($33.43 per hour).

#Updated ES wage info 07.16 sd

#Updated DOP wage 07.16 sd. Removed State of WA wage 4/13/17 cj.

Nuclear engineers (SOC 17-2161)

Pay Period
Washington Hourly $31.92 $38.34 $48.19 $54.59 $62.54
Monthly $5,532 $6,644 $8,351 $9,460 $10,838
Yearly $66,390 $79,750 $100,240 $113,540 $130,080
    Kennewick-Richland Hourly $36.98 $46.01 $56.19 $63.71 $77.82
Monthly $6,409 $7,974 $9,738 $11,041 $13,486
Yearly $76,921 $95,704 $116,885 $132,522 $161,875
United States Hourly $32.96 $41.27 $51.73 $62.02 $78.06
Monthly $5,712 $7,152 $8,965 $10,748 $13,528
Yearly $68,560 $85,840 $107,600 $129,000 $162,360

Wages vary by employer and area of the country. The engineer's level of education and responsibility also affect wages.

Nuclear engineers who work full time usually receive benefits. Typical benefits include sick leave, paid vacation, health insurance, and a retirement plan.

Employment and outlook

Washington outlook


The table below provides information about the number of workers in this career in various regions. It also provides information about the expected growth rate and future job openings.

Nuclear Engineers (SOC 17-2161)

Location Current employment Growth over 10 years Annual openings
Washington 1,383 8.8% 16.1% 131
    Benton and Franklin Counties 424 17.0% 15.0% 47
    Clallam, Jefferson, and Kitsap Counties 817 2.7% 11.9% 65
United States 17,700 -0.6% 5.2% 1,100

National employment

Major employers:

National outlook

Demand for this occupation is expected to show little to no change over the next few years. Employment will decline in electric power generation, but projected to increase in research and development in engineering, and in management, scientific, and technical consulting services. Developments in nuclear medicine, diagnostic imaging, and cancer treatment will drive demand for nuclear engineers to develop new methods for treatment.

Job openings occur as people retire from this occupation. Job prospects will be good for those with training in nuclear medicine.

Other resources

American Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) (external link)
(This website provides a list of engineering-related programs accredited by ABET)
415 North Charles Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
American Nuclear Society (external link)
555 North Kensington Avenue
La Grange Park, IL 60526
Careers in the Nuclear Industry (external link)
(from the Nuclear Energy Institute)
Discover Engineering (external link)
eGFI - Dream Up the Future (external link)
Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy information (external link)
(US Department of Energy)
Engineer Girl! (external link)
National Academy of Engineering
National Academy of Engineering (external link)
500 Fifth Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (external link)
National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (external link)
280 Seneca Creek Road
Seneca, SC 29678
Nuclear Careers (external link)
(from the American Nuclear Society)
Nuclear Energy Institute (external link)
1201 F Street NW, Suite 1100
Washington, DC 20004
Society of Women Engineers (external link)
130 East Randolph Street, Suite 3500
Chicago, IL 60601
Technology Student Association (external link)
1904 Association Drive
Reston, VA 20191-1540
US Nuclear Regulatory Commission (external link)
Office of Public Affairs
Washington, DC 20555-0001
Washington State Science & Engineering Fair (external link)


Career cluster

Career path

O*Net (external link) occupation

O*Net job zone (external link)

DOT occupations

Strong Interest Inventory

Holland occupational cluster