A career as a nuclear engineer is a fascinating and challenging one, but it’s also extremely rewarding for those willing to go the extra mile. Nuclear energy is a cornerstone of our country’s (and the world’s) clean energy strategy. So if you’re looking to make a tangible impact in your community, this is a great industry to be in.
But for those seeking to become a nuclear engineer, it takes more than just a will and an opportunity. It takes training and education. This post goes into more detail about what exactly that career path looks like, from beginning to end.
Required Education & Training
If you are just starting out on your energy career, education is the first (and some would say the most important step) on the path. The training and education you partake in at this stage of your career matter in the long run. Power reactor operators require a license, but licensure is not required for entry-level positions as a nuclear engineer. Such jobs do require a bachelor’s degree at least, and many jobs require a master’s or even a Ph.D. Students interested in studying nuclear engineering should take high school courses in mathematics and science, such as calculus and physics. A Professional Engineering (PE) license allows for higher levels of independence and opportunities overseeing the work of other engineers and providing services directly to the public. State licensure generally requires a degree from an accredited engineering program, a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, relevant work experience (typically 4+ years), and a passing score on the Professional Engineering (PE) exam.
Critical Skills and Responsibilities of the Job
In addition to the educational and training requirements for nuclear engineers, there are several critical skill sets that these professionals are required to have. Key skills of nuclear engineers include the ability to identify design elements to help build facilities and equipment, work collaboratively with other engineers and technicians, communicate effectively both in writing and in person, pay close attention to what is happening at all times, and ensure that operations comply with all regulations and laws relating to safety and the environment. Logical-thinking skills, math, and problem-solving skills are all very important as well.
Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many engineers work in nuclear power plants as directors of operation and maintenance activities. Safety is a critical goal of all nuclear engineers and is paramount to their responsibilities within any job description. Overall, nuclear engineers are normally tasked with designing or developing nuclear equipment, such as reactor cores, radiation shielding, and associated instrumentation. They write and direct operational instructions in use in nuclear plant operations, as well as in the handling and disposing of nuclear waste.
How to Get Started
If you are still in school, now is the time to focus on the academic disciplines that will prepare you for a job as a nuclear engineer. Explore the programs available to you, and seek to gain as much experience as possible through cooperative-education programs and internships. From there, it’s about staying focused on your end goal of a job as a nuclear engineer and identifying the resources and opportunities available to you along the way.
For more expert advice on how to transition into a career as a nuclear engineer, connect with the team at ESGI today.