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What Nuclear Engineers Do About this section

Nuclear engineers
Nuclear engineers monitor nuclear facility operations.

Nuclear engineers research and develop projects or address problems concerning the release, control, and use of nuclear energy and nuclear waste disposal. Some of these engineers research new reactor designs. Others may specialize in the development of safety regulations related to the handling of nuclear materials or operation of nuclear power.


Nuclear engineers typically do the following:

  • Design or develop nuclear equipment —such as reactor cores, nuclear batteries, and radiation shielding—and its associated instruments
  • Test whether methods of managing nuclear material or reclaiming nuclear fuel are acceptable
  • Write instructions to be used in operating nuclear plants or other nuclear equipment or in managing nuclear materials
  • Monitor nuclear facility design, construction, and operation practices to ensure compliance with state and federal regulations

Nuclear engineers may work in the following areas:

Defense. Nuclear engineers in the military work on nuclear propulsion systems for naval vessels. They may help design or evaluate these systems to ensure compliance with safety standards and system specifications. They also work aboard nuclear-powered vessels to monitor and maintain the nuclear systems. In addition, they may review and evaluate technical information related to nuclear weapons, such as readiness and safe storage.

Medical. Nuclear engineers provide dose and shielding calculations for medical isotope production. They design and conduct irradiation experiments and then analyze and document the results of these experiments.

Research and regulation. Nuclear engineers research new uses and management of nuclear power or material. They examine nuclear accidents and analyze the data to aid in designing preventive measures. Some test whether methods of using and managing nuclear material or reclaiming nuclear fuel are acceptable. They may assist in drafting new regulations and standards based on research and experiments.

Space exploration. Nuclear engineers design nuclear batteries used in spacecraft, satellites, and space rovers. They also may design radiation shielding for spacecraft and calculate and analyze radiation in space.

Utility power generation. Nuclear engineers who work for utilities help design and operate nuclear power plants. They also may direct maintenance activities to ensure that these plants meet safety standards.

Work Environment About this section

Nuclear engineers
Nuclear engineers typically work in office settings, often at a computer.

Nuclear engineers held about 13,900 jobs in 2021. The largest employers of nuclear engineers were as follows:

Federal government, excluding postal service 21%
Scientific research and development services 13
Engineering services 8
Manufacturing 5

Nuclear engineers typically work in office settings. However, where their office is located varies with the industry in which they work. For example, those employed in power generation and supply work in power plants. Those working for the federal government may be in the military or employed by a regulatory agency or a national laboratory. Others may work for professional, scientific, and technical services, which include consulting firms.

Nuclear engineers work with others, including mechanical engineers and electrical engineers, to incorporate other systems into their own designs.

Work Schedules

Most nuclear engineers work full time. Their schedules vary with the industries in which they work.

How to Become a Nuclear Engineer About this section

Nuclear engineers
Nuclear engineers need a working knowledge of programming languages and computer systems.

Nuclear engineers typically need at least bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering or a related field of engineering.


High school students interested in studying nuclear engineering should take classes in mathematics, such as algebra, trigonometry, and calculus; and science, such as biology, chemistry, and physics.

Entry-level nuclear engineering jobs commonly require a bachelor’s degree in engineering, engineering technologies, or a physical science field. Some jobs, such as those in research and development, require a master’s degree or Ph.D.

Bachelor’s degree engineering programs often consist of classroom, laboratory, and field studies. Courses include calculus, physics, and nuclear design. Colleges and universities may offer internship or cooperative-education programs with businesses, allowing students to gain work experience while completing their education.

Some colleges and universities offer 5-year programs that lead to both a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. Programs in nuclear engineering are accredited by ABET.


At a nuclear power plant, new employees usually must complete onsite training in topics such as safety procedures, practices, and regulations. Length of training varies, depending on the employer and the power plant. In addition, nuclear engineers must undergo training every year to stay current on applicable laws, regulations, and safety procedures.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Licensure is not required for entry-level nuclear engineer positions. Experienced engineers may obtain a Professional Engineering (PE) license, which allows them to oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects, and provide services directly to the public.

State licensure typically requires a bachelor’s or higher degree in engineering, a passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam, several years of relevant work experience, and a passing score on the PE exam.

Each state issues its own license. Most states recognize licensure from other states, as long as the licensing state’s requirements meet or exceed their own licensure requirements. Several states require continuing education for engineers to keep their licenses.

Nuclear engineers may be licensed as a Senior Reactor Operator, a credential granted by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Contact the NRC for more information.

Other Experience

Some nuclear engineers get their training in the military. Experience in a related military occupation may be beneficial for transferring to a civilian position.


Nuclear engineers may advance to supervise a team of engineers and technicians. Some become engineering managers or move into sales work. For more information, see the profiles on architectural and engineering managers and sales engineers.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Nuclear engineers must evaluate technical information for safe use of nuclear energy and materials.

Communication skills. Nuclear engineers collaborate with other engineers and technicians. They must be able to convey information clearly, both in writing and in person.

Computer skills. Nuclear engineers need a working knowledge of programming languages and computer systems.

Detail oriented. Nuclear engineers supervise nuclear facilities and must pay attention to ensure that they operate safely.

Logical-thinking skills. In designing complex systems, nuclear engineers must order information clearly and sequentially.

Math skills. Nuclear engineers use calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced math in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Nuclear engineers must be able to identify and fix problems that arise in designing and maintaining facilities.

Pay About this section

Nuclear Engineers

Median annual wages, May 2021

Nuclear engineers




Total, all occupations



The median annual wage for nuclear engineers was $120,380 in May 2021. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $75,460, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $169,000.

In May 2021, the median annual wages for nuclear engineers in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Scientific research and development services $151,980
Engineering services 127,290
Manufacturing 102,910
Federal government, excluding postal service 100,650

Most nuclear engineers work full time.

Job Outlook About this section

Nuclear Engineers

Percent change in employment, projected 2021-31



Total, all occupations


Nuclear engineers



Employment of nuclear engineers is projected to decline 11 percent from 2021 to 2031.

Despite declining employment, about 700 openings for nuclear engineers are projected each year, on average, over the decade. All of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to other occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.


Traditionally, utilities that own or build nuclear power plants have employed the greatest number of nuclear engineers. However, the increasing viability of renewable energy and limited construction of new nuclear power plants puts economic pressure on traditional nuclear power generation and reduces demand for these engineers.

Employment projections data for nuclear engineers, 2021-31
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2021 Projected Employment, 2031 Change, 2021-31 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Nuclear engineers

17-2161 13,900 12,400 -11 -1,500 Get data

Contacts for More Information About this section

For more information about general engineering education and career resources, visit

American Nuclear Society

American Society for Engineering Education

Health Physics Society

Nuclear Energy Institute

Society of Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging

Technology Student Association

For more information about licensure as a nuclear engineer, visit

National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying

National Society of Professional Engineers

For more information about accredited engineering programs, visit


For information about engineering summer camps, visit

Engineering For Kids

To see vacancies for nuclear engineer positions in the federal government, visit



Nuclear Engineers


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