How Do I Become a Nuclear Engineer?

If you have an interest in science and technology and are curious about energy sources, you may be wondering how to become a nuclear engineer.

Nuclear engineers are scientists who develop and test ways to use energy created through nuclear power. A nuclear engineer may design equipment for use by nuclear power plants. Some engineers invent new uses for nuclear power in the energy industry or in the medical field, including the diagnosis and treatment of diseases. Nuclear engineers may focus on ways to contain and dispose of nuclear waste or research potential problems with nuclear energy. Some nuclear engineers work in nuclear power plants. Others work for the federal government. Still others find positions in various areas of science and technology fields or with the testing divisions of engineering companies.

Because nuclear engineering requires precise calculations, superior mathematics skills in such advanced areas as calculus and trigonometry are essential for success in this career. Nuclear engineers must also possess exceptional analytical skills and logic. They should be able to analyze proposed processes and anticipate problems that may arise and solutions to those problems. Creativity can be an important skill for nuclear engineers, since they are, after all, researching innovative uses for energy. A good candidate for a nuclear engineering position is also detail-oriented. As with many careers in the sciences, nuclear engineers may be required to work as part of a team, so effective skills in teamwork and written and oral communication are desired.

A college education is required for those pursuing a career in nuclear engineering. Some nuclear engineers get their bachelor’s degrees in nuclear engineering specifically, while others study more general fields of science, like physics, mechanical engineering or chemical engineering, during their undergraduate education. Certain entry-level positions in nuclear engineering are available to applicants who hold only a bachelor’s degree, but higher-level positions may require advanced studies. Master’s and doctorate degrees are not uncommon among nuclear engineers. Work experience is also valued, and on-the-job training can be acquired through internships and, at some institutions, cooperative-education or work-study programs.

Like other types of engineers, nuclear engineers must be licensed to work in many areas of the field. Licensure requirements vary by state, but most states require work experience in the field and the successful completion of exams. Graduates of an undergraduate-level engineering program can take the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam immediately following completion of their courses. Passing this test earns an aspiring nuclear engineer the designation of “engineer in training” (EIT) or engineer intern (EI). Once an aspiring nuclear engineer accumulates enough relevant work experience, he or she may take the next step toward licensure, the Principles and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. Upon passing, the aspiring nuclear engineer may apply for a Professional Engineer license.

Nuclear engineering is a career path that can change the future of energy and medical research. If you enjoy problem-solving and are analytical and good at mathematics, knowing how to become a nuclear engineer can put you on the path to success.

Featured Degree Programs