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

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.

Education and Training

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 en

Personality and Interests

Nuclear engineers typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a nuclear engineer, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Nuclear engineers should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Nuclear engineers must be able to identify design elements to help build facilities and equipment that produce material needed by various industries.

Communication skills. Nuclear engineers’ work depends heavily on their ability to work with other professional engineers and technicians. They need to be able to communicate effectively, both in writing and face to face, with technicians and engineers from other fields.

Detail oriented. Nuclear engineers supervise the operation of nuclear facilities. They must pay close attention to what is happening at all times, and ensure that operations comply with all regulations and laws pertaining to the safety of workers and the environment.

Logical-thinking skills. Nuclear engineers design complex systems. Therefore, they must be able to order information logically and clearly so that others can follow their written information and instructions.

Math skills. Nuclear engineers use the principles of calculus, trigonometry, and other advanced topics in math for analysis, design, and troubleshooting in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Because of the potential hazard posed by nuclear materials and by accidents at facilities, nuclear engineers must be able to anticipate problems before they occur and suggest remedies.


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

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.

For More Information

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





Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. On this site, you can take the Career Personality Profiler assessment, the Holland Code assessment, or the Photo Career Quiz.

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