Login | Register

How to Become a Nuclear Engineer

Bachelor's degree

Nuclear engineers are responsible for writing operational instructions that are used for disposing or handling nuclear waste and used within nuclear plant operations. A bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering is essential. Employers also find experience valuable; cooperative education classes within universities are helpful.

Education & Training

A bachelor's degree is required for most entry level nuclear engineering jobs. Individuals interested in pursuing this career ideally should take classes in algebra, math, calculus, physics, trigonometry, physics, chemistry and biology.

Most programs are 4 years in length. They include field studies, laboratory and classroom work. The majority of the universities and colleges offer cooperative education programs to help students gain valuable experience prior to finishing their schooling.

There are special 5 year programs available at some universities, where students can graduate with both a master's and a bachelor's degree. An engineer can utilize their graduate degree to work as an instructor at post secondary institutions. Alternatively, they may choose to pursue research and development avenues. Certain 5 or 6 year co-op programs combine work experience and studies so that students have the option of funding a portion of their tuition while gaining experience. ABET accredited programs are the most sought after.


Nuclear engineers who are newly hired often have up to eight months of training on site. They study safety practices, safety regulations and safety procedures prior to being able to work independently. Additionally, these engineers often undergo continuous training on an annual basis to keep their skills, knowledge and abilities up to date with current safety procedures, regulations and laws.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

Nuclear engineers are not required to have a license if they work for nuclear power plants. Some prefer to seek licensure as a P.E. or Professional Engineer. Those who earn this designation of PE and gain licensure typically have to complete the following:

A) An ABET accredited engineering program degree

B) Relevant work experience opportunities

C) A passing grade on the FE or Fundamentals of Engineering exam

D) A passing score on the PE or Professional Engineering exam

The initial FE or Fundamentals of Engineering exam may be written immediately upon graduation. EITs or Engineers in Training or EIs or Engineer Interns are what individuals who pass this exam are commonly referred to. Once enough work experience has been accrued, EIs or EITs can take the Principals and Practice of Engineering Exam.

There are numerous places that require engineers continually take upgrading education classes in order to maintain their license. The majority of places recognize non-local licensure as long as it meets or exceeds local licensing requirements.

Senior Reactor Operator Class certification can be obtained by nuclear engineers. This is granted after a site specific 2 year program. This credential is awarded by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. It determines that an engineer is capable of operating a nuclear power plant inside of federal government regulation.

Skills and Qualities that will Help

Analytical skills: Nuclear engineers are required to identify certain design elements in order to help build equipment and facilities to make specific materials needed by various industries.

Communication skills: Nuclear engineers have the ability to work with other technicians and professional engineers on a regular basis. They need to have effective communication in both face to face and writing endeavors. Engineers and technicians from other fields may be worked with on a consistent basis.

Detail oriented: Nuclear engineers are responsible for supervising how nuclear facilities operate. They have to continually pay close attention at all times to ensure their methods are compiling with all laws and regulations in respect to the workers as well as the environment.

Logical-thinking skills: Complex systems are designed by nuclear engineers. They must have the capacity to logically order information concisely and clearly so that others can articulate their written instructions and information.

Math skills: Nuclear engineers need to utilize complex math skills on a regular basis. They use advanced math topics when troubleshooting, designing and analyzing their work.

Problem-solving skills: Due to the volatile nature of nuclear materials and potential catastrophe that may occur from accidents, nuclear engineers need to anticipate issues prior to them occurring and have remedies available to implement.

How To Advance

Engineering graduates who are just starting out typically work under the supervision of engineers' with more experience. New engineers may undergo formal training in seminars or classrooms when working for a sizeable company. With greater experience, engineers tackle more difficult projects and design development. They earn the ability to make decisions and solve issues.

Nuclear engineers may eventually advance to supervise a team of engineers or become technical specialists and technicians. Some individuals may move into sales work or become engineering managers. Nuclear engineers may take further education to become medical physicists. They may have a master's degree in health physics or medical physics or a related field.