How to Become a

Nuclear Engineer

The complete career guide to be a Nuclear Engineer: salary, job growth, employers, best schools, and education you may need to get started.

Why We Love It

  • $106,060
    Potential Avg. Salary
  • -3.6%
    Job Growth Rate
  • High Income Potential
    Career Attribute
  • Investigative
    Career Attribute

Nuclear engineers design, apply, and research how nuclear energy and radiation can be used for a wide range of purposes. They may work in research, development, and application at nuclear power facilities, or they may work in healthcare research where they seek new ways to treat cancer and other diseases.

Recommended Schools

What is a Nuclear Engineer?

The following job responsibilities are common for individuals in nuclear engineer roles:

  • Design and build components used in harnessing and utilizing nuclear power
  • Research ways of disposing of nuclear waste to prevent radiation sickness
  • Monitor nuclear power plant set up and processes to reduce radiation exposure for workers
  • Research uses for radiation in healthcare, developing equipment like x-ray machines, or finding treatments for diseases like cancer

A Day in the Life

Nuclear engineers design, apply, and research how nuclear energy and radiation can be used for a wide range of purposes. Many nuclear engineers work in atomic power stations and work to develop components—such as reactor cores—that are used in harvesting and creating nuclear power sources. These power sources may be used to harvest power for cities, for ships, or even for spacecraft. Nuclear engineers are at the forefront of developing these new uses for nuclear power.

Nuclear techniques are also increasingly being studied and applied for use in medicine, especially cancer diagnosis and therapy. Nuclear engineers research ways that radiation can be used to create x-ray technology and develop cyclotrons—the device used in radiation therapy that’s used to treat cancerous tumors. Nuclear engineers research possible healthcare applications of radiation, and work to develop the components that will be used to apply radiation for use in diagnosing and treating disease.

Research in nuclear engineering is intellectually rewarding. While some nuclear engineers work in offices or research labs, others work in nuclear power plants and oversee operations to ensure safety guidelines are established and adhered to. At the entry level, nuclear engineers generally work under experienced seniors. However, as they accumulate knowledge and experience, they are handed more responsibility and may be able to move into roles where they can conduct research independently.

Typical Work Schedule

Most nuclear engineers work full-time schedules. Those who work in research may work mostly during normal business hours, but those that work in the nuclear power industry may need to be available during irregular shifts to oversee operations and handle emergencies.

Typical Employers

Nuclear engineers may find employment with nuclear power plants, for government agencies, with private research or engineering firms, with research institutions, or in manufacturing.

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How To Become a Nuclear Engineer

The first step in becoming a nuclear engineer is earning a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering. Make sure that the program you choose is accredited by ABET, as this will be a requirement of licensing later in your career. With a bachelor’s degree, graduates may be able to find entry-level work with private firms or manufacturers, assisting experienced nuclear engineers. While a bachelor’s degree may qualify you to work as a nuclear technician or assistant, most aspiring nuclear engineers continue their educations to earn one or more graduate degrees.

The next step is to earn a master’s degree in nuclear engineering. Some schools offer combined programs where students can earn their bachelor’s and master’s degree concurrently. This can be a good choice for aspiring nuclear engineers who know they want to earn both degrees because these programs generally only take 5 years of study, which reduces a year of required study if you were to pursue bachelor’s and master’s degrees independently. Employers generally prefer a master’s degree in nuclear engineering for management positions.

Research jobs in nuclear engineering typically require candidates to have a doctoral degree. A Ph.D. in nuclear engineering may be required to perform independent research or to work in government research. Additionally, you will need to pursue licensing to work as a nuclear engineer. Each state has its own rules for licensure, but in general, a bachelor’s degree, four or more years of experience, and passing multiple knowledge exams is required to earn a nuclear engineering license.

Nuclear Engineer Salary Data

We’ve provided you the following to learn more about this career. The salary and growth data on this page comes from recently published Bureau of Labor Statistics data while the recommendations and editorial content are based on our research.

National Anual Salary

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High Range


National Hourly Wage

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High Range


How do Nuclear Engineer salaries stack up to other jobs across the country? Based on the latest jobs data nationwide, Nuclear Engineer's can make an average annual salary of $106,060, or $51 per hour. On the lower end, they can make $82,630 or $40 per hour, perhaps when just starting out or based on the state you live in.

Salary Rankings And Facts

  • #54 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Average Salary Nationally

Programs and Degrees

Here are the most common degrees for becoming a Nuclear Engineer. a is usually recommended and specifically a degree or coursework that prepares you for the particular field, see below.

Highest Education Among Nuclear Engineers

  • 7.3%   Doctorate
  • 28%   Masters
  • 48.1%   Bachelors
  • 6.7%   Associates
  • 7.6%   College
  • 2.2%   High School
  • 0.2%   Less than High School

Job Growth Projections and Forecast

2014 Total Jobs


2024 Est. Jobs


Job Growth Rate


Est. New Jobs


How does Nuclear Engineer job growth stack up to other jobs across the country? By 2024, there will be a change of -600 jobs for a total of 16,200 people employed in the career nationwide. This is a -3.6% change in growth over the next ten years, giving the career a growth rate nationwide of Above Average.

Growth Rankings And Facts

  • #682 Nationally for All Careers

  • Above Avg. Growth Nationally

What Companies Employ The Most Nuclear Engineers

Industry Current Jobs New Jobs Needed % Increase
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution 7,000 -700 -1%
Federal government, excluding postal service 2,800 -300 0%
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 2,700 --- ---

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