Career guide: Nuclear engineer

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	Nuclear engineers can work in power plants.
    Nuclear engineers can work in power plants.

    Career guide: Nuclear engineer

    Nuclear power is an important energy resource. According to the Nuclear Energy Institute, a notable amount – some 19 percent – of U.S. electricity was generated from nuclear power in 2016. And with the scientific community continuing to stress the need for solutions to curb the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, nuclear energy presents a viable alternative to the use of fossil fuels. This is because, as detailed by the NEI, nuclear power is regarded as a sustainable energy source. While not quite a renewable energy resource – uranium will eventually run out – there remains enough nuclear power to last a considerable amount of time. Furthermore, nuclear power is a clean energy source, producing no carbon dioxide. 

    Given the ongoing need for nuclear power, one career path that could prove promising for engineering graduates is that of a nuclear engineer. Overseeing the development of systems and equipment used to produce nuclear energy, these professionals work hard to ensure that uranium is harnessed as safely and effectively as possible.

    Are you a recent STEM graduate? Are you interested in pursuing a career as a nuclear engineer? Read on to learn more about this fascinating and lucrative career path:

    What do nuclear engineers do?
    As detailed by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nuclear engineers find ways to successfully use nuclear power sources. This is achieved via research and the design and construction of systems and instruments that harness nuclear power – think machines used in nuclear power plants, as well as technology employed in the health care field, such as medical imaging devices, an article from Truity explained. Indeed, the typical duties associated with the role can vary considerably, contingent on the industry in which a nuclear engineer is employed.

    Britain's National Careers Service offered a breakdown of some of the most common responsibilities for professionals in the nuclear engineering field. For those working with nuclear power for energy purposes, common duties include:

    1. Developing equipment for use in nuclear power plants.

    2. Overseeing the overall construction of nuclear power plants.

    3. Devising strategies for the safe removal of nuclear waste.

    4. Ensuring radiation levels remains safe.

    5. Conducting inspections and maintenance work.

    The source stressed that nuclear engineers are also found in other fields. For example, some nuclear engineers will work in the defense industry, overseeing the development of weapons and other equipment. Another major industry in which nuclear engineers can be found is health care. Professionals in this sector will typically design and construct medical devices, as well as conduct research.

    In terms of work location, BLS explained that nuclear engineers are often found behind the scenes, working on projects in office environments. For nuclear engineers concerned with the maintenance and inspection of power plants, for example, on-site work is common. 

    What qualities are needed to succeed?
    As with any STEM role, there are a number of qualities and skills that nuclear engineers must possess in order to succeed. As explained by Truity, nuclear engineers need a strong academic background in engineering, as well as a proficiency in mathematics. A minimum of a bachelor's degree is needed, as well as training or work experience. A master's degree can help candidates attain higher level positions. Licensing as a professional engineer, although not mandatory for certain roles, is encouraged, Truity noted. 

    In addition to a strong engineering background, successful nuclear engineers will have strong logical thinking and problem-solving skills, as well as the ability to communicate well, both verbally and in writing. Communication is important, the source explained, because nuclear engineers will often be required to work as part of a team on certain projects. 

    Job outlook
    BLS reported that a small decline in employment in this field is expected. The projected decline amounts to around 4 percent in the decade spanning 2014-2024, which will no doubt lead to a more competitive job market. However, given the ongoing need for nuclear engineers for energy and medical purposes, there will still be a demand for qualified professionals. 

    Salary prospects
    Nuclear engineers tend to take home lucrative salaries. Careers website Payscale explained that six-figure salaries, close to $130,000 per year, are common, with the median nationwide salary currently standing at close to $84,500 a year. 

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