Nuclear Engineers study the development and application of nuclear energy to produce power both economically and safely. They are concerned with the design, construction, running and control of reactors and power stations. They work on the decommissioning of plant when no longer required. They also work on the safe disposal of nuclear waste and protection of the workforce and public. Nuclear power is a growing industry so employment opportunities will increase over time.
Nuclear Engineers are based in offices and onsite and may be expected to work shifts or to be on call. Weekend and night work is sometimes necessary. They monitor processes, supervise other employees, are responsible for radiation safety, make managerial decisions and prepare emergency plans. They have to work under considerable pressure at times.
Typical job responsibilities include:
- Working in the large-scale production of nuclear energy
- Lecturing or training other people on the subject of nuclear power
- Working in developing effective nuclear waste management systems
- Being involved in smaller industrial or medical projects
- Driving/operating machinery and equipment
- Managing or leading a team and liaising with other professional and clients
- Taking responsibility for health and safety including that of your colleagues
The working environment is clean and pleasant but could be enclosed and there is a risk of exposure to radiation and accidents from equipment. You may need to wear protective clothing in certain areas.
You will usually work a normal 37 hour week, although you may be required to work additional hours at times. Work is often organised on a shift system. Future prospects for nuclear engineers are currently good as the Government is committed to a programme of building new power stations.
Most nuclear engineers work in large power plants and companies although you could work in medical research or nuclear waste disposal.
Some nuclear engineers work as freelance consultants and are self-employed.
Personal Qualities and Skills
Key skills for Nuclear Engineers
- Accurate, scientific approach
- Enquiring mind
- Able to take responsibility for decisions and actions
- Careful, sound judgement
- Logical thinking and problem solving skills
- Excellent communication skills
- Resourceful and resilient
- Able to work in a team
- Sound numerical and IT skills
Pay And Opportunities
Typical employers of Nuclear Engineers
Examples of major employers of nuclear engineers include:
- Nuclear energy/fuel companies
- The Royal Navy
- Construction companies that design and build the power plants
- The UK Atomic Energy Authority in research and consultancy
This is still a relatively small profession and jobs may be available only in certain locations. However, nuclear power is a growing industry so employment opportunities will increase accordingly. The majority of work will be indoors in a power plant, laboratory, office or factory.
Qualifications and training required
A degree is usually required in mechanical, electrical or chemical engineering to enter this profession. Maths, physics or science degrees may also be accepted. There are now universities which offer specialist degrees in nuclear engineering and the nuclear industry association (NIA) provides further information on these courses.
Entry into a degree course requires a minimum of 5 GCSEs grades 9 – 4 (A*- C) and a minimum of 2 A levels including maths and a science subject. For Scottish students entry to an engineering degree course is likely to require a minimum of 4 Highers including Maths and Physics as well as National 5 English. A postgraduate qualification would be an advantage – particularly if you are seeking Chartered Engineer (CEng) status.
Some companies offer opportunities for apprenticeships or training schemes which will combine degree level study with work-based training.
The Nuclear Technology Education Consortium (NTEC) may offer professional development courses which your employer may encourage you to undertake. With experience those who have gained MEng qualifications can apply for Chartered Engineer (CEng) status with the Engineering Council and those with a Bachelor's Degree are eligible for Incorporated Engineer (IEng) status.