What Do Nuclear Engineers Do? Are you excited by the possibility of designing nuclear reactors to power cities and atomic submarines, or splitting atoms to be able to see inside the human body without surgery?
Do you dream about being at the forefront of developing cutting-edge medical technologies to help treat cancerous tumors and ultimately save lives?
Would you like to develop designs for efficient and safe nuclear power systems that provide power for thousands of homes or even submarines, all while reducing the need for fossil fuels?
The field of nuclear engineering offers unique opportunities to make a real difference by developing uses of nuclear material for medical diagnostic equipment, food production, radioactive-waste disposal facilities, and more!
- Research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation.
- Design, develop, monitor, and operate nuclear plants in order to generate power.
- Work on the nuclear fuel cycle — the production, handling, and use of nuclear fuel and the safe disposal of waste produced by the generation of nuclear energy — or on the development of fusion energy.
- Developing nuclear power sources for naval vessels or spacecraft.
- Finding industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials — for example, in equipment used to diagnose and treat medical problems.
- Designing nuclear equipment, such as reactor cores, radiation shielding, or associated instrumentation to help deliver power to homes and businesses.
- Performing special experiments to test for various methods of using nuclear material.
- Monitoring nuclear facility operations to identify design, construction, or operation practices that violate safety laws and regulations.
- Examining nuclear accidents and gathering data to design preventative measures.
Famous Nuclear Engineers
- Lisa Meitner – Austrian physicist who worked on radioactivity and nuclear physics; part of the team that discovered nuclear fission
- Maria Goeppert Mayer – worked on the Manhattan Project and later won the Nobel Prize in physics for her work in developing the theory of nuclear shell structure
- Leó Szilárd – helped build the first nuclear reactor
- Enrico Fermi – achieved the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction
- Ernest Lawrence – invented the cyclotron, a type of particle accelerator
- Walter Zinn – supervised the construction of the first experimental nuclear reactor
- Jimmy Carter – worked on plans for the first nuclear-powered submarine
Areas of Employment
- Electric power generation/distribution
- Medical research
- Industrial plants
- Construction sites
- Environmental protection
- Strategic defense
- Nuclear fuel design
- Equipment manufacturing
- Consulting firms
- Government institutions including:
- Healthcare facilities
- Regulatory agencies
- National laboratories
- Military service
Career Guidance Suggestions for Pre-University Students
- Advanced algebra
- Engineering fundamentals
- Reactor operations and safety
- Sustainable energy
- Modeling and simulation
- Electromagnetic interactions
- Numerical methods
- Materials in nuclear engineering
- Summer programs
- Afterschool programs
- Online puzzles and games
- Online courses
- Maker Faires
- Design projects
- Science centers and museums
- Professional societies like IEEE
- Analytical skills: identify design elements to build facilities and equipment that produce material needed by various industries.
- Communication skills: convey information effectively with other engineers and technicians.
- Critical thinking skills: order information clearly and logically to design complex systems.
- Problem-solving skills: identify problems before they occur and quickly implement solutions in case of nuclear-related emergencies.
- Operations analysis: analyze needs and product requirements to develop designs.
- Systems analysis: determine how a system should work and identify measures of system performance.
- Detail-oriented: pay close attention in order to ensure the safe operation of nuclear facilities and comply with all laws and regulations.
Links and Resources
- American Nuclear Society: a non-profit, international, scientific, and educational organization that unifies professional activities within the various fields of nuclear science and technology.
- Institute of Nuclear Materials Management: an organization devoted to ensuring the safe, secure, and peaceful stewardship of nuclear materials.
- Institute of Nuclear Power Operations: promotes the highest levels of safety and reliability in the operation of commercial nuclear power plants.
- International Commission on Radiological Protection: developed, maintained, and elaborated the International System of Radiological Protection used worldwide as the common basis for radiological protection standards, legislation, guidelines, programs, and practice.
- World Nuclear Association: an international professional organization that works to promote nuclear energy.
- North American Young Generation in Nuclear: an organization dedicated to helping young professionals in the nuclear industry advance in their careers through networking opportunities, professional awards, and informative documents.
- Nuclear Industry Association: an organization dedicated to improving the commercial performance of the nuclear industry and promoting better understanding of nuclear energy by providing tools for information sharing and networking.
- U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission: created by Congress to ensure the safe use of radioactive materials for beneficial civilian purposes, while protecting people and the environment.
- U.S. National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements: provides guidance and recommendations on radiation protection and measurements which represent the consensus of leading scientific thinking.
- IEEE-Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Nuclear and Plasma Sciences Society: covers the fields of Fusion Technology, Nuclear Medical and Imaging Sciences, Particle Accelerator Science and Technology, Pulsed Power Systems, Radiation Effects, Radiation Instrumentation, Plasma Sciences and Applications, Standards for Nuclear Instruments and Detectors, and Computer Applications in Nuclear and Plasma Sciences.