Nuclear Engineering: Duties, How To Pursue And Salary

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 21 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Nuclear engineering is about the production and application of nuclear energy and the uses of radiation and radioactive materials. Most nuclear engineers design, construct and operate nuclear power plants which generate electric power and make discoveries which are helpful in other fields like medicine, energy and engineering. If you are interested in nuclear science and want to conduct further research in this field, knowing more about this profession can help you decide if it is the right career path for you. In this article, we discuss the scope, salary, job description, educational requirements and necessary skills relevant to this field.

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What Is Nuclear Engineering?

Nuclear engineering concerns itself with the breakdown or combination of atomic nuclei, or with the application of other sub-atomic processes based on the principles of nuclear physics. Nuclear science is about studying atomic nuclei and exploiting their energy to serve different purposes of humankind. It is useful in agriculture, mining, medicine, electricity production, art, industrial processes, cosmology and space exploration. Nuclear engineers and physicists study the structure and property of the nucleus found in an atom to understand how the universe works and discover new pathways for scientific innovations.

A nuclear scientist is a combination of a physicist and an engineer. They use math and analytical skills to develop instruments and processes related to radiation and nuclear energy. They take care of every stage in the production of nuclear energy, from the processing of nuclear fuels to the disposal of radioactive wastes from nuclear reactors. While some nuclear engineers may work in spacecraft and develop special nuclear tools and power sources for spaceships, others may develop systems for medical use, like proton therapy for cancer patients.

Related: Different Types Of Physicists (With Duties And Skills)

Nuclear Engineer Salary And Job Duties

The national average salary of nuclear engineers in India is ₹10,00,00 per year. The actual figure is likely to vary depending on qualifications, experience, position and company. As for the job description, nuclear engineers are usually responsible for finding safe ways to use nuclear energy to solve some of the world's problems.

While specific tasks may vary depending on the position, you are likely to encounter the following responsibilities as a nuclear engineer:

  • Meeting and collaborating with clients and engineering teams to define project briefs and technical requirements

  • Developing nuclear equipment, including radiation shielding, reactor cores, cooling systems and control mechanisms

  • Running simulations to ensure the safety and functionality of designs

  • Operating and maintaining nuclear power plants and ensuring safety standards are being met

  • Monitoring nuclear facilities, machinery and equipment for malfunctions, defects or degradation

  • Supervising the loading of fuel onto nuclear reactors and overseeing technicians who use radiation technology

  • Designing instructions on how to dispose of nuclear waste in a power plant operation

  • Performing tests on nuclear materials and their use, including reclamation of nuclear fuel

  • Designing preventative measures for nuclear energy and radiation at operations sites

  • Taking corrective actions or ordering plant shutdowns in emergencies

  • Developing new concepts of thermonuclear analysis and new uses of radioactive processes

  • Researching new applications for nuclear energy in the industrial or medical field

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How To Become A Nuclear Engineer

To become a nuclear scientist, you can go through the following educational path:

1. Choose science at the higher secondary level

It is necessary to have a science background, like physics, chemistry and computer science and maths in your 10+2, as this type of engineering relies heavily on applying mathematical models and scientific principles. Advanced knowledge of physics and chemistry is essential. You also need a minimum of 50% in your 10th and 12th exams from a recognised board. After that, to get into an engineering college, you may sit for entrance exams like the Joint Entrance Examination (JEE) Main and JEE Advanced.

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2. Get a graduate degree in engineering

The basic criteria to qualify as a nuclear engineer is to have a bachelor's degree in nuclear science, physics or nuclear engineering. If you take the engineering route, passing the JEE Mains or Advanced is essential. For some colleges, you may also require giving entrance exams for graduate degrees in physics or nuclear science. Taking English language classes is also helpful at this stage for the ease of conducting and publishing research work.

Related: Guide: Career Options After Completing B.Sc. In Physics

3. Opt for a master's degree afterwards

Though you can start working directly after your graduation, doing a post-graduation can be helpful for this profession, especially if you want to pursue managerial, academic or research positions. You can get your master's degree in nuclear science or physics or ME or M.Tech in a related field. To do so, you may sit for entrance examinations like the Graduate Aptitude Test in Engineering (GATE). You can also do a five-year program that lets you complete both your bachelor's and master's degrees in five years' time.

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4. Start working

You can begin working either after your graduation or your post-graduation in nuclear science fields like nuclear power, energy and medicine employ nuclear medicine technologists, nuclear physicists and nuclear engineers. This can help you find employment in academia, government organisations like energy research substations and energy organisations, private research development and control labs, product development organisations and medical research labs.

At an entry-level job in this field, you may undergo onsite training for a few months in safety procedures, practices and regulations, before you can work independently. There may also be annual training to keep updating your knowledge and skills and staying updated on the latest trends in the field.

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5. Complete your PhD

If you are interested in nuclear science research, getting a doctorate degree may be useful for you. PhD in nuclear physics or engineering requires a master's degree in a relevant discipline with a minimum of 55% marks from a recognised institution and five years of teaching, industry, administration or professional experience at a senior level. To get your doctorate degree, you require completing a research study, usually with a professor, on a government or private research grant and then publishing your work, which can normally take three to five years.

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6. Get certified

Nuclear engineers can get additional certification and become licensed professional engineers (PEs). To do so, they require a minimum of five years of professional experience, membership in a recognised professional society and meet minimum Continuous Professional Development (CPD) requirements. Licensure is not mandatory for entry-level positions as a nuclear engineer, but you can apply to the PE cell to acquire higher levels of leadership and independence later in your career. As a certified PE, you can oversee the work of other engineers, sign off on projects and provide services directly to the public.

Important Skills For A Nuclear Engineer

To become a nuclear engineer, it is necessary to possess these basic soft skills and personal qualities that can make you successful in your profession:

Mathematical and computer skills

Nuclear engineers use mathematical concepts and computer skills to solve problems and design solutions to the issues related to nuclear materials. Besides exceptional knowledge and understanding of science, nuclear engineers require a great command over concepts like algebra, calculus, trigonometry and geometry. As most modern engineering work relies significantly on technology, knowing how to use engineering software is also often vital.

Problem-solving skills

Nuclear engineers' jobs involve determining the causes of operating errors and deciding what to do about them. People with impeccable problem-solving capacity can easily resolve issues related to new tools or designs. This involves identifying complex problems, reviewing related information, developing and evaluating options and implementing solutions.

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Analytical skills

Nuclear engineers manage the production of nuclear material and build the facilities required for the production. Possessing excellent analytical skills can help analyse the operations and systems involved in this process. This includes analysing needs and product requirements to create a design and determining the working principle of a system depending on changes in conditions, operations and the environment.

Attention to detail

As nuclear engineers often operate in highly hazardous environments, being detail-oriented is essential. Because of this, knowing the minute details of processes and systems, checking for defects or errors and ensuring everyone follows the correct procedures to ensure overall health safety is important. A detail-oriented person is also likely to maintain accuracy and increase efficiency and ensure all the systems are working optimally.

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Communication skills

Nuclear engineers usually require both verbal and written communication skills throughout their careers. Verbal communication helps them collaborate with other engineers and professionals in their workplace. Similarly, written communication skills are helpful in publishing research papers and making instruction manuals or documents for designing special equipment or systems.

Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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