Nuclear Engineer

    If you are wondering how to become a nuclear engineer, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of engineering, as well as job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Nuclear engineers research and design processes and equipment for the nuclear energy industry. They can be physicists or mechanical, electrical or chemical engineers, who also use specialist knowledge of nuclear physics in their work.

    Most nuclear engineers work in power generation, on tasks such as:
    running nuclear power stations and equipment
    fuel reprocessing
    waste management
    decommissioning nuclear power stations
    radiological protection and safety.

    Typical responsibilities:

    designing and building new plants and equipment
    measuring radiation levels
    planning safe methods of disposing of nuclear waste during decommissioning
    being responsible for security and safety
    supervising power station technicians
    attending meetings and giving presentations.
    Some nuclear engineers work for the medical profession, the military, or in academic or government research.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good nuclear engineers include:

    an interest in science and technology
    problem-solving and analytical skills
    good planning and organisational ability
    excellent mathematical and computer skills
    the ability to manage projects, budgets and people
    good spoken and written communication skills
    the ability to work as part of a team
    respect for safety and the environment.

    How to become a nuclear engineer
    To become a nuclear engineer, you will normally need a BEng degree or BTEC HNC/HND in chemical, mechanical or electrical engineering, or a BSc degree in maths or physics. You may have an advantage with a relevant postgraduate degree as well as a first degree.

    To get onto an engineering or science degree, you will usually need at least five GCSEs (A-C), plus two A levels including maths and a science subject. Some universities offer a foundation year for people without qualifications in maths and science. Please check with colleges or universities for exact entry requirements.

    See the Nuclear Industry Association or websites for details of universities offering degrees and postgraduate courses with nuclear technology content.

    You may be able to start in the nuclear industry as an engineering technician through an apprenticeship scheme (see relevant profiles). The range of Apprenticeships available in your area will depend on the local jobs market and the types of skills employers need from their workers.

    Training and Development
    You will normally be trained on the job, possibly through an employer’s structured graduate training scheme.

    You will usually improve your career prospects by gaining incorporated or chartered engineer status from the Engineering Council and joining a professional engineering body like the Institution of Nuclear Engineers (INucE). Chartered engineers are normally involved in senior strategic management, or in research and development. Incorporated engineers often hold operational management roles.

    See the Engineering Council and INucE websites (in Further Information) for details on how to gain incorporated and chartered engineer status.

    You could also improve your career prospects by taking further postgraduate training, such as the professional development programme offered by the Nuclear Technology Engineering Consortium (NTEC).

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Graduate trainees usually earn between £20,000 and £25,000 a year.
    Experienced engineers can earn between £30,000 and £50,000 a year or more.

    Job Prospects
    You could work in nuclear power generation for BNFL and British Energy, at one of their ten operational sites around the UK. There are also opportunities in the military, universities and medical or government research. A growing number of engineers work on freelance contracts.

    Opportunities for skilled nuclear engineers are good, due to increased research into nuclear power, and the need for safe decommissioning of older nuclear installations.

    Jobs may be advertised in the national press, industry publications and websites like, on employers’ websites and by specialist recruitment agencies.

    Useful engineering resources:
    Institution of Nuclear Engineers
    Allan House
    1 Penerley Road
    SE6 2LQ

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