How to Become a Nuclear Engineer - Education & Licensure Guide

Find schools


Nuclear engineers develop nuclear equipment such as radiation shielding, reactor cores, and the instrumentation needed to operate and monitor nuclear equipment. They may monitor nuclear power plants for quality control and safety management by identifying design flaws, pinpointing construction and operation problems in complex equipment.

Nuclear engineers may perform testing to see whether the practices used with nuclear material and waste are acceptable to humans and the environment. They may also serve in emergency roles such as during and after nuclear accidents—even managing nuclear power plant shutdowns. Other nuclear engineering applications are in food production, submarine propulsion systems, medicine, industrial production, and nuclear weapon development.

Nuclear engineers work with powerful elements that provide power to much of the world and are simultaneously dangerous to humanity and the environment if not properly controlled and discarded.

These professionals must have the proper education and training to succeed in this field. Nuclear engineers need to have a solid foundation of mathematics, science, observational skills, problem-solving, collaboration, and best safety practices. They must also be aware of how the substances they work with affect humans and the environment. Hands-on experience and the proper degrees and licensing are essential, while additional certifications may add to an engineer’s employability and specialized nuclear engineering focus.

This guide provides a step-by-step path to becoming a nuclear engineer, including information about the time each step typically takes to complete, as well as relevant details about educational programs, licensing, and credentialing.

--<-->=hsd,smc,assc,bach,mrs---->Any--Else--T1==nuke--Select `wp_oep_sb_school_data`.*, `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.* FROM `wp_oep_sb_school_data` JOIN `wp_oep_sb_program_details` ON `wp_oep_sb_school_data`.s_id = `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.s_id WHERE (`wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees = 'hsd' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,hsd,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like 'hsd,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,hsd' OR`wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees = 'smc' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,smc,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like 'smc,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,smc' OR`wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees = 'assc' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,assc,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like 'assc,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,assc' OR`wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees = 'bach' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,bach,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like 'bach,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,bach' OR`wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees = 'mrs' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,mrs,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like 'mrs,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_current_degrees like '%,mrs') AND ( `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_concentration_name = 'nuke' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_concentration_name like '%,nuke,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_concentration_name like 'nuke,%' OR `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_concentration_name like '%,nuke' ) AND `wp_oep_sb_school_data`.s_active = 'Yes'AND `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_active = 'yes' ORDER BY CASE `wp_oep_sb_school_data`.s_id WHEN 11 THEN 1 WHEN 10 THEN 2 WHEN 85 THEN 3 WHEN 87 THEN 4 WHEN 6 THEN 5 WHEN 9 THEN 6 WHEN 36 THEN 7 WHEN 20 THEN 8 WHEN 89 THEN 9 WHEN 14 THEN 10 WHEN 92 THEN 11 WHEN 93 THEN 12 WHEN 83 THEN 13 WHEN 7 THEN 14 WHEN 8 THEN 15 WHEN 30 THEN 16 WHEN 91 THEN 17 WHEN 90 THEN 18 WHEN 84 THEN 19 WHEN 88 THEN 20 WHEN 86 THEN 21 WHEN 39 THEN 22 WHEN 63 THEN 23 WHEN 62 THEN 24 WHEN 64 THEN 25 WHEN 66 THEN 26 WHEN 65 THEN 27 WHEN 69 THEN 28 WHEN 42 THEN 29 WHEN 81 THEN 30 WHEN 78 THEN 31 WHEN 79 THEN 32 WHEN 80 THEN 33 WHEN 67 THEN 34 WHEN 43 THEN 35 WHEN 75 THEN 36 WHEN 82 THEN 37 WHEN 74 THEN 38 WHEN 44 THEN 39 WHEN 73 THEN 40 WHEN 45 THEN 41 WHEN 76 THEN 42 WHEN 46 THEN 43 WHEN 77 THEN 44 WHEN 68 THEN 45 WHEN 47 THEN 46 WHEN 72 THEN 47 WHEN 70 THEN 48 WHEN 71 THEN 49 WHEN 48 THEN 50 WHEN 49 THEN 51 WHEN 50 THEN 52 WHEN 51 THEN 53 WHEN 52 THEN 54 WHEN 53 THEN 55 WHEN 54 THEN 56 WHEN 55 THEN 57 WHEN 56 THEN 58 WHEN 57 THEN 59 WHEN 58 THEN 60 WHEN 59 THEN 61 WHEN 60 THEN 62 WHEN 61 THEN 63 WHEN 13 THEN 64 WHEN 41 THEN 65 WHEN 40 THEN 66 WHEN 2 THEN 67 WHEN 38 THEN 68 WHEN 37 THEN 69 WHEN 31 THEN 70 WHEN 32 THEN 71 WHEN 33 THEN 72 WHEN 34 THEN 73 WHEN 15 THEN 74 WHEN 26 THEN 75 WHEN 24 THEN 76 WHEN 22 THEN 77 WHEN 19 THEN 78 WHEN 3 THEN 79 WHEN 5 THEN 80 WHEN 17 THEN 81 WHEN 27 THEN 82 WHEN 12 THEN 83 WHEN 16 THEN 84 WHEN 23 THEN 85 WHEN 28 THEN 86 WHEN 25 THEN 87 WHEN 29 THEN 88 WHEN 21 THEN 89 WHEN 1 THEN 90 WHEN 18 THEN 91 WHEN 4 THEN 92 WHEN 35 THEN 93 ELSE 99 END ASC, `wp_oep_sb_program_details`.p_name
Featured Nuclear Engineering Programs
Arizona State University Nuclear Power Generation (Graduate Certificate)Visit Site
Norwich University Online MBA - Energy ManagementVisit Site

THANK YOU FOR YOUR INTEREST IN Southern New Hampshire University Online MS - Construction Management

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering (Four Years)

Nuclear engineers must earn at least a bachelor’s degree to secure an entry-level position. Some jobs require a master’s or special certifications. Aspiring nuclear engineering students should look for programs accredited by the Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET). ABET accreditation plays a crucial role in ensuring a quality education that meets high standards. ABET accreditation may also be required for some graduate nuclear engineering programs, financial aid opportunities, and even future employers.

Students can earn ABET-accredited degrees online or on campus. Those who choose online nuclear engineering programs can usually satisfy hands-on, practical requirements within their home communities or through summer labs on campus.

Nuclear engineering bachelor’s programs provide the foundation students need to secure employment, become licensed, earn certifications, and continue to graduate school. Students can also choose to study in related fields before securing a graduate degree in nuclear engineering.

Students should seek programs that offer hands-on, collaborative learning, thus developing skills such as logical thinking, in-depth analysis, exceptional oral and written communication, problem-solving, and mathematics. Some colleges and universities offer combined five-year bachelor’s and master’s degrees, an accelerated option for students who can handle the workload, saving money and time.

Admissions Requirements – Nuclear Engineering Bachelor’s Programs

Every nuclear engineering program establishes its own admissions criteria. Typically the more rigorous the program, the more elevated the requirements, such as more competitive GPAs, exams, and even admissions interviews with faculty. Here are some examples of typical admission requirements from actual nuclear engineering schools:

  • Minimum high school cumulative GPA of 3.0
  • Successful completion of prerequisite courses such as chemistry, physics, algebra, trigonometry, and calculus
  • No deficiencies in certain areas such as mathematics, science, or English
  • SAT or ACT scores
  • Admissions essay or statement of purpose
  • Completion of the FAFSA (financial aid form)

Typical Courses – Nuclear Engineering Bachelor’s Programs

Bachelor’s programs in nuclear engineering usually offer various learning modes, including classroom, lab, and field-based learning. Most programs require students to fulfill general education requirement courses and core classes focusing on the field of nuclear engineering. Some typical courses in undergraduate nuclear engineering programs are:

  • Nuclear criticality safety engineering
  • Radiation protection engineering
  • Nuclear radiation detection
  • Nuclear reactor physics
  • Introduction to plasma physics and fusion engineering
  • Radiation physics
  • Reactor engineering
  • Nuclear chemical engineering
  • Nuclear radiological engineering design
  • Nuclear regulatory requirements
  • Light water reactor technology
  • Radiation sources and applications
  • Radiological assessment and waste management

Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree in Nuclear Engineering (Two Years)

Although a master’s degree is not necessarily required to enter the nuclear engineering field, it can broaden one’s access to job opportunities, especially in more advanced positions, academia, and management. Nuclear engineering master’s degree students often specialize in nuclear science and technology, nuclear fission technology, applied plasma physics, or radiation detection and application.

Admissions Requirements – Nuclear Engineering Master’s Programs

The following admission requirements are taken from real schools across the United States. Note that requirements can vary significantly from one program to the next. For example, some master’s programs only admit candidates who have a certain number of years of professional work experience in engineering, while others accept students right from bachelor’s programs:

  • An ABET-accredited bachelor’s of science degree in engineering or a related discipline
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0 on the last 60 hours of undergraduate coursework
  • Official score reports from the GMAT, GRE, or MAT meeting the minimum score requirements
  • Official undergraduate transcripts
  • Professional resume or curriculum vitae with qualifying experience
  • Statement of purpose
  • Required essays

Typical Courses – Nuclear Engineering Master’s Programs

Students earning master’s degrees in nuclear engineering complete a combination of core engineering coursework and electives that reflect their area of interest or formal concentration. Here are some examples of nuclear engineering master’s program courses:

  • Nuclear fuel management
  • Transport fundamentals
  • Plasma physics
  • Radiological safety
  • Reactor physics
  • Advanced nuclear engineering design
  • Design principles of reactor systems
  • Radiation physics
  • Radioactive waste control
  • Reactor engineering

Step 3: Establish State Licensure (Timeline Varies)

Most nuclear engineers cannot practice independently without being licensed. According to the National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES), individual states set licensing requirements, which means they can vary. The Council advises students to examine licensing requirements in the state where they intend to secure a position as an engineer. Students can research state requirements through the NCEES.

Some states require nuclear engineering students and recent graduates to earn special Engineer in Training (EIT) or Engineer Intern (EI) licenses by passing the Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam, which tests for a minimum level of competency in the engineering field chosen.

Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) Exam for Engineers in Training

The FE exam verifies candidates have the foundational safety and engineering knowledge necessary to work in the field. The NCEES offers FE exams in several concentrations, and nuclear engineers can take the FE – Chemical Engineering or FE – Other Disciplines. According to NCEES official website, these exams explore knowledge in the following areas:

  • Math
  • Probability and statistics
  • Engineering sciences
  • Computational tools
  • Instrumentation and data acquisition
  • Chemistry
  • Materials science
  • Engineering economics
  • Statics
  • Electricity, power, and magnetism
  • Fluid mechanics/dynamics of liquids and gases
  • Material/energy balances
  • Mass transfer and separation
  • Heat and energy transfer
  • Chemical reaction engineering
  • Process design and economics
  • Safety, health, and environment
  • Process control
  • Ethics and professional practice

Undergraduate nuclear engineering curricula are often designed with FE exam requirements in mind. Students seeking licensure can usually find this information online or by contacting the academic department overseeing the program.

Step 4: Get Practical Experience in the Field (One to Four Years)

Nuclear engineering graduates who meet state practice requirements, including those related to EIT or EI licensing, can enter the engineering workforce, but only under the direction of a professional engineer (PE), as discussed below. Work and any practical experience completed in bachelor’s or master’s nuclear engineering programs can prepare new engineers to eventually become PEs themselves. Most board and professional certifications also require a certain number of years in the field.

Step 5: Become a Professional Engineer (PE) in Nuclear Engineering (Four Years or More)

Like master’s degrees in nuclear engineering, a professional engineering license is a voluntary but valuable credential. Professional engineers (PEs) typically enjoy higher earnings and advancement potential than non-credentialed peers. They can also complete a wider variety of tasks such as starting private businesses, managing major projects, mentoring EIT and EIs, serving the public directly, and bidding on government contracts.

PE Licensing Requirements

Nuclear engineers must meet the following criteria to become licensed professional engineers:

  • A degree from an ABET-accredited engineering program
  • A passing score on the Principles and Practice of Engineering Nuclear Exam
  • Relevant work experience, typically at least four years
  • A passing score on the Fundamentals of Engineering Exam for Nuclear Engineers, choosing either the FE – Mechanical or FE – Other Disciplines

Principles and Practice of Engineering Exam for Engineers

This exam is designed for nuclear engineers who have gained a minimum of four years of post-graduate work experience. Some details about the exam are:

  • Length: 8.5-hour exam with 85 questions
  • Pencil-and-paper format
  • Offered once per year in October
  • The exam uses both the International System of Units (SI) and the US Customary System (USCS)

Engineers can prepare for the exam by reviewing the PE exam specifications, understanding scoring and reporting, studying the reference materials and supplied guide, and viewing the most up-to-date PE exam pass rates. Students are also encouraged to familiarize themselves with the designated state licensing board’s unique registration procedures before registering for a PE exam. According to NCEES official website, the PE Nuclear exam explores knowledge in the following areas:

  • Nuclear power systems design and analysis
  • Nuclear power systems components and systems
  • Nuclear power systems regulations, codes, and standards
  • Nuclear fuel cycle fuel design and analysis
  • Nuclear fuel cycle handling, shipping, and storage
  • Interaction of radiation with matter analysis and protection
  • Nuclear criticality, kinetics, and neutrons

Step 6: Consider Board and Professional Nuclear Engineering Certifications (At Least Eight Years)

Similar to the certification as a professional engineer, board and professional certifications are another way to advance a career in nuclear engineering. These focus on niche areas and demonstrate that a nuclear engineer is an expert in the field, whether on a broad or narrow scope. The following are the most common types of advanced certifications.

ABSNM Board Certification

The American Board of Science in Nuclear Medicine (ABSNM) offers certifications in the following specialties: nuclear physics and instrumentation, radiopharmaceutical science; radiation protection; and molecular imaging. A certificate from the ABSNM validates that its holder has successfully completed the specific study and professional experience requirements, which the Board deems necessary to hold an adequate foundation in nuclear medicine science.

Candidates must pass an exam testifying to this ability and competence in the field. The following requirements are taken from the ABSNM examination and certification outlines.

Requirements for the Nuclear Medicine Physics and Instrumentation Specialty – Candidates must hold a master’s or a doctorate degree in physics, medical physics, engineering, applied mathematics, or other physical sciences from an accredited college or university; and two to three years of practical training and/or supervised experience in medical physics under qualifying supervision.

Requirements for the Radiopharmaceutical Science Specialty – Candidates must hold a master’s or a doctorate degree in physics, nuclear pharmacy, biological science, radiopharmaceutical science, chemistry, or other pharmaceutical science from an accredited college or university, and have three years of full-time practical training and/or experience in radiopharmaceutical science under the supervision of an authorized nuclear pharmacist.

Requirements for the Radiation Protection Specialty – Candidates must hold a master’s or a doctorate degree from an accredited college or university in physical science, engineering, health physics, or biological science with a minimum of 20 college credits in physical science, and have five or more years of professional experience in health physics including at least three years in applied health physics.

Requirements Molecular Imaging Specialty – Candidates must hold a master’s, a professional degree, or a doctorate degree from an accredited college or university in physics, medical physics, chemistry, biological sciences, engineering, applied mathematics, or other natural sciences, and have two to three years of full-time practical training and/or supervised experience in molecular imaging science under the supervision of an authorized nuclear medicine scientist or certified physician.

Graduate Certificates – Nuclear Engineering

Several nuclear engineering schools offer graduate certificates or other certificates in the nuclear engineering field. These certifications may give nuclear engineers an edge when competing for jobs or advancements. Examples of some certificates include:

Career and Salary Projections for Nuclear Engineers

Prospective nuclear engineers may be interested in finding out potential earnings and job growth projections for the future. Fortunately for people seeking careers in this field, nuclear engineering is relatively lucrative and secure concerning future job opportunities.

Nuclear Engineering Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020), nuclear engineers earned a mean annual salary of $105,950, with higher wages reaching upwards of $150,000 per year. States with the most positions for nuclear engineers are Washington, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania. In more precise terms, here’s a breakdown of national salary data in nuclear engineering:

United States (15,780 nuclear engineers employed): $125,130 average

  • 10th percentile: $74,800
  • 25th percentile: $92,440
  • 50th percentile (median): $116,140
  • 75th percentile: $143,000
  • 90th percentile: $185,550

Also, data from PayScale (June 2021)—a site for self-reported salaries—suggests that nuclear engineers with project management, systems engineering, and nuclear energy/nuclear power skills tend to earn more. In 2021, PayScale reported the average annual salary for nuclear engineers was $88,187. The lowest 10th percentile earned $64,000 or less, while the top 10th percentile earned $132,000 or more.

Career Outlook in Nuclear Engineering

The BLS (2021) projected that nuclear engineering employment would decrease between 2019 and 2029—an expected loss of 2,100 jobs nationwide. Although positions in electric power generation are projected to decline, increases in the fields of research and development in engineering and scientific, management, and technical consulting services are expected.

Helpful Resources and Professional Organizations in Nuclear Engineering

Lastly, professional and educational nuclear engineering organizations support students and professionals throughout their careers. They provide career and training information, professional networking opportunities, continuing education courses, and more. Now-and-future nuclear engineers may find the following agencies helpful:

  • Accreditation Board of Engineering and Technology (ABET)
  • American Nuclear Society (ANS)
  • American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE)
  • Institute of Nuclear Materials Management (INMM)
  • International Commision on Radiation Units and Measurement (ICRU)
  • Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO)
  • International Commision on Radiological Protection (ICRP)
  • National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES)
  • National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE)
  • World Nuclear Society (WNS)
  • U.S. Department of Energy
  • U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (U.S.NRC)
  • International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
  • Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA)
  • U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA)
  • Nuclear Medicine Technology Certification Board (NMTCB)
  • American College of Nuclear Medicine (ACNM)
  • American Board of Science in Nuclear Medicine (ABSNM)
  • Society of Women Engineers (SWE)

Related Articles

Exceptional Nuclear Engineering Professors

From radiological medicine and power generation to national defense and hydrogen cell creation, it is difficult to overstate the impact nuclear engineers can have on our world and lives. Meet these exceptional professors of nuclear engineering.