What should you expect from a career in nuclear engineering?

Combine a love of science with a generous salary and you’ve got a fantastic reason for working as a nuclear engineer. Going into such a high profile industry is obviously going to raise a lot of questions for candidates, so here’s an idea of what to expect from a career as a nuclear engineer.

Education

Nuclear engineers are expected to be highly educated. The workforce is almost entirely from a background of academic engineering degrees and the entry requirements are steep.

While a single engineering degree can get you an entry level position as a nuclear engineer, with a few catering specifically to nuclear, a postgraduate degree is essential to progress. If you want to get ahead then be prepared to study for it. Most high level positions can only be achieved from a masters or doctorate.

Once you have the job it’s important to make time to undertake all the training that is offered to you. This will be a mixture of mentoring, knowledge sharing, in-house short courses and frequent safety top-up courses. These are essential to make the most of your position and maintain the rigorous standards that are expected of all nuclear engineers.

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Work environment

This can vary from role to role. Nuclear engineers can work in all parts of the business, doing everything from exercising your technical skills to getting involved in research projects. The variety of roles also includes a variety of working hours, which can vary from a standard 40-hour week to shift-based work or mandatory overtime if the project requires it. The hours can be long however the salary and benefits will reflect this.

It is also important to remember how precise and pressurised the daily life of a nuclear engineer can be. While nuclear is a clean and safe energy source, it requires extremely careful regulations and monitoring, which can lead to engineers coming under a lot of scrutiny. You’ll need to prepare for frequent safety checks and regulations, with external inspections from a variety of sources. This can include private watchdogs, government representatives and environmental organisations.

Daily tasks and projects

Nuclear engineers can work on a huge range of projects. From design and development to monitoring and maintaining, there’s a whole range of disciplines that you can move into. Most of these can be achieved by taking the relevant training courses.

As with other engineers, most of a nuclear engineer’s day will be spent in a large, technical environment. From theoretical work in the lab to monitoring live reactors, you’ll be acting as part of a larger team. Communication between departments is also essential; data is shared throughout different specialisms working on other parts of the same project.

Roles, progression and salaries

Nuclear offers a stable and secure job for many nuclear engineers, and due to the highly educated and specialist nature of the role, they are often in demand. A graduate nuclear engineer should expect a salary of around £20,000, whereas more experienced engineers anything up to and over £50,000.

Progression is achievable with the correct training and there is a choice between managerial positions or taking a senior but still hands on role.

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