How to Become a Nuclear Engineer

Nuclear engineers are responsible for the maintenance and safe operation of nuclear facilities. If you have a talent for science and are interested in engineering or nuclear energy perhaps this is the right career path for you.

What do nuclear engineers do?

A Nuclear engineer’s primary function is to ensure that nuclear power plants and other nuclear facilities are running safely and efficiently. Nuclear power plants are essential sources of power for many countries such as the UK. As such the engineers have a very important role maintaining and safeguarding the UK’s infrastructure.

There are, however, other areas that you can specialise in rather than nuclear power such as:

  • Research and development
  • The use of nuclear energy for medicinal purposes
  • The defence industry (Most notably helping with the construction and maintenance of nuclear powered submarines. The maintenance and decommissioning of nuclear weapons is another area that you could specialise in.)

Typical daily activities could include:

  • Planning the design and construction of new nuclear facilities and equipment
  • Carefully measuring and monitoring radiation levels
  • Ensuring that plants meet legal requirements
  • Taking responsibility of security and safety at nuclear facilities
  • Overseeing nuclear technicians
  • Planning how to dispose of nuclear waste safely


Salaries for nuclear engineers vary greatly, but they are not low. It is a very demanding job, as such, you are rewarded with a reasonable pay cheque. Of course as in any industry, the private sector pays more than the public sector but it has less job security.

Entry Level

£20,000 - £25,000


£30,000 -£50,000

Senior Engineer

£50,000 +

Skills required

  • Natural ability in maths and science subjects, especially physics
  • To be a logical and methodical thinker
  • Great communication and teamwork skills
  • Excellent problem solving skills
  • A keen attention to detail
  • Leadership skills
  • Great IT skills
  • Great planning and organisational skills

Qualifications and entry requirements

While there are no nuclear specific undergraduate degrees, there are nuclear energy modules within various other science related courses. Also there are several universities in the UK that offer specific postgraduate courses in topics such as nuclear decommissioning and nuclear energy. A full list can be found at the Nuclear Industry Association and the National Skills Academy for Nuclear.

Despite the lack of nuclear specific undergraduate courses, most employers will usually require at least a 2:2 in one of the following science degrees to be accepted onto a graduate programme. As graduate programmes are usually your best chance of getting a job it is advised that you take this route:

  • Chemical engineering
  • Mechanical engineering
  • Maths
  • Physics
  • Electrical engineering

It is also possible to get into the industry using an apprenticeship scheme and work your way up through the ranks with training. A full list of can be found at Apprenticeships and Cogent.

Career prospects and development

As with any science related field it is constantly changing and evolving. As such you will be expected to continue your professional development throughout your career. Depending on your employer, they may pay for you to take a postgraduate qualification. It is also advisable to become a member of the Engineering Council and work towards achieving incorporated and eventually chartered engineer status.

Career prospects for nuclear engineers in the UK are good. It is a relatively niche area and as such there is not as much competition for positions. It is also an area which is growing in the UK. The number of nuclear power plants in the UK is increasing. The number of people employed in the science and engineering sector is expected to rise from 1440000 in 2014 to 1562000 in 2020.

Nuclear engineers have a demanding role and it is certainly not for everyone. However, if you have a scientific mind and a fascination with nuclear energy then this may be the right career choice for you.