What is a nuclear engineering degree? (Jobs and benefits)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published 21 April 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 a crucial industry where specialised training and expertise supports a wide range of different projects. Qualified nuclear engineers can work on sites across the country and abroad in research, development, decommissioning and advisor roles. As a varied sector with high demand, graduates have many opportunities for different career paths and areas of expertise. In this article, we cover what a nuclear engineering degree is, different types of degrees, what you learn and the jobs you could get.

What is a nuclear engineering degree?

A nuclear engineering degree is a qualification that provides the knowledge and expertise to work in various industries and sectors involved in nuclear power, testing and development. As a specialised qualification, nuclear engineering covers nuclear processes, theory and practical engineering applications for nuclear science. The contents of degrees in nuclear engineering may be vocational, providing the training and expertise necessary to work in specific industries. Nuclear science degrees may cover more of the theoretical and academic areas of nuclear study.

What are the levels of nuclear engineering degrees?

Nuclear engineering qualifications are available at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels, with the ability to specialise during your time in education. For example, some students may choose to complete a bachelor's degree in a relevant area such as physics or mechanical engineering before specialising in nuclear engineering at a master's level. The levels of degrees you can get include:

Degree apprenticeship

Degree apprenticeships are vocational qualifications typically sponsored and run by businesses requiring talented nuclear engineers. Unlike a traditional degree, degree apprenticeships involve working in a relevant environment and learning on the job supplemented by training and lessons at degree level. Energy companies, laboratories and military organisations may offer degree apprenticeships to train employees directly. Typically, a degree apprenticeship takes three to four years to complete before being fully qualified.

Undergraduate degree

A bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering is the entry-level qualification for working in the nuclear industry. Usually, an undergraduate degree in this field is a Bachelor of Engineering and covers various nuclear technical and practical foundations. Most undergraduate degrees in nuclear engineering don't have a specialisation, providing a general overview that applies to the whole industry. An undergraduate degree typically lasts three years with an extra year for placement if available.

Postgraduate degree

A master's degree in nuclear engineering is a requirement for many senior jobs and opportunities in energy, nuclear management and development. Completing a master's in nuclear engineering takes a year and can provide additional knowledge to apply in various working environments. Students learn about the science and guidelines for nuclear reactors, infrastructure, systems and integrity, in addition to specialised modules that can include decommissioning, safety, radiation and other in-depth areas.

Related: The best master's degrees to increase your earning potential

Doctorate

A PhD in nuclear engineering is a high-level qualification that you may choose if your goal is to work in nuclear research or an academic position. At doctorate level, students can specialise in their particular area of interest for nuclear engineering from theorising new systems to testing and exploring safety features for decommissioning and radiation protection in nuclear facilities. A PhD in nuclear engineering typically lasts three years and involves advanced research techniques and skills.

What do you learn during a degree in nuclear engineering?

The subjects you study during a degree in nuclear engineering can vary depending on the level of qualification you are studying. At the undergraduate level, you learn the foundations of nuclear practices and processes, while PhD students use their advanced knowledge to research and complete studies. Some of the key subjects you may cover in a nuclear engineering degree include:

  • engineering mathematics

  • chemistry

  • electronics

  • thermodynamics

  • process engineering

  • decommissioning

  • electro magnetics

  • instrumentation and control

  • power engineering

  • nuclear engineering

  • nuclear medicine

  • physics

What are the career opportunities?

These degrees offer various career paths in different sectors and industries. For example, you could work as a specialist in radiation management at a decommissioning plant or work in the military, designing and developing nuclear submarines. Some jobs you could consider with this degree include:

1. Chemical engineer

Average salary: £35,136 per year

Primary duties: Chemical engineers work in process plants and treatment centres to help manage nuclear radiation, design solutions for used nuclear fuel and create equipment for treatment processes. A degree in nuclear engineering can provide the foundations for chemical engineer roles that work directly with nuclear power and decommissioning. Chemical engineers use their specialist skills in multiple sectors from government-run initiatives to private energy companies.

Related: 10 highest-paid engineering jobs (duties and salary info)

2. Hydraulic engineer

Average salary: £31,388 per year

Primary duties: Hydraulic engineers specialise in the management, design and development of hydraulic systems. Pneumatic systems and water cooling are vital components in nuclear energy plants alongside other technology, making trained hydraulic engineers in demand in the energy sector. A qualification in nuclear engineering can offer insight into the safety requirements and standards required when working with nuclear systems.

3. Electrical engineer

Average salary: £35,665 per year

Primary duties: Electrical engineers are professionals who design, manage and refine the systems surrounding nuclear energy generation. For example, an electrical engineer may design safety systems to protect employees in a nuclear reactor. A degree in nuclear engineering can provide the base knowledge required to work with nuclear power as a skilled engineer.

4. Health and safety specialist

Average salary: £35,866 per year

Primary duties: Health and safety specialists work independently or for businesses to ensure the proper controls and safety measures are in place in any environment where radioactive materials are used. Nuclear safety specialists understand nuclear energy risks and safety concerns for employees and the local environment. Qualifying as a nuclear engineer can provide insight into how nuclear systems work and the safety measures in place at various nuclear sites.

5. Control engineer

Average salary: £41,260 per year

Primary duties: Control engineers implement, design and maintain processes that keep productivity high in various workplaces. These roles are essential in nuclear engineering applications in the military and the energy sector to improve functionality and profitability. Completing a qualification in nuclear engineering can provide knowledge of the nuclear industry to help control engineers find new and innovative solutions.

6. Reactor operator

Average salary: £32,243 per year

Primary duties: A reactor operator works in a nuclear power plant or any other reactor, overseeing and managing daily operations to maintain safety and productivity. Responsibilities for this role include monitoring equipment and systems, adjusting controls as required and responding to abnormalities. A degree in nuclear engineering supports reactor operators in understanding the processes of reactor operation and the science behind these practices.

7. Researcher

Average salary: £29,628 per year

Primary duties: A nuclear engineering researcher uses their expertise and knowledge to develop and improve their understanding of nuclear energy and processes. Researchers use their expertise in nuclear energy to test, experiment and hypothesise new and improved ways to use nuclear energy. Researchers typically hold a PhD in nuclear engineering and work in laboratory environments.

8. Lecturer

Average salary: £33,823 per year

Primary duties: A lecturer teaches students at college and university levels about a range of specialist subjects. For example, with a high-level degree or PhD in nuclear engineering, they may lecture on decommissioning techniques or nuclear safety. Some lecturers have experience in the nuclear engineering industry following qualifications before returning to education further on in their careers.

What are the benefits of getting this degree?

Obtaining a degree in nuclear engineering can provide access to a range of opportunities. For example, you could choose to continue your education to become a researcher, join a career in the military or work in a nuclear power plant. Some benefits of getting this degree include:

Work in an in-demand industry

Nuclear energy and other nuclear applications are in demand with many businesses offering apprenticeships and incentives to work in this sector. If you would like a career in engineering, nuclear engineering may be a suitable choice for providing a range of different career options. Nuclear engineers can work domestically and abroad, offering even more opportunities for career advancement.

Increase in income

Qualified nuclear engineers earn a higher salary with pay increasing at senior and expert levels. Jobs in nuclear engineering are also available across various sectors, providing the ability to seek higher income opportunities in many companies. For example, you could work with the government, in an energy company or as part of a research laboratory.

Related: 9 of the highest paying science jobs (with salaries)

Varied career opportunities

Nuclear engineering roles span a wide range of specialisations and areas of expertise. For example, you could choose to work as an operator in a nuclear power plant or become a specialist in decommissioning processes. These varied opportunities make a degree in nuclear engineering a versatile choice if you're unsure exactly what career you would like to go into.

Opportunities for further learning

A bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering provides a foundation for specialised training if you have specific goals and aims for your career. For example, completing a BEng in nuclear engineering can allow you to pursue a targeted master's degree in hydraulic engineering for nuclear facilities. Nuclear engineering also provides the opportunity to seek adjacent career paths such as working in health and safety or manufacturing.

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.

Related:

  • Foundation degree guide (plus universities offering them)


Explore more articles