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What does a Nuclear Engineer do?

Are you fascinated by the amount of energy you can derive from the tiny atom? Do you like thinking outside the box, but also analytically, to solve complex problems? Do you think nuclear energy is our best option for clean power? If so, you should consider a career as a nuclear engineer.

Job description: the basics

Nuclear engineers work with nuclear power, developing methods for its use to help humankind and the planet. Although you may think this job is confined to working in a nuclear power plant, doing something like fixing a reactor, nuclear engineering can be applied to many different projects. You could work on a new way to treat diseases using radiation, or develop a method of reducing the pollution that fossil fuels release into the environment. You could even work on exploring the vast reaches of space with the help of nuclear energy.

As a nuclear engineer, you'll have an exciting, though demanding, career ahead of you. There are many different types of challenges you may encounter, whether you're working in a lab or a power plant, on a particle accelerator or an artificial heart. Your work week is likely to be a standard 40-hour week, and most of your time will be spent in an office, lab, or power plant. The creativity and analytical skills you'll often have to use are matched in importance by the need to communicate effectively and have an interest in technology.

Becoming a nuclear engineer: education and training

If you want to be a nuclear engineer, you can expect to spend between 4 and 5 years getting your bachelor's degree, the bare minimum education required for this position. You'll study a wide range of general subjects at first, including mathematics, the sciences, and the humanities, before honing in on your specialty.

After you graduate, you may want to continue your studies and get a master's or a doctorate, either immediately if you intend to teach or do research, or later on as part of your career advancement. Depending upon where you choose to work, you may need to get security clearance or be a United States citizen (this is the case if you work for the federal government).

Salary and career outlook

You can expect a good salary and job outlook in general, per the U.S. Department of Labor, due to the increasing interest in nuclear energy and in safety standards for power plants, as well as in uses for nuclear energy in medical and defense applications.

As your career progresses, you can become a specialist in your area of nuclear engineering, manage a staff of people, or choose to teach at a college or university.

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