Getting Into Nuclear Engineering in the UK| Originally published at www.getintonuclear.com
You could be forgiven for thinking that this should have / would have been our first post given the title of the website. Well regardless of the timing we hope that this post will provide you with a great insight into getting into nuclear engineering.
We’ve taken information from a number of sources (referenced throughout our post) to compliment our in-house knowledge to hopefully provide a one-stop shop of information on getting into nuclear engineering in the UK Nuclear Industry. There is a plethora of information out there, not all UK specific and not all available in one place — this was one of the main reasons for the advent of getintonuclear.com.
Okay so lets get to the question at hand.
How to Become a Nuclear Engineer — Nuclear Engineer Career
How to Become a Nuclear Engineer: Career Path Guide
“Those who become nuclear engineers are typically individuals who are detail-oriented, have a high degree of mental focus and discipline, and they have a natural aptitude in physics and mathematics. They are individuals that have a keen interest in science and technology, as well as a professional interest in ensuring nuclear energy systems are created safely and efficiently.
In order to become a nuclear engineer, you will also need the emotional and intellectual capacity to complete all of the necessary academic work. You will also need a high stress tolerance, as this is required for when you don’t achieve immediate results in your work. In order to succeed in a career as a nuclear engineer, you must be able to visualize complex processes, and you must be very precise in your work activities and when you perform calculations.” Academic Invest
So you want to work in …
the nuclear power industry
The nuclear industry in the UK is a long established with a proud history. And in recent years with the key decisions around nuclear energy and defence in the UK the industries employees is set to rocket from 65,000 employees to over 100,000. Nuclear can sometimes be a contentious topic particularly when considering nuclear energy and the UK nuclear deterrent but there are many roles available within other sectors of decommissioning (the cleaning up on the legacy waste from previous year) and the medical arena.
So why would you consider getting into nuclear?
Working in nuclear in the UK allows you to be a part of some of the most varying, exciting and challenging projects of our time. And as such the UK nuclear industry attracts the smartest people in the country who have the drive and passion to provide innovative nuclear solutions that allow the industry to thrive and to continue to move forward in the right direction.
Due to the removal of the requirement for further nuclear reactors following the boom of the 1980’s, recruitment in the industry has remained pretty stagnated during the 90’s and 00’s. However, the industry is on the crest of a wave and is set to boom in the coming years so that time has never been better for anyone trying to get into nuclear.
The key people set to benefit are graduates who have a science or engineering background. Even though they have not necessarily completed a nuclear specific course the skills are what are required for the nuclear industry over the coming years. Look into grad schemes here!
This does not preclude other roles which are required in the industry ranging with machinist, welder, inspector, site worker, administration clerk — there is literally an opportunity for anyone who meets the vetting requirements.
As discussed there is a clear requirement for a vast array of engineers, electricians, plumbers, bricklayers, construction works which need to be skilled of course but one thing that the nuclear industry has been doing to help the nuclear specialist in getting into nuclear is to try and make it more worthwhile from a monetary perspective [examples of this?].
Additionally to the salaries available and their attractiveness a lot of workers feel that they are making a positive impact on the environment sleep easy knowing I am helping to provide much-needed reliable energy when the country in is the midst of a crisis. The nuclear industry is not as bad as it is made out to be.
What is a Nuclear Engineer?
Nuclear engineers are engineers that design and develop nuclear equipment, as well as conduct research into problems surrounding nuclear energy systems. Nuclear engineers may also monitor the testing of and operate nuclear reactors.
New graduates that choose to become nuclear engineers typically begin their careers by working under the supervision of nuclear engineers that are more experienced in the field. As more experience and knowledge is gained, nuclear engineers typically take on projects of increasing levels of difficulty or responsibility.
With enough experience, knowledge and professional competence, nuclear engineers may move on to become specialists in a certain area, or may supervise a team of engineers or technicians. They may also move into other areas, such as technical sales or executive management.
With a master’s degree in engineering, or supplementary education medical science, nuclear engineers may also move into the field of medical physics.
Nuclear Engineer Job Description
Nuclear engineers may have different job responsibilities; depending on which field they choose to apply their knowledge in. Nuclear engineers may:
- Work to design systems and equipment that produce energy for business and domestic use
- Perform academic research in the field of nuclear engineering or instruct university classes in this area
- Conduct research for the diagnosis and treatment of disease in medicine
- Develop and build nuclear-powered submarines for the Navy
Types of nuclear engineer
You can choose to specialise in just one part of the engineering field. For example, some reactors are cooled using water systems, so you could develop a career as a specialist hydraulic engineer. Chemical, electrical and mechanical engineers can all find a place in the nuclear industry.
Other specialties include:
- health and safety specialist;
- instrumentation and control engineer;
- process engineer;
- project manager;
- quality engineer;
- reactor operator.
Nuclear Engineer Job Duties
Nuclear engineers may have different job duties depending on their level of responsibility, where they work, or the field they work within. Generally, nuclear engineers are responsible for:
- Planning and conducting nuclear research in order to make new discoveries
- Planning and conducting nuclear research to test, prove or modify known nuclear theories concerning the release, control and utilization of nuclear energy
- Planning, designing and developing nuclear equipment such as reactor cores, radiation shielding and associated instrumentation and control mechanisms
- Preparing technical reports based on knowledge obtained during research and development activities
- Studying the nuclear fuel cycle to determine most efficient uses of nuclear material and safest means of nuclear waste disposal
- Keep abreast of developments and changes in the nuclear energy field by reading technical journals and by independent study and research
- Monitoring nuclear tests and examine operations of facilities which process or utilize radioactive or fissionable material to ensure efficient functioning and conformity with safety specifications, regulations, and laws
- understand the science behind how nuclear facilities work;
- analyse energy transmission, conversion and storage systems;
- solve design or operational problems with reactor cores and shielding, hydraulic and electrical systems, and complex instrumentation, such as monitoring equipment;
- manage staff and budgets for complex design, construction, maintenance, expansion, safety and decommissioning projects;
- always keep the safety of people and the environment in mind, cooperate with local emergency services, and work with national, EU and international industry regulatory bodies;
- be aware of and address security concerns regarding the use, transport, storage and disposal of radioactive materials;
- write reports, project plans and other documents that provide information about new facilities, existing processes, problems and solutions, and safety exercises for regulators, energy firms, and co-workers in facility construction and management;
- discuss engineering issues with people from other fields, such as construction professionals, power grid managers and government officials;
- plan and assist with the safe decommissioning of facilities that have reached the end of their lifespan, including temporary and long-term disposal of high-hazard radioactive material.
What you’ll do
You’ll produce energy for business and domestic use.
Your day-to-day duties may include:
- designing and building new plants and equipment
- monitoring and measuring radiation levels
- carrying out maintenance work
- making sure that the plant structure meets legal requirements
- being responsible for security and safety
- supervising power station technicians
- planning safe methods of nuclear waste disposal
You could also use your knowledge of nuclear technology in other areas, like:
- industrial or academic research and development
- diagnosing and treating disease in medicine
- developing and building nuclear-powered submarines
Who Creates Jobs for Nuclear Engineers?
Nuclear engineers are hired by organizations involved in performing research pertaining to nuclear energy and energy systems, as well as by organisations that make use of nuclear technology.
Organisations that hire Nuclear Engineers include:
- Engineering and energy consulting firms
- Universities and colleges
- Federal, state and provincial government departments
- Private and public research facilities
- Electric power generation, transmission and distribution companies
- Manufacturing and other private sector firms
- Resource and high technology industries (such as the telecommunications, microelectronics, and aerospace industries)
For info check out our where to get into nuclear guide.
What Education is Needed to Become a Nuclear Engineer
The Entry requirements
You’ll need an HNC, HND, foundation degree or degree in a relevant scientific or technical subject, like:
- chemical engineering
- electrical engineering
- mechanical engineering
You could also go on a graduate training scheme.
The Nuclear Industry Association has more information on becoming a nuclear engineer.
For some jobs in the nuclear industry you may need to pass security checks.
The Skills required
- problem-solving and analytical skills
- planning and organisational ability
- the ability to manage projects, budgets and people
- excellent spoken and written communication skills
Skills and Traits Needed to Become a Nuclear Engineer
In order to become effective in a career as a nuclear engineer, you need to posses certain personality traits and skills. These traits and skills will allow you to perform your job with competence, and will allow you to maintain a positive attitude towards your work.
- A keen interest in science and technology
- Excellent mathematical and computer skills
- The ability to manage projects, budgets and people
- The ability to visualize complex processes
- The ability to be very precise in work and calculations
- Creativity and persistence in work activities
- Excellent spoken and written communication skills
- Respect for safety and the environment
- Able to order information logically and clearly so others can follow their information and instructions
- Able to work effectively with mechanical engineers and electrical engineers
Nuclear Engineer Salary
The salary level of nuclear engineers can vary depending on their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, the specific responsibilities of their job, and many other factors.
Prospects.ac.uk states that for nuclear engineering salaries in the UK the “starting salaries for technicians — the level you might begin at as an apprentice — are between £15,000 and £20,000. If you come in as a graduate trainee, your starting salary is likely to be between £20,000 and £28,000. Experienced nuclear engineers can earn from £30,000 to £60,000, and some earn more.”
Some figures as a guide for the salaries in the UK of Nuclear Engineers:
- Starter: £24,000 to £29,000
- Experienced: £30,000 to £50,000
- Highly Experienced: £55,000 to £70,000
Your prospects to finding a job as a nuclear engineer
There are opportunities galore in the nuclear industry right now. These days are referred to as “The Nuclear Renaissance” due to the rekindled interest in nuclear as an alternative to fossil fuels. There are plans in place to build new nuclear power plants and it is also estimated that as much as 40% of the current nuclear workforce will retire in the next 5–10 years. This of course means there are plenty of jobs in nuclear available (for both blue and white collar workers).
Getting the position is not necessarily the challenging part. The job, however, is very demanding. There is absolutely ZERO tolerance for error in the Nuclear Industry. Nuclear Engineers are not perfect, obviously, and there are multiple barriers in place to protect against human error. However, the fact is mistakes happen. When they do happen we must learn from them. When even the slightest mistakes are made, the individual is usually forced to perform a detailed investigation, present a report to a review board, and then share lessons learned with their peers.
Many people have preconceived conceptions of the nuclear industry and many people are surprised to hear that a nuclear engineer who works regularly on a nuclear licence site wears a radiation dosimeter that monitors their exposure at all times. In 14 months they will potentially receive about 100 milirems of radiation on the job. That is about the equivalent of a single spine X-ray procedure.
Longer Term Career path and progression
You could move into research, or university teaching. You could also work freelance as a contractor.
Nuclear engineering could be for you if you want to work with cutting-edge technology in a field with plenty of room for advancement
As a nuclear engineer, you could be designing, building, running, or decommissioning nuclear power stations. Your work will be carried out in multi-disciplinary teams to come up with technical solutions.
Depending on your role, you could be designing totally new systems, maintaining existing systems, or looking for ways to improve the efficiency, stability and sustainability of nuclear power plants.
Decommissioning (shutting down) facilities is also an important task, as is planning and carrying out safety procedures for the transport, storage and disposal of the radioactive material used in nuclear plants.
You may use mathematical and computer models, and run pilot projects to try out new ideas. Existing systems are continually monitored, and you’ll interpret the data and respond to emerging issues to ensure equipment is always working properly.
Finally: What to expect
- Your role could be based in an office, a power station, or involve supervising and checking work on construction sites when facilities are being built or closed.
- Nuclear science and technology is always moving forward, which can be exciting.
- Some people have negative opinions about the nuclear industry. You can expect to have to explain or defend what you do at times.
- There are many opportunities to gain new skills and deeper insights into key issues. If you use these chances, it can help you move up to more interesting and better paid posts.
- Until recently, the nuclear industry, like other engineering fields, was mostly male and white. This is changing, and major companies in the field are very proactive about recruiting women and minorities. Initiatives are in place such as Women in Nuclear UK and EDF Energy’s Diversity and Inclusion policy.
- Currently, nuclear energy is a crucial part of the world’s energy system. This means you will have a good level of job security.
- There are also opportunities to work abroad as many major companies operate internationally.
- You’ll need to dress appropriately for your role, which could range from office casual to formal (for meetings with major partners) to safety gear when on-site.
If you want to find out more about the about getting into nuclear check out one of our page links below or contact us using our contact page.