Nuclear engineers specialize in design and function at the molecular level. They study the application of subatomic physics, fission, and fusion and relate those principles to the mechanics of nuclear energy systems, like nuclear power plants and nuclear weapons. They are often enlisted as experts in areas of thermodynamics, nuclear fuel, nuclear safety, radiation, radioactive waste, and nuclear proliferation. In any instance, where nuclear energy is used to do something or needs to be maintained, a nuclear engineer will likely be involved. To become a nuclear engineer, you need a bachelor’s degree in engineering from a program accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), preferably with a nuclear engineering concentration. However, it is possible to become licensed as a nuclear engineer with a bachelor’s degree in a different discipline, as long as your education and work experience has provided relevant knowledge to pass licensure exams.
When engineers sign their name to a plan, they are putting their name and reputation on the line. Licensure is the extra insurance that this is someone not working for themselves, but working for public health and safety.
Stacey OberSenior Manager of Public Relations and Outreach for the National Society of Professional Engineers
Getting a Nuclear Engineering License and Professional Membership
Nuclear engineers work with potentially deadly amounts of energy and must be relied upon to design nuclear systems that will function appropriately and protect the public welfare. There is no legal way to work in a position of responsibility in nuclear engineering without becoming licensed. Holding an engineering license ensures that you have the professional experience and relevant education to be trusted with nuclear engineering and serves as a guarantee to employers and the public. "Licensed engineers are the only people who can sign and seal engineering plans," said Stacey Ober, senior manager of public relations and outreach for the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE). "When engineers sign their name to a plan, they are putting their name and reputation on the line. Licensure is the extra insurance that this is someone not working for themselves, but working for public health and safety," she said.
To get an engineering license, you must have at least a bachelor’s degree in engineering or a related field with coursework in areas like quantum mechanics, fission reactions, reactor physics, radiation, and thermal energy. Students who want to become nuclear engineers often pursue advanced degrees in nuclear engineering or nuclear physics, and they also must get a license before they can work professionally.
As soon as you have an engineering degree, or even before you graduate, the first step is to take the national Fundamentals of Engineering (FE) exam. Candidates take the FE exam to begin working as an intern or engineer-in-training under the supervision of a licensed engineer. Once you have passed the FE exam, try to find work with a nuclear facility or research team. Any position under the supervision of experienced nuclear engineers is a good way to learn about the field. Most candidates complete around four years of supervised work to prepare for the final step in licensure, the Principle and Practice of Engineering (PE) exam. The PE test is state-specific and will cover basic nuclear engineering knowledge and specific regulations applicable to your state. The National Council of Examiners for Engineering and Surveying (NCEES) administers the FE and PE exams.
Nuclear engineers may also choose to become members of a professional engineering association to stay connected with colleagues and up to date on developments in the field. The American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the American Society for Engineering Education all offer professional memberships. According to Ober, members of the ASPE are all licensed professional engineers or are on track to becoming licensed and are able to use the organization as a means to further their professional development and become more valuable experts in their specializations.
Maintaining a Nuclear Engineering License and Professional Membership
Nuclear engineers must not only earn a license to work professionally, they must maintain the license throughout their career. Maintenance of a nuclear engineering license is important because the field is constantly changing. Nuclear engineers must adapt to changes in technology, shifts in politics, and new scientific discoveries in order to remain relevant as nuclear experts. Some states require licensure tests specific to nuclear engineering. The NCEES offers and up-to-date list of exam information for nuclear engineering candidates here.
Each state determines its own rules for the continuing education requirements of engineers. The National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) keeps a record of the requirements by state here, although it is best to contact your state’s board of engineering to check for new requirements. Most states require between 15 to 45 hours of continuing education in the form of course work, independent study, or seminar time in an area relevant to nuclear engineering. Most states also require engineers to renew their licenses every one to three years. p>
Continuing education for engineers can be done online. For example, the NSPE offers web seminars and online courses that states may count toward continuing education requirements. Courses and seminars cover many areas of engineering, such as ethics, public health, employment issues, and safety and welfare. It is common for engineers to complete a combination of coursework, independent study and seminars in order to reach their required amount of continued education.
"Continuing education usually falls under the umbrellas of technical education or professional development," Ober said. "Courses or research that may be specific to nuclear engineering or another particular realm of engineering qualify for continuing education, and professional development in areas such as ethics and management are also applicable," she said. To maintain membership with an engineering association, most members must pay annual dues and any additional dues for specific committees in which they are involved, and the NSPE, specifically, offers many opportunities for professional development.