Within the field demand for talented graduates is high, roles are varied and jobs are well paid and secure. Learn more about nuclear engineering courses and available careers

Nuclear power plants supply the country with electricity, and it's the job of nuclear engineers to maintain and develop these plants. Other aspects of a nuclear engineer's role include designing and building new plants and decommissioning existing power stations.

'Nuclear engineering is concerned with the practical application of nuclear processes and covers a range of fields including energy, defence, medicine, research and security,' says Dr Samuel T Murphy, director of studies for nuclear engineering at Lancaster University. 'By studying nuclear engineering students will gain the knowledge and skills that will enable them to design, develop, build, operate and then decommission nuclear facilities in a safe and environmentally sustainable way.'

Nuclear engineering degrees

The majority of nuclear engineers are educated to degree level. Some begin their career with an engineering or science-based degree, such as chemical, electrical or mechanical engineering or physics, before specialising in nuclear engineering with a postgraduate qualification.

However, if you're set on a career in the nuclear industry, a number of institutions provide undergraduate courses in the field. To find out more, see Nuclear Institute - Universities.

Courses take three years to complete full time (four with a placement year), and require A-level mathematics and a physical science subject.

For example, to study the three-year Nuclear Engineering BEng at Lancaster University you'll need to have achieved ABB at A-level. During the first year of the course you'll gain a general understanding of engineering. In the second year you can choose to specialise in nuclear engineering by opting for modules such as 'Nuclear chemistry', 'Nuclear Engineering systems' and 'Nuclear safety'. In the final year you'll apply your skills to an individual project.

'Lancaster is one of the few universities in the UK that still offer BEng/MEng programmes in nuclear engineering,' explains Dr Murphy. 'All undergraduates take the same first year providing them with experience of a range of engineering disciplines, as well as developing their ability to work within an interdisciplinary team.  

Specialisation begins in the second year with our nuclear engineering module, which provides an introduction to essential concepts and definitions associated with nuclear physics and technology. Students learn the fundamentals of reactor design and the nuclear fuel cycle, as well as the chemistry essential to support the reprocessing of nuclear materials.'

Tuition fees are £9,250 per year.

Masters courses

While a Masters degree isn't essential, studying for a postgraduate qualification will increase your knowledge, help you to gain industry contacts and could make you stand out from the competition when applying for jobs.

It is possible to combine undergraduate and postgraduate study by completing an MEng. For the four-year MEng Mechanical with Nuclear Engineering degree at Imperial College London you'll need two A* and an A at A-level for entry. You'll cover a range of core and optional modules, as well as specialist units in nuclear energy, nuclear chemical engineering, nuclear materials, thermodynamics and energy and nuclear reactor physics.

For entry onto a postgraduate course you'll generally need a 2:1 or above, usually in an engineering or science discipline, although some programmes will accept a 2:2.

This is the case if you'd like to study for the one-year MSc Nuclear Science and Technology at the University of Sheffield. You'll cover decommissioning and nuclear technology, environment and safety by studying modules such as 'Nuclear waste immobilisation and disposal', 'Nuclear fuel cycle', 'Reactor physics, criticality and design' and 'Radiation shielding'.

The Nuclear Decommissioning and Waste Management MSc at the University of Birmingham is the only course of its kind in the UK. It provides modules in 'Nuclear radiation, dosimetry and shielding and the nuclear fuel cycle', 'Processing, storage and disposal of nuclear waste' and 'Site decommissioning and environmental management'. You'll be assessed through laboratory exercises, written coursework, presentations and exams.

In 2023/24 the one year course will cost UK students £10,170.

Search postgraduate courses in nuclear engineering and learn more about available postgraduate funding.

Graduate careers in nuclear engineering

The demand for talented graduates is set to increase as the government builds new reactors (such as the one being built by EDF Energy at Hinkley Point C in Somerset) and decommissions around 17 existing sites across the UK, the most high-profile of which is Sellafield in Cumbria.

So what can graduates do with a nuclear engineering degree?

A variety of jobs are available, both in the nuclear and non-nuclear sectors as engineering is a highly transferable skill.

'Within the nuclear sector graduates could find themselves designing or operating new fission or fusion reactors, decommissioning the large number of existing facilities, delivering life saving diagnosis or treatment in a hospital, exploring the solar system by developing power sources for deep space probes or working on the world's largest particle accelerator the Large Hadron Collider,' says Dr Murphy.

International travel could be a feature of your career as many employers are international companies.

Alternatively, you could continue to study for a PhD and work in academia or research.

Discover how to become an engineer and learn more about graduate engineering jobs.

Degree apprenticeships

If university isn't for you, consider working and studying towards a degree apprenticeship. This is an excellent way to gain relevant skills and qualifications, all while earning a wage.

A number of organisations provide opportunities. For example, EDF Energy, Rolls Royce and Sellafield all run nuclear engineering apprenticeship programmes.

The National Nuclear Laboratory offers degree apprenticeships in a range of areas, from clean energy and environmental restoration to health and nuclear medicine. You'll earn a starting salary of £17,000.

Other organisations that run nuclear engineering degree apprenticeships include Energus, Royal Navy and Westinghouse.

Read up on engineering apprenticeships and discover how to apply for an apprenticeship.

Find out more

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