How and Why to Become a Nuclear Engineer

There are many reasons for becoming a nuclear engineer. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most common and also explain how to get started on your way to building your career today.

Nuclear engineers design and build nuclear power plants. They also work with radioactive materials, such as uranium, plutonium, and thorium. Nuclear engineers are responsible for the safety of the reactor core, which is a large sphere of highly-enriched uranium metal surrounded by water. The fuel’s heat turns water into steam that drives turbines to generate electricity.

Jack Gamble wearing nuclear suit.

Today, we continue our “So You Want My Job” series, in which we interview guys who work in desired male occupations and ask them about the realities of their positions as well as tips on how men might finally become the men they’ve always wanted to be.

We spoke with Jack Gamble for this edition. Jack works as a nuclear engineer. Thank you very much to Jack and his green-glowing fingertips for typing these responses for us.

1. Tell us a bit about yourself (e.g., where do you come from?). What school did you attend? What is your age? Describe your current position and how long you’ve been there.

I am a 28-year-old New Jersey native from Manahawkin. In 2005, I graduated from Rowan University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. Pool installation and commercial fishing have accounted for the majority of my professional experience, thus this is my second “real job,” as they say.

At a nuclear power facility, I work as a System Engineer. The Control Rod Drive (CRD) System Manager is how I’m known. In a word, I’m in charge of monitoring and maintaining the reactor’s capacity to safely and promptly shut down. CRD is the most critical system in terms of safety, and I take great pleasure and pains to ensure that I execute my job to the best of my abilities.

My typical day consists of monitoring system performance data (pressures, hydraulic flows, temperatures, and so on) and analyzing this plethora of data to create a picture of my equipment’s state. I also spend a significant amount of time away from my workstation, within the facility, observing my equipment.

I handle my Control Rods as if they were my children, and my obsession with and intolerance for even the tiniest flaw in my equipment has earned me a lot of laughs at work.

I’ve been at my current job for 14 months and I’m loving every minute of it.

2. What inspired you to pursue a career as a System Engineer? When did you realize it was something you wanted to do?

I got this job by applying on, believe it or not. I wasn’t sure whether that was what I wanted to do for a living until I had a taste of it. It’s a difficult job, but at the end of the day, I rest easily knowing that I’m helping to deliver much-needed, dependable electricity to a nation in distress.

3. What is the best way for a guy to prepare for a career as a System Engineer? What is the greatest way to get this job?

Before being employed, I had to go through a battery of psychiatric testing, drug tests, and a thorough background check. We are continually observed at nuclear power plants as part of a behavior observation program. This is a serious industry, and you can expect a lot of attention.

I had no nuclear experience to go along with my engineering degree when I first began. During my first year on the job, though, I was subjected to a rigorous training regimen. Mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineers are among the engineers with whom I collaborate. About half of my coworkers are veterans of the United States Navy, since it is the only way to get expertise in the nuclear industry.


4. How difficult is it to get work as a System Engineer?

Right present, there are several prospects in the nuclear business. Because of the renewed interest in nuclear as an alternative to fossil fuels (also known as “Dirt Burners”), these days are referred to as “The Nuclear Renaissance.” Plans are in the works to construct additional nuclear power facilities around the nation. In addition, up to 40% of the present nuclear workforce is expected to retire in the next 5-10 years. Of course, this implies that there are lots of nuclear employment available (for both blue and white collar workers).

Getting the job isn’t always the most difficult aspect. The work, on the other hand, is quite hard. The majority of System Engineers have a one-year career period. Many people can’t manage the strain, and the best achievers are promoted.

In the nuclear industry, there is practically no room for mistake. We’re not perfect, of course, and there are a number of safeguards in place to prevent human mistake. However, errors are unavoidable. We must learn from them when they occur. When even minor errors are made, the employee is often required to do a thorough investigation, give a report to a review board, and then share the lessons gained with their colleagues. This operational expertise is sometimes shared throughout the whole US Nuclear Fleet.

Many individuals are put off by the pressure to perform and the repercussions of making a mistake, and as a result, many people do not complete their first year.

5. When it comes to job applications, what distinguishes one applicant from the rest?

Experience is, of course, a plus but not a necessary for employment at this moment.

An candidate must be able to work under pressure and have a strong commitment to his or her job. This may seem cliched, but in nuclear power, these abilities are required. A System Engineer is directly accountable for the equipment he or she is in charge of. Maintaining equipment at optimum performance levels under harsh circumstances of 500 degrees Fahrenheit and 1,000 pressure necessitates a proactive and continual push for improvement.

6. What is the most enjoyable aspect of your job?

It is no secret that electricity is the country’s lifeblood. The ecology, the economy, and national security are all dependent on energy. For me, working in nuclear is more than simply a job. Every night, I sleep well knowing that I have done my bit.

Aside from that, and without getting into too much detail, the income and benefits enable a comfortable and secure existence.

7. What is the most difficult aspect of your job?

It’s a tough situation. Even the most resilient personality will be worn down by the relentless drive for perfection, in addition to the long hours. We are scrutinized to a degree that is unrivaled in any other area. Federal authorities, private watchdogs, misinformed environmentalists, and unfriendly media organizations, in addition to my own superiors, are always monitoring and assessing your every action.


8. What is the most common misunderstanding about the work (e.g., how similar is your job to Homer Simpson’s)?

Well, I can tell you that my hair is thinning, but it’s due to terrible genes, not radiation.

“Isn’t that dangerous?” is usually the first question people ask me. “Aren’t you afraid of radiation?” or “Aren’t you afraid of radiation?” To be honest, working in a nuclear power plant exposes me to less radiation than a US Congressman does in the US Capitol Building.

Most people don’t believe me when I say that, but I’m telling you the truth. Our lawmakers aren’t going to die of radiation poisoning any time soon since the granite in that building is naturally radioactive.

This narrative is intended to dispel the general public’s fear about radiation. It’s normal to be afraid of something you don’t comprehend. Most individuals would not be opposed to nuclear energy after learning the truth regarding radiation exposure.

I have a radioactive dosimeter around my neck at all times to track my exposure. On the work, I’ve had roughly 100 milirems of radiation in 14 months. That’s roughly the same as a single X-ray procedure for the spine.

9. How do you strike a work-life balance?

To be honest, many of my coworkers and I disagree on work/life balance. I work a 50-hour week on average. I’m also required to work a 72-hour week whenever the plant is shut down for refueling or maintenance (this is the maximum allowed for nuclear workers by Federal Law).

For the time being, this does not worry me since I have always worked 60+ hours a week. But, one day, I’d want to have a wife and a few rug rats, and when that time comes, I’ll have to reduce my job hours.

I, like many others, am willing to do so. Any guy, I think, will be confronted with the same decision at some time in his life.

10. Is there a means to advance in the company, or what is the structure like?

Climbing the ladder seems to be a fantastic opportunity for me. I have a few alternatives for advancement from where I am now. I may apply for a license as a Senior Reactor Operator (SRO). Many in the business believe this to be the golden ticket in terms of professional advancement. Maintenance supervisor, Project Manager, and Training Instructor are some of the other alternatives.

Furthermore, many Nuclear Engineers work for regulatory bodies such as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). These are government and private “watchdog” organizations tasked with ensuring the safe functioning of all nuclear power plants throughout the country. They are presently recruiting at a rapid pace, much like the rest of the sector, and are prepared to pay top cash for expertise.

11. Do you have any further advice, recommendations, or anecdotes to share?

My coworkers and I went to an anti-nuclear propaganda event given by none other than actor/activist Alec Baldwin a few months ago. Mr. Baldwin and a lawyer from Rutgers University were referred to as “A panel of experts on Nuclear Energy” by the organizers, which was incredible. Are we expected to think that an actor and a lawyer are specialists in anything other than persuasion? The extent to which these individuals would go in order to falsify science are unimaginable.


My coworkers and I distributed instructional flyers about nuclear fission research and the facts about radiation at this gathering. Many individuals flung the materials back at me, accusing me of being a corporate stooge or an environmental terrorist.

Some of these individuals are unable to be reasoned with because of their own fear and lack of comprehension. They also aim to terrify you into joining their side. They’ll bring up prior mishaps and unhappy ex-employees to make it seem as though I’m trying to poison you. This is not the case at all.

My whole family resides within a few miles of my factory, and I want to raise my children there as well. I can confidently state that they will all be totally safe in the vicinity of a nuclear power station.

My advice is more for John and Jane Q. Public than for someone interested in a career in nuclear power.

You must educate yourself. Because of recent mishaps and near misses, nuclear energy is shrouded in dread. People must understand that such instances occurred when technology was still in its infancy, and the industry has examined and evaluated every little aspect of them in order to learn from them and avoid future occurrences.

Nuclear energy raises a number of valid issues, including waste, radiation, and terrorism. Each of these problems is completely solvable. Those are easily afraid, and there are plenty of people out there who want to terrify you.

Make your own investigation. Pay attention to the science rather than the celebrity.



Nuclear engineers are in high demand and the field offers many benefits. To become a nuclear engineer, it takes about 3 years of education. Reference: how long does it take to become a nuclear engineer.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does it take to become a nuclear engineer?

A: Nuclear engineering is not a job that requires any particular education or qualifications. In order to become one, you would need work experience with both reactors and nuclear power stations as well as being registered by the government.

Why should I study nuclear engineering?

How many years does it take to become a nuclear engineer?

A: It is a difficult question to answer. A nuclear engineer can have one of many levels of expertise in their field, which will affect the time it takes for someone to become an expert level of engineer. For example, if you are looking for a career that has less competition than becoming an engineer and only wants employment after five years in the industry with no experience required, then this would be more like six-seven years before they reach expert status (which varies by individual).

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