Nuclear Engineer

Nuclear engineers study the energy released when the atomic core is split.  Some high technology weapons and medical breakthroughs exist as a result of nuclear energy. They are responsible for the use and control of the energy and the accompanying radiation that result from a nuclear reaction.  They also generate, use and maintain nuclear energy.

Nuclear engineering includes research, design, safety-analyses, testing, education and fuel management. The power industry dominates nuclear engineering. 

Nuclear engineers prepare construction project proposals that include cost estimates, and discuss proposals with interested parties such as vendors, contractors and nuclear facility review boards.  They design or develop nuclear equipment, such as reactor cores, radiation shielding or associated instrumentation or control mechanisms and design and supervise construction or operation of nuclear reactors or power plants, or nuclear fuels reprocessing and reclamation systems.  They write operational instructions to be used in nuclear plant operation or nuclear fuel or waste handling and disposal.

They direct operating or maintenance activities of operational nuclear power plants to ensure efficiency and conformity to safety standards, monitor nuclear facility operations to identify any design, construction or operation practices that violate safety regulations and laws or that could jeopardise the safety of the operations. They examine accidents to obtain data that can be used to design preventive measures, and initiate corrective actions or order plant shutdowns in emergency situations.

Nuclear engineers analyse the available data and consult with other scientists to determine the parameters of experimentation and suitability of analytical models, then perform experiments that will provide information about acceptable methods of nuclear material usage, nuclear fuel reclamation or waste disposal, and conduct tests of nuclear fuel behaviour and cycles or performance of nuclear machinery and equipment to optimise performance of existing plants.

So far as the environment is concerned, they conduct environmental studies related to topics such as nuclear power generation, nuclear waste disposal or nuclear weapon deployment, direct environmental compliance activities associated with nuclear plant operations or maintenance, and prepare environmental impact statements, reports or presentations for regulatory or other agencies.  They perform experiments that will provide information about acceptable methods of nuclear material usage, nuclear fuel reclamation or waste disposal, and develop or contribute to the development of plans to remediate or restore environments affected by nuclear radiation, such as waste disposal sites.

Nuclear engineers use equipment such as biological shields, instruments and thermal shields for their designs and developments. Nuclear engineering requires teamwork and involves supervision, analyses, assessments, training and storage.   Nuclear engineers working at power plants are also involved in the quality of water and food.

Nuclear energy is used for sterilisation, pest control and the production of fertilisers. Nuclear engineers also do genetic research to improve food strains and their resistance to harmful elements.

Personal Requirements

  • able to work in a team
  • supervisory and training skills
  • patience and persistence
  • analytical and inquisitive
  • able to concentrate for long periods
  • leadership qualities and managerial skills
  • innovative and a creative thinker
  • above-average intelligence
  • keen interest in science and technology

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Science
Recommended subjects: Engineering and Graphic Design 

What to Study

National Senior Certificate meeting degree requirements for a degree course
Each institution has its own entry requirements.

Compulsory Subjects: Mathematics, Physical Sciences
Recommended Subjects: Engineering and Technology


  •     universities
  •     large hospitals
  •     Directorate for Radiation Safety, Department of Health
  •     such organisations as: SABS, Eskom
  •     NECSA
  •     The National Accelerator Centre
  •     nuclear safety companies
Positions in this field are not plentiful and competition is fierce. Those that are better qualified stand a better chance.


Further Information

Any of the above mentioned potential employers

Getting Started

  • develop your interest in science and read up on new discoveries and the latest technology         associated with nuclear power
  •  arrange to speak to a nuclear engineer about this type of career

Programmes by Study Institutions

Related Occupations

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