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Advice for up and coming nuclear engineers

  1. Apr 27, 2012 #1
    I'm currently going to school in the hopes of majoring in nuclear engineering out of Whitworth University in Spokane, WA. Does anyone have any good advice for positive progression in the program? Also, if you have any career advice that would be fantastic.
    Last edited: Apr 27, 2012
  2. jcsd
  3. Apr 28, 2012 #2
    That's a accredited program? I checked and that's not even close to a real engineering program. I'd recommend considering transferring to a complete program if you really want to get a Nuclear Engineering degree.

    That aside, I'd just try and get a good amount of contacts and network in the field to try and get a job in it.
  4. Apr 28, 2012 #3


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    Normally, one majors in nuclear engineering in an ABET accredited four year engineering program. Without a dedicated program one would have to major in physics or some other engineering discipline, e.g., mechanical, electrical or civil engineering, and then pursue a MS degree in nuclear engineering.

    Nuclear engineering curricula usually include introductory and nuclear (modern) physics courses, mechanical engineering courses (thermodynamics, heat transfer, fluid mechanics, mechanics of materials, . . .), electrical engineering (circuit theory, electromechanics, . . . .), civil/structural engineering (mechanics of structures, i.e., beam theory, statics applied to structures, . . .), and possibly material science and engineering courses.

    The core of the curriculum would be a course in nuclear reactor theory (or neutron physics), a course in nuclear plant design, and other courses related to specific areas of nuclear engineering, e.g., radiation shielding, radiological effects on biological systems, fusion engineering, etc.

    Washington State University has engineering programs, but apparently not nuclear engineering.

    Engineering Physics (Nuclear track) would seem to be the program that one would complete at Whitworth. However, Engineering Physics is most likely not an ABET accredited engineering program, so one would have to follow that with a graduate (MS) program.

    See Engineering Physics and Nuclear Track.

    Nuclear Track (67) Core Courses
    Code (Text):

    EN 311  Mechanics of Materials   3
    PS 361  Nuclear Physics             4
    PS 363  Thermodynamics           4
    PS 373  Electronics                   4
    This seems rather weak overall for nuclear engineering. It's basically introductory material. What seems to be missing is a course in nuclear reactor theory (nuclear reactor physics).
    Last edited: Apr 28, 2012
  5. Jun 19, 2012 #4
    Astronuc, I know you've mentioned some of the courses a Nuclear Engineer should take, but would you give me concrete examples of how good curricula look like?

    I'm being offered the chance of taking Nuclear Engineering, but it's the second such course in my country, so my references are weak. I want to check if the curriculum they will propose would meet a good quality standard comparable to the courses in the U.S. (or somewhere else where Nuclear Engineering courses are already well-established).
  6. Jun 19, 2012 #5


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    I'll try to find some examples. The coursework or courses depends on where one is with respect to math and physics. If one has a strong calculus background, then perhaps one can start at differential equations or multivariable calculus during first year, otherwise that is covered second year.

    In my program, the second year involved an introductory course to nuclear physics - it basically modern physics with special relativity and QM with emphasis on nuclear decay, radioactivity and interactions of radiations (alpha, beta, gamma) with matter.

    Second year NE students would take basic circuit analysis, electromagnetic and electromechanics from the EE department. From the Mech Eng department, we would take thermodynamics, fluid mechanics, and heat transfer. From Civil Eng, we took a course in solid mechanics and beam/membrane analysis. From the Computer Sci dept, we took a programming course. The programming language then for Fortran IV (Fortran 77), but now the principal programming language is C/C++. One could learn Fortran (F90/F95/2003). I took math and physics courses as well. My old department has changed over the years, and the now offer a course in nuclear materials, which I had to take from the Mat. Sci & Eng. dept. We also had humanities electives.

    During third year, the focus is on reactor physics, so one takes courses and labs in nuclear reactor theory and analysis. There was a parallel course in analytical and numerical analysis - basically advanced ODE/PDEs and numermical techniques to solve them. There are similar courses offered in other engineering departments, but basically one needs to learn the theory behind computational/simulation systems. One might also take courses in radiation safety (shielding, dose analysis), etc. There was one course in Engineering Economics.

    In the fourth year, one starts to apply what one has learned in theory. There is usually a senior design course in which students study the design and operation of nuclear power plants, and nuclear reactor design. There is a higher level laboratory course in nuclear reactor experiments (we did some criticality experiments, activation analysis, and startup analysis).

    One can see some examples of courses here -
    Last edited: Jun 20, 2012
  7. Jun 19, 2012 #6
    Here's our curriculum at Georgia Tech:
    http://www.nre.gatech.edu/docs/program_of_study_nre1213.pdf [Broken]

    Almost exactly like Astronuc said. I was disappointed by our lack of computer science learning. The only actual class we had was the same intro class every engineer takes, which is in Matlab. But last year for our Reactor Physics I course, our professor refused to let us use Matlab, and pretty much only let us use lower level languages like Fortran and C. So we basically had to teach ourselves how to program in these languages without any formal class. I believe we've been in talk with the department about making a few tweaks to the curriculum, particularly the computer science requirements.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 6, 2017
  8. Jun 22, 2012 #7

    jim hardy

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    Take all the math you can stand. Vector calculus is intense in the reactor physics courses so buckle down on calculus, diff equations and vector calc.

    You didnt say what are your interests.
    Mine lean toward the practical so take this as thoughts of a grizzled old knuckle dragger.
    I enjoyed a career in nuclear plant instrument system maintenance.
    Electric power industy plans to run its ancient fleet until they're sixty years old, my plant was recently relicensed for operation until 2032..
    If you enjoy machinery , nuclear power might be worth a look.

    How i got into it was just curiosity - i was EE and grew curious about the windowless building mid campus which turned out to house a little 'swimming pool' research reactor. Catalog offered a course "Reactor Operation" with "Reactor Engineering" as a prerequisite. My counselor agreed to let me apply them as high level electives. The 5 semester hour engineering course i found fascinating - a heat engine with nomoving parts ! Reactor Operation also i loved , making test runs and doing reactor startups with 1960's instrumentation. Did flux maps of the core with copper wires and a homemade plotter that used literally 'Erector Set' parts.
    After graduation i walked into my local utility who were building a nuclear plant at the time and was hired on the spot. Familiarity with nucleonics as well as principles of electric machinery and control systems proved an immense asset. Navy Nukes had similar training and were very desirable hires...

    All power plants have engineers and the mix of EE with nuclear was a running start on my career. I chose to stay near the machinery. While some would say i 'never went anywhere', i never felt rank was very important.
    Herman Melville says as much toward end of chapter 1 of Moby Dick:
    So i guess what i'm saying there's a possible economic advantage to not over-specializing.
    Society today exists at such a high level because of its machinery .
    There's a humble sort of dignity in keeping that machinery running. At least i think so.

    ps last time i checked Fortran was very much alive. Our plant simulator was Fortran.

    old jm
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