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Is nuclear engineering the hardest? what is the easiest?

  1. Jul 22, 2008 #1
    Im thinking about going into nuclear engineering but i have this fear that its going to be astronomically hard. Like only for M.I.T. super nerd geniuses. What would you guys rate to be the hardest- easiest engineering branch to go into, in terms of the schooling?

    Also i am afraid once i get a nuclear engineering degree i wont be able to find a job. Even tho i live 15 miles from a nuke plant.

    I also have it in my head that i will be moving around the country every single week and ill never be around my family. The job I'm hoping for is to work at the plant close to me for a long while. Do nuke engineers work at a plant, or just help build them??

    Can you guys help me out on these questions.
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  3. Jul 22, 2008 #2


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    I don't think nuclear engineering is necessarily harder than other types at the same level. Some aspects require a greater knowledge of physics as well as engineering.
    So it's either a specialisation in civil eng for construction, or plant/process eng for operations.

    I would have though plant operations stuff was one of the most stable jobs. Once you work at a plant, it isn't going anywhere and they don't generally want to change staff.
    I would have thought it was the opposite problem - you are likely to be stuck at the same plant untill it's decomissioned or you retire.

    Both, I think astronuc is in the plant operations side.
    Designers work for one of a limited number of companies that design them, and there is a need for nuclear engineers to surpervise the construction, especially as the reactor is installed, tested and brought up for the first time - this obviously would require more travel.
  4. Jul 22, 2008 #3
    Hmm ic. So if i go more into plant process ill be able to work at a plant and operate it and stuff? Instead of going on the civil side where i would be constructing them and be moving around the country more.
    Also im going to be going to a community college for engineering. How many years of schooling do i need to get into a 4 year college for my degree. I saw that UofI university of Illinois has a nuke engineering degree in four years. Is it possible to go straight to the UofI nuke program out of highschool?

    I guess my question is, right out of highschool what would be the process of getting my nuke engineering degree? Going from the shortest, bachelors? to the longest, masters?
  5. Jul 22, 2008 #4


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    If you take the right courses, most of the 2 years at community college can apply to a 4 year university, so I would think you could spend 2 -2.5 years at the 4-year uni to get the degree.

    Also, few colleges require you to choose a major before going (though it can matter in the admissions process what you tell them you want to do) - once you get there, most of the courses for the first two years of a 4 year program are about the same for all engineering disciplines.
  6. Jul 23, 2008 #5
    A nuclear engineering degree will help you get a job in the industry and once you're in you can really use it
    - working in core design either at a utility or with a fuel vendor (westinghouse, GE, Areva)
    - working in reactor engineering at one of the plants

    or you can spread out and do any of dozens of other things, safety analysis, licensing, plant mods, maintenance engineering, etc etc.

    I got a masters in nuclear engineering almost 30 years ago and I have done very little real nuclear engineering since then. But it does give you a huge headstart as to what is important and why.

    Is it "hard" ? Not really, I don't think it is harder than any other engineering. As to moving around the country, like someone said above, if you work for the utility (power company) at the plant you won't be moving around. The hardest thing about these jobs is that they can be very demanding on your free time (when issues come up you get called in, and during refuelings you do shift work till the outage is over). If you work at their corporate engineering office, you might take trips. If you work for a reactor vendor, you can decide how much travel you want and take a position accordingly. If you work for a big AE (Bechtel, Shaw, Sargent&Lundy, etc) you might move alot (but maybe not).

    As to finding a job when you finish school, that shouldn't be a problem - even if we don't build any new units. There was a long time (1980s and 1990s) where almost nobody new came into the field, and all of the companies involved are now seeing retirement in droves - everyone needs new hires. The plants were licensed for 40 years and many will be run for 60 years -
  7. Jul 23, 2008 #6


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    I wouldn't say the nuclear engineering is necessarily the hardest based on my experience with courses in Nuc Eng, Aero Eng, Mech Eng, EE, Mat Sci and Physics. In the Science and Engineering curricula, one will exposed to advanced math, such as partial differential equations, linear algebra, vector analysis, . . . . In nuclear engineering one is exposed to nuclear physics, neutron transport and diffusion, in addition the Navier-Stokes equations that one finds in Mech Eng or Aero Eng. Upper level courses are more difficult that lower level introductory courses.

    Nuclear engineers are generally involved in supporting plant operation if they work at the plant, or fuel cycle/core design if they work at the companies engineering site. Companies, which own one unit or multiple units at one site, often have the majority of technical staff at the plant. Big companies like Exelon, Entergy, Progress, SNOC, . . . have technical staff in a main office which may be centrally located geographically with respect to the plants.

    Designing and building plants is more the field of mechanical and civil/structural engineering.

    If one does not work for a utility, then one's choices would include the vendors Toshiba/Westinghouse, AREVA, and GE/GNF/Hitachi. Westinghouse and AREVA do both PWR and BWRs, while GE/GNF/Hitachi focuses on BWR technology. They are responsible for the nuclear system. Then there are the big A&E (architect engineering) firms which primarily do the balance of plant (BOP) and civil/structural works.

    One doesn't have to be an MIT nerd to be a nuclear engineer. Most of the nuclear engineering programs are in state universities, e.g. Texas A&M, Oregon State, PennState, U Michigan, U. Wisc, NC State, GaTech, U. Florida, . . . . as well as private like Purdue, RPI, MIT, . . . .

    PM me about the plant near which one lives and I might be able to provide some insight.
  8. Jul 23, 2008 #7


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    Also, don't forget that you can also go into research. There's a lot of research being re-activated in the nuclear domain, and that's pretty wide. I, for instance, work in nuclear instrumentation (neutron detection). Don't really know how I got into that (just applied to very different job openings, and that one seemed at one point to combine best my different criteria, which were geographic, social, financial, scientific....). I turned down another job offer where I would have been building satellite instrumentation for measuring atmospheric ozone. My life would have been totally different if I would have taken on that job instead of my current one. Yet another offer was to participate in Amanda, the neutrino telescope in Antarctica. For sure, my life would have been different if I would have done that!

    There is a whole new interest in 4th generation reactors. This is very broad research: core design, fuel design, material research... I guess much of this will be done in things like national labs. But there are also a lot of other things you can do as a nuclear engineer. There is environmental monitoring, there is the whole branch of nuclear medicine, ....
  9. Jul 23, 2008 #8


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    I am bothered by the concept of choosing an engineering field because it is the "easiest". My answer to what is the "easiest" engineering field is business, simply because that is where so many engineering students end up when they can't hack the engineering load.
  10. Jul 23, 2008 #9


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    Yeah - me too!

    Coincidentally, I was just talking with a colleague who now teaches at one of the major nuclear engineering programs in the US, and she did mention that there are those students who want to be spoon fed, but then they won't make it to grad school. If one wants an easy program, then one will be a mediocre engineer, IMO, and basically a glorified technician. The practices of science and engineering needs proficient and competent individuals who have initiative and drive to tackle difficult and complex problems head on - and there are no answers in the back of the book!

    If one wants easy, then please stay away from science and engineering.
  11. Jul 23, 2008 #10


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    I realise this has already been covered, but it's important, so I'll repeat it.

    If you need to ask what an easy engineering discipline is (to study or practice), then I suggest you don't bother. Try media studies instead.
  12. Jul 27, 2008 #11
    I asked which one is the easiest and which is the hardest, classes wise, b/c i wanted to just get an idea of which are more advanced than the others, not b/c i wanted to take the easiest one. But you guys are helping me out a great deal.

    I signed up for one semester of classes at my community college here in Kankakee, IL. Hopefully after one year here ill be able to transfer to UofI. Can anyone get the 4 year curriculum or does anyone know which classes exactly they will have there for nuke engineers?
  13. Jul 27, 2008 #12


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    Here is the undergraduate program in NE at UIUC.
    http://courses.uiuc.edu/cis/programs/urbana/2007/fall/undergrad/engin/npre.html [Broken]

    And some Electives
    http://www.ne.uiuc.edu/ugcurriculum.php [Broken]

    Note the specialties: Thermal Sciences, Power and Control Systems (Bascially EE), Solid, Fluid and Continuum Mechanics, Computational Sciences and Engineering, Environmental Engineering and Science.

    I would also highly recommend courses in materials science, e.g. mechanics (strength) of materials and corrosion.

    At the community college, see what is available in terms of UIUC's requirements for introductory math, chem and phys:

    3 CHEM 102—General Chemistry I
    1 CHEM 103—General Chemistry Lab I
    4 MATH 221—Calculus I
    3 MATH 231—Calculus II
    4 MATH 241—Calculus III
    3 MATH 385—Intro Differential Equations
    4 PHYS 211—Univ Physics, Mechanics
    4 PHYS 212—Univ Physics, Elec & Mag
    2 PHYS 214—Univ Physics, Quantum Phys
    Last edited by a moderator: May 3, 2017
  14. Jul 27, 2008 #13
    Astronuc you have been a great deal of help. Thank you very much, ill be on this forum a lot i can tell all ready.
  15. Jul 27, 2008 #14


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    BTW - The TAM classes at UIUC are Theoretical and Applied Mechanics.

    If one is interested in mechanics, these are the intro courses.

    MSE 201 = TAM 201
    Mechanics for Technol & Mgmt
    MSE 206 = TAM 206
    Mechanics for MatSE

    When I did nuclear engineering, we did the intro EE courses (circuits, electrical machinery, control theory) with the EE's, the intro structural engineering with the CivE's, and the thermodynamics and fluids courses with the ME's, in addition to the core nuclear physics, radiation interactions, and reactor physics. The senior year we pulled all that together in a power plant design and operation course.
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