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Nuclear Engineering worth it?

  1. Oct 2, 2006 #1

    I am a sophomore in college and as of now I am simply in "the college of engineering", but a few months down the line I will have to officially declare my choice for a major.

    Listed as my first choice right now is Nuclear Engineering. I know I want to be an engineer, but I can't say that I have an interest in any particular type of engineering (they all seem interesting to me). I chose Nuclear Engineering because nuclear power/physics has always fascinated me, but also because I know that it is a smaller field. Maybe it's because I'm from a small town but the smaller class room size of NucE classes seem to appeal to me more than large MechE classes.

    I have heard mixed things about the job outlook for nuclear engineers. I have read things that say that nuclear power plants haven't been build in the USA for a while now, and that it is a small field to begin with so there are few job openings in this field. I have also heard that nuclear engineers tend to get multiple job offers after graduation from power plant companies that need people to maintain nuclear power plants.

    Nuclear engineering seems like a very narrow field as opposed to like mechanical engineering where you can get jobs from a wide variety of companies. It sort of seems risky to major in something that narrow because if the power industry doesn't need you you are pretty much out of luck. On the other hand there is mech engineering where there are so many more opportunities.

    I guess I'm just worried that I might spend my last 2 years in college majoring in something I might not be able to find a job in.

    Am I wrong to assume something like this may be true?

    Does anyone have any experience in the nuclear engineering realm or have any knowledge into how the job outlook may be?

    Anyone think that I may be heading down the wrong path and that I should consider other "safer" engineering majors (mechanical/civil/electrical)?

    Thanks for the help
    Last edited: Oct 2, 2006
  2. jcsd
  3. Oct 3, 2006 #2


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    There is talk of a revival of nuclear energy. At least one company has put in orders for two large pressure vessels, which may be an indication that they are serious, considering the $100's millions involved. The units are planned for the South Texas Nuclear Project site.

    The suppliers of nuclear technology are staffing up as is the NRC.

    Beyond that there is a lot of research in the DOE complex, and NASA has a small effort for spacecraft and lunar base power systems.

    That said, I would recommend one choosing an engineering discipline in which one is interested. One could do nuclear engineering as a minor to another discipline such as mechanical or civil/structural, or one could double major with NE and ME since they usually have several courses in common. Also one could double major in NE and Physics/Engineering Physics depending on the school.

    Regardless of the engineering discipline, it is important to diversify one course work. I would emphasize thermodynamics (heat transfer), mechanics (of materials, structures, machinery), fluid mechanics/dynamics (hydraulics, computational fluid dynamics (CFD), and materials science/engineering, and the mathematics, especially applied mathematics (i.e. numerical methods, numerical analysis, FEM, BEM). There is and will be a steady demand for engineers with a strong interdisciplinary experience.

    One of the major areas for engineers is simulation, particularly multiphysics simulation, e.g. thermomechanical, CFD, and fluid-structure simulation, and the materials background to support these analyses. Very few people have comprehensive skills in these areas.

    Edit: I would add an understanding of corrosion and material degradation, particular in aggressive environments. Some background in chemistry, physical chemistry (or chemical physics), electrochemistry, and radiation effects on materials would be useful.
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2006
  4. Oct 3, 2006 #3
    I applaud you for considering the ramifications of your choice and for being proactive about the decision. You will hear a lot on this forum about "not worrying about the money and doing what you love." I agree wholeheartedly with this, but I also realize that to a lot of people their job is simply their job. And no matter how much they might enjoy it, it is still just a job. And having a descent job that pays really well can be very usefull.

    You are getting some excellent advice from Astronuc, he truly knows what he is talking about when it comes to this stuff. I think everyone here will agree that no matter what you choose- you must diversify! Branch out. The trick is to get a set of skills that are going to always be in demand (if that is possible).

    Another possibility (maybe?) is to major in Nuc. Eng. and minor in French, since about 80% of French energy demands are met by nuclear energy. Does anyone (ahem... Astronuc?) know how easy it would be for an american to get hired in France in the Nuc. Eng. industry?

    Last edited: Oct 4, 2006
  5. Oct 3, 2006 #4


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    Well, that may depend on the organization in which one is seeking employment.

    Areva (Framatome) is now one of the major global suppliers of nuclear technology, including nuclear power plants. They have branches around the world including the US, throughout Europe, as well as other parts. I should be relatively easy to work one's way through the system.

    EdF is the giant French utility. It might be more difficult to get a job in France, but I believe EdF also has overseas concerns, and it might be possible to start off that way.

    CEA is the French nuclear research unit (similar to US DOE), and it might be possible to get employment with them, depending on one's specialty.

    IRSN is the French nuclear regulator, which is equivalent to US NRC. It may be difficult to get employment, depending on which part of the agency one wishes to work.

    I suppose one can only try. Be sure to be fluent in French, particularly the technical language.
  6. Oct 4, 2006 #5


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    Personally from what have gathered when working with the different French nuclear companies & organizations they aren't as "closed" (:biggrin: ) as one might think. They are 'international players' and have 'networks' all over, so like all multi-national companies would think they've use for people with different backgrounds & from around the world (and that 80% of energy also means they 'know' their stuff & have the means to really work with it). Besides, Areva being a joint Siemens-Framatome venture probably helps in this respect.
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