The Quest (or Problem, whichever suits you better), being part the first

The wind blew and bellowed on that dreary February day. The three wondered and wandered down the road of possibility. The assignment: to research something-- something of nuclearly entwined dimensions, mind you, but something nevertheless.

Fast forward a few days and stumble upon a decision. So begins an attempt to discover the field of Nuclear Engineering, as you may have imagined upon glancing at the big, bold title.

The field of nuclear engineering has become an important and elite course of study since the discovery of fission. Through the highs and lows of nuclear discovery, nuclear scientists create new ways for humanity to harvest vast quantities of energy for further civilization. But what exactly does this entail? Does a nuclear engineer create power or add to the detriment of society by bringing us closer to a nuclear cataclysm? We will answer these questions by investigating the job description, the education, and the direction the field is headed for future generations.

The Venture, being part the second

The basic job of a nuclear engineer is to design and test nuclear reactors. Because there are numerous methods for reactor construction, however, specialization results. Nuclear engineers who design power plants for naval submarines must be familiar with marine architecture; those who design land-based power plants have to be environmentally conscious while trying to maximize power output. Nuclear engineers have developed and are perennially perfecting the two basic types of reactors, the high-pressure water and boiling water reactors. Another responsibility of engineers is to test reactor designs and to improve old reactor models. For example, the fast neutron reactor has undergone several test runs to determine the practicality and safety of the design.

Demand for nuclear engineers is also present in the field of nuclear medicine. By developing new methods for diagnosis and treatment, nuclear engineers are able to save hundreds of lives. Nuclear imaging is diadgnotic testing that allows doctors to detect problems far sooner than other testing methods. Radiopharmaceuiticals are radioactive materials used for the sake of disease curation during the diagnostic process.

The Discipline, being part the third

The theoretical aspect of nuclear science is fundamental in a nuclear engineering career. Fusion power is a current but yet unaccomplished speculation. The highly theoretical concept requires the brightest nuclear engineers to develop methods of containment for the extreme temperatures and pressures necessary for fusion to occur. The creation of a self-sustaining fusion reactor is bound to attract new queries-- for instance, whether ways to refuel the extremely hazardous reactors exist. To be able to solve problems of such caliber, a nuclear engineer must be well-versed in the complexity of nuclear theories.

In order to handle their everyday job necessities, nuclear engineers must undergo proper education. Most nuclear engineering programs require bachelor degrees, but higher level M.A. programs are offered. Typical courses include nuclear physics, calculus, chemistry, and quantum theory. Certain curriculums include biology and social impact courses to better equip the students for the environmental and political pressures they can face as part of the nuclear society. Institutions that offer nuclear engineering studies are located worldwide; a few nuclear engineering schools in the United States include Georgia Institute of Technology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Oregon State University, and University of California, Berkeley. Few universities (namely, sixteen) offer the specific programs in nuclear engineering in the United States. The same schools also offer graduate studies in the field.

The Tradeoff, being part the fourth

Nuclear engineering encompasses many different tasks, and along with different tasks come various responsibilities and opportunities. Travel requirements usually relate to international dealings, which are customarily not part of a power plant worker's life. Power plant work presents itself as relatively stationary work. Althought it is true that the relocation of workers ensues as a result of the closing of plants, the scenario is not of everyday occurrence. Assignments strongly dependent on travel are usually linked to program management personnel and to workers with positions in space and defense programs, such as naval nuclear engineers. The latter work includes more international relations than essentially any other nuclear engineering ramification. The dangers of nuclear engineering professions revolve around radioactive emissions. Companies provide protective gear such as radiation detectors that document radiation exposure of workers.

As is seemingly occurrent within most engineering professions, there is no typical salary for a nuclear engineer. Depending on the level of education and experience, there exist different salary labels. A worker exiting college and immediately joining the workforce is likely to earn far less than an experienced professional (graduate level studies are usually prerequisite for design engineering and research positions). The possible range is relatively extensive but is overall confined within $50,000 and $120,000. In 2002, the lowest ten percent of engineers in the United States earned less than $58, 350, and the highest ten percent obtained yearly salaries of up to $111, 260. Federal government positions averaged salaries of $73, 769 in 2003.
Other considerations to be made in determining a nuclear engineer's wage are demand and work position. A worker in safety regulation-related fields may be at higher demand than one involved in spacecraft technology due to the latter's limitations of work availability and the former's apparent priority.

Interview with the . . . Nuclear Engineer

To catch a glimpse of the field of nuclear engineering from a real engineer's point of view, we interviewed Mr. Bill Cline, located in Newnan, Georgia. The following is a report of our questions followed by his answers.

1. What inspired you to become a nuclear engineer?

In the early 60's, funds were made available by the US Atomic Energy Commission to pursue careers in nuclear energy. I received a graduate research assistantship at Georgia Institute of Technology to study nuclear engineering.

2. Where did you study and what was your first job in nuclear engineering?

I received a BS in Chemistry/ Math (1967) from Jacksonville State University and a
MS in Nuclear Engineering (1969) from Georgia Tech.
My first job as a Nuclear Engineer was with the US Tennessee Valley Authority(TVA). I was involved in the design of nuclear power plants.

3. When did you begin work as an engineer?

From 1969 to 1971, I worked as a US Army Nuclear Effects Engineer; in 1972, I worked for the US TVA as a nuclear design engineer. In 1974, I began work as a Nuclear Engineer and Branch Mangager for teh US Regulatory Commission (USNRC), and I maintained that title until 1995, the year I retired.

4. What type of work did you perform and how did it affect the community? Could you briefly describe some everyday experiences? Were there such things as "everyday experiences" or were different tasks performed daily?

With USNRC, I conducted safety inspections of nuclear power plants and commercial and medical uses of nuclear materials. Inspection insured that nuclear operations/licensees complied with applicable safety, health, and environmental standards.

Inspection tasks varied and included activities such as inspection of rad waste processing, physical security, emergency planning, environmental monitoring, and health physics practices.

5. What kind of safety hazards did you face while on the job? What kind of protection did you utilize?

Work involved exposure to radiation and radioactive material. Protective measures were used as appropriate – to include radiation dosimetry, anti-contamination clothing, and respiratory protection.

6. What kind of people did you work with, and what other kinds of engineers did you interact with?

Nuclear engineers, mainly. Others included healthy physicists, chemists, mechanical engineers, and chemical engineers.

7. Were you ever required to travel/ did you ever have travel opportunities?

I traveled to all nuclear plants in Southeast US, to nuclear material users in Puerto Rico, and to the Virgin Islands.

8. Did you ever have to directly become involved in international dealings (or, if indirectly, to what extent)?

Yes; I coordinated responses to an incident involving two German scientists who had arrived at a Florida nuclear plant with radiological contamination. I also directed responses for the recovery of a radioactive material source at the University of Virgin Islands following Hurricane Hugo and briefed a Russian scientist on emergency planning and nuclear power plant security following the Chernobyl Plant accident.

9. Were you surprised in any way when you actually started working? That is, did you find some things completely different from how you had initially expected they would be?

Work was very demanding-- more than I had expected it would be. There were hardly any routine days, and 10-12 hour days were common. During responses to incidents, workdays often exceeded 24 hours!

10. What do you think might have been one of the greater problems or issues you encountered throughout your years of work?

I once managed a response and investigative team for a nuclear criticality incident at a nuclear fuel plant . . .

11. Can you think of a memorable experience, event, or any interesting (even bizarre!) facts you came across during your engineering years?

I responded to a nuclear power plant emergency where a utility truck backed into a utility pole, and the utility pole fell in the plant electrical switch yard and damaged transformers. The plant lost “offsite power” and went into an emergency condition known as a “site area emergency”.

12. How do you feel about the progress of nuclear power usage today?

Nuclear power is still a potential energy option. It is not being utilized due to high construction costs and regulatory uncertainty.

13. Are there any words of widowm you would give to prospective nuclear engineers?

There are still a number of interesting and challenging career fields in nuclear energy. This is likely to increase if we decide to build new nuclear power plants or if fusion energy materializes.

A Student's Outlook

We asked a current engineering student at Georgia Institute of Technology, William Murphy, also known as Billy, several questions as well so as to gain a current student's perspective. Billy will graduate from Georgia Tech with a degree in Nuclear and Radiological Engineering in May 2005.

First off, what inspired you to pursue an education in nuclear engineering?

Originally? the desire to research fusion power, and nuclear engineering is kind of a pre-requisite, but I've strayed from that. It's simply not feasible in the immediate future.

This is true-- it may take a while . . . so, given that, what kind of work are you aiming to enter after you graduate? Do you think you'll pursue further studies at some point in the future, perhaps?

I think I'll eventually go for a business-ish education, at some point, with an emphasis on engineering. I'd like to eventually be involved in the design of future reactors being built in the US. That's my ultimate goal thus far.

What do you think has been your favourite class/ set of classes/subject while in college?

I'd have to say the Radiation Lab class I'm taking now because we're actually taking measurements off of a subcritical graphite pile and coming up with a lot of the data one usually finds tabulated these days.

That's really interesting . . . what about a least favourite class?

Er . . . I'm generally not very fond of heat transmission-- not a big thermo fan. I mean, I can do the work; I simply dislike it!

I am aware you were involved/are still involved in an intership . . . what did/does that entail?

Personally, I was in spent fuels management. I mostly did 'grunt intern clerical work,' but about a third of the time I ran computer codes for storing spent fuel safely.

This was in South Carolina, correct?

Charlotte, North Carolina, although most of Duke's nuclear plants are in South Carolina. Duke is the company I worked for.

Are there any words of wisdom you might give to prospective nuclear engineering students?

Take AP classes in high school-- it definitely helps in college. Absolutely get internships starting the summer after sophomore year!

A Day in the Life

We thank Mr. Mike Reed, a nuclear engineer, for allowing us to link his own blog for further insight into an engineer's life.

*Please copy and paste the above address into your browser. The link unfortunately will not cooperate.

The Difference Between Nuclear Engineers in Developing Nations and Developed Nations

When one thinks about Nuclear Engineering and what it means to the world one does not really realize how different it is according to the economic situation of the country. When reading the interview performed by Francesca, to a retired nuclear engineer that had worked in many areas, meaning that he had lots of experience, and compare to the interview Diego did, to a nuclear engineer that couldn't even practice his profession, one understands how different the worlds can be. The first of these nuclear engineers worked and developed his career in the United States while the second one in Peru. This is strong prove that the economic situation of the country decides whether or not the career can be practiced. When we look at the technical aspects of the career one comprehends that the major reason it is not practiced in developing nations is because they don't have the facilities for its practice. Ironically, the first interviewed man was already retired, which showed that he had more than sixty years of age. The career of nuclear engineering in Peru, Colombia, Paraguay, Mongolia and other developing nations has been implemented in universities the past five years if at all.

One could think that science is going to open its way through in these developing countries. What most of us don't know is that if these countries keep on living in the shadow of the world powers, then progress will never be achieved.


United States Dept. of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Nuclear Engineers."

Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2004-05 Edition. Online. Internet. 28 Mar. 2005.


State of California Employment Development Dept. Labor Market Information

Division. "Nuclear Engineer." California Occupational Guide Number 367. 1995. 28

Mar. 2005. Available

Engineering Colleges and Universities Directory Page. 2000-2005. 28 Mar. 2005.




Society of Nuclear Medicine. What Is Nuclear Medicine Page. 2005. 28 Mar. 2005.


Cline, William. Electronic Correspondence interview. 22 March 2005.

Murphy, William. Personal interview. 26 March 2005.

Reed, Mike. Bunker Mulligan Blog Page. 28 Mar. 2005. Available

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