Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment. Many others specialize in the development of nuclear power sources for ships or spacecraft.
Nuclear engineers typically do the following:
Design or develop nuclear equipment, such as reactor cores, radiation shielding, and associated instrumentation
Direct operating or maintenance activities of operational nuclear power plants to ensure that they meet safety standards
Write operational instructions to be used in nuclear plant operation or in handling and disposing of nuclear waste
Monitor nuclear facility operations to identify any design, construction, or operation practices that violate safety regulations and laws
Perform experiments to test whether methods of using nuclear material, reclaiming nuclear fuel, or disposing of nuclear waste are acceptable
Take corrective actions or order plant shutdowns in emergencies
Examine nuclear accidents and gather data that can be used to design preventive measures
In addition, nuclear engineers are at the forefront of developing uses of nuclear material for medical imaging devices, such as positron emission tomography (PET) scanners. They also may develop or design cyclotrons, which produce a high-energy beam that the healthcare industry uses to treat cancerous tumors.