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Electrical Engineering Vs Nuclear Engineering

As the world shifts to green energy, nuclear energy has emerged as the top consideration for many countries. 

Among the questions on many minds is whether nuclear engineers possess similar skills as electrical engineers. This is because nuclear energy plants use similar electrical technologies as normal grids. 

This article goes in deep and tries to find the distinction and similarities between the two niches. 

Can An Electrical Engineer Be A Nuclear Engineer?

While it is possible for an electrical engineer to switch to nuclear engineering, it is not really a worthwhile decision.

For one, nuclear engineering is a fully specialized discipline and anyone who wants to join the field must complete the 5-year degree program. Neither the electrical engineering degree nor the job experience is considered. 

Is Nuclear Engineering Harder Than Electrical Engineering?

Yes – at least on paper. Nuclear engineering is highly conceptual and is therefore relatively hard to master, as it involves a larger amount of calculations and theoretical work. 

The fact that nuclear equipment is not readily available means that very few engineers actually get to see the real-life applications of their work. 

Further, the course consists of information and concepts spanning multiple fields, including chemistry, physics, math, and mechanical engineering. 

In contrast, electrical engineering has a lot of practical applications, both in college and in the workplace. For many people, it is easier to grasp concepts when you can actually see what’s happening as opposed to just reading about them. 

It also helps that electrical engineering mostly uses concepts from math and physics, which are somewhat interrelated and easy to understand.

Ultimately, no branch of engineering is too difficult if you have the passion and commitment to learn. 

Which is Better: Electrical Engineering or Nuclear Engineering?

It all depends on what you want to accomplish both professionally and personally. If you are looking for a fatter paycheck, the nuclear option makes more sense. Compare the salary of an electrical engineer to that of a nuclear engineer in the data table below. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics)

However, if you are looking for job security and the ability to work in multiple industries, electrical engineering will give you that.

To give you a better picture of how the two major compare, here’s a side-by-side table:

Job TitleElectrical EngineeringNuclear Engineering
Job DescriptionDesign, develop, supervise the installation of, and manage electrical equipmentResearch, design and develop different ways and systems to better harness nuclear energy and radiation
Median Salary$103, 390$116, 140
Job Outlook 7% (average growth)-8% (large decline)
Difficulty of Completing MajorModerateHigh
Job FlexibilityVery highLow
Entry RequirementsBachelor’s degreeBachelor’s degree, sometimes Master’s

You might also be interested in how electrical engineering compares to systems engineering. On the other hand, if you’re transferring to electrical engineering from another field, you can conduct further research, such as how becoming an electrical engineer comes to working in finance.

Do Electrical Engineers Work With Nuclear Energy?

Yes. Electrical engineers are in charge of designing and managing the development and installation of electric devices used in nuclear power plants. This includes motors, sensors, and wiring. 

They also do lots of analysis and design, primarily geared towards keeping the energy output stable and stabilizing power conversion. 

Is Nuclear Engineering In Demand?

Hardly. There are only about 450 nuclear power plants across the world, with many of them set to be retired in the coming years. 

Moreover, major nuclear disasters in the past few decades have virulently turned public attitudes against nuclear power. As a result, only a handful of nuclear power plants are being developed, which basically means there is little demand for nuclear scientists or engineers. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Services, there are only 900 job openings for nuclear engineers created every year. This is far below other fields, and is especially lamentable, considering the electrical engineering field creates over 22,000 jobs per year.

Is It Hard To Get A Job As A Nuclear Engineer?

At the moment, it is incredibly hard to find employment in nuclear engineering unless you have a Ph.D. or are an exceptional talent. 

This is because there aren’t many job openings. Moreover, in almost all cases, governments are the only viable employer. 

Apart from the bureaucracy that comes with public-sector jobs, many careers in such jobs are very long. This means the doors do not revolve as often as they do in other professions.

Is There A Lot Of Math In Nuclear Engineering?

Mathematics is a key part of every branch of engineering and nuclear engineering is not an exception. Specifically, the computer programming, instrumentation and control, and heat transfer aspects of nucleonics require good knowledge of maths.

Mathematical concepts that are heavily applicable in nuclear engineering include calculus, analytical statistics, linear algebra, and differential equations. Some of these are taught as part of the college curriculum while others, like analytical statistics, are learned on the job.

Where Can A Nuclear Engineer Work?

The largest employer of nuclear engineers is the federal government. Most of the engineers in service work either under the Department of Energy or the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Others are employed by the Navy to work on nuclear propulsion and weapons systems. 

Other potential employers include nuclear power plants, scientific research and development firms, and medical equipment manufacturers. Some nuclear engineers also work as consultants for private firms and the government.

What Is The Significance Of Nuclear Energy In The Field Of Engineering?

Unfortunately, nuclear energy is not as significant in the engineering field as other forms of energy in the current period. However, that is set to change in a big way once more countries start to realize the amazing benefits of this form of energy.

Two factors that will undoubtedly accelerate the journey to wider adoption of nucleonics are the rising energy prices and the advent of climate change. 

Final Verdict

It is worth noting that both majors are very lucrative and professionally satisfying, perhaps more than other engineering disciplines. 

Electrical engineering is however considered the more flexible and “easier” option, while nuclear engineering pays more and is seemingly more glorious.

However, it is advisable not to delve too much into the potential paychecks and only pick the course that fits in well with your strengths and passions.