A nuclear engineer is someone who works with atomic particles. This field is incredibly diverse, encompassing everything from building high powered weapons to developing new techniques in nuclear medicine with the goal of diagnosing disease. Working conditions someone in this position typically include long hours in a laboratory environment and working on teams to solve complex problems. Pay scales in this field vary widely, depending on what type of work a nuclear engineer does and what sort of training he or she has received. As a general rule, most people enter this field out of genuine interest, rather than a desire to make money.
To become a nuclear engineer, someone must generally receive a bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering and then pursue graduate level coursework. In some cases, someone can work as a technician on a nuclear reactor such as one found in a power plant with only a bachelor's degree, but people who are interested in working with innovative nuclear technology should plan on a master's degree at a minimum.
In many cases, a nuclear engineer works for a government, developing defense systems, helping to handle nuclear waste and studying radioactivity. Others work specifically in the defense industry, or for companies which develop new medical equipment, along with utilities. In nations that use nuclear power, nuclear engineers help to keep that power safe, clean, and effective for the nation's citizens. A limited number work in research for various companies in the private sector.
Among other things, a nuclear engineer may work with nuclear fission, such as that which powers reactors, nuclear fusion in experimental engineering, radioactive materials, weapons, and nuclear fuel. In medicine, these engineers study the effect of radiation on the human body, and develop radiological tools for diagnosis and treatment of various conditions. A nuclear engineer also address issues like handling radioactive materials safely, and disposing of spent fuel and other radioactive products.
Some nuclear engineers prefer more theoretical work in the field of nuclear physics. This branch of physics studies atomic activity at a range of levels, in a controlled laboratory environment where people can observe and experiment with atomic particles. Many nuclear physicists work for educational institutions, pursuing post-graduate work and working with up and comers in the field. Some also work for government-sponsored research centers, in an attempt to learn more about radiation and how it can be harnessed for useful purposes.