Engineering in Nuclear Power Plants


The typical nuclear power plant hires engineers from most disciplines. Engineers often work in the system engineering, design/construction/modification, operations, maintenance, radiation protection, chemistry, quality assurance and information technology groups.


System Engineers

These engineers manage the 2 to 7 systems at the nuclear plant. They monitor the system performance, identify problems and solutions, identify maintenance to be done with procedures, identify testing to be done with procedures. Usually these engineers have background in mechanical, electrical, chemical, or nuclear engineering. They must have good knowledge of the nuclear regulatory requirements as well as the industry codes and standards. They may be responsible for the system operating procedures. System engineers are part of the plant staff.


Systems in a nuclear plant, by discipline, are:



  • Reactor Coolant (PWR) or Recirculation (BWR)
  • Steam Generators (PWR)
  • Chemical and Volume Control (PWR) or Reactor Water Cleanup (BWR)
  • High Head Safety Injection (PWR) or High Pressure Core Spray (BWR)
  • Residual Heat Removal (PWR, BWR) or Low Head Safety Injection (PWR) or Low Pressure Core Spray (BWR)
  • Standby Liquid Control (BWR)
  • Turbine-Generator
  • Service Water or Cooling Water
  • Circulating Water
  • Condensate
  • Feedwater
  • Auxiliary or Emergency Feedwater (PWR)
  • Spent Fuel Storage Cooling
  • Ventilation Containment (PWR) or Drywell (BWR)
  • Ventilation - Reactor Building (BWR) or Auxiliary Building (PWR)
  • Ventilation Turbine Building
  • Ventilation Standby Gas Treatment (BWR)
  • Ventilation Auxiliary Building Special (PWR)
  • Ventilation Shield Building (PWR)
  • Ventilation Individual systems for various buildings containing new fuel/spent fuel storage, diesel generators, circulating and service water systems, security, administration


Mechanical and/or Chemical and/or Health Physics

  • Radioactive Liquid Waste
  • Radioactive Gaseous Waste
  • Radioactive Solid Waste
  • Chemical Waste
  • Radioactive Sampling
  • Non-radioactive sampling
  • Emergency sampling
  • Radiation monitors



  • Substation
  • Very High Voltage AC (345KV, 161KV)
  • High Voltage AC (13.8KV, 6.9KV, 4.16KV, 480V)
  • Low Voltage AC (110V, 220V)
  • Generator (18-25KV)
  • Safety-related and Nonsafety-related Diesel Generators (480V-6.9KV)
  • Safety-related Batteries and DC
  • Nonsafety-related Batteries and DC
  • Instrument Power
  • Nuclear Instruments
  • Radiation Monitors


Program Engineers

The engineers are responsible for the various plant programs. These programs may be, but are not always, required by regulation. Program engineers are usually mechanical, electrical, chemical, or nuclear engineers or they may have specialty expertise.

Examples of such programs are:

  • Section XI testing of pumps and valves
  • Maintenance Rule evaluation of maintenance effectiveness
  • Probabilistic safety assessment of the performance of maintenance
  • Ventilation filter testing and replacement (usually for charcoal and high efficiency filters in safety-related ventilation systems)
  • Preventive Maintenance
  • Predictive maintenance (e.g. lubricating oils, transformer oils, turbine oils, thermography)
  • Leak testing of plant systems and components
  • Local leak rate testing
  • Containment leak rate testing
  • Nuclear fuel consumption
  • In-plant and effluent radiation and radioactive materials trends
  • Nuclear Fuel Analysis
  • Nuclear Fuel Accident and Transient Analysis
  • Heavy Loads Movement
  • Painting Considerations within the Nuclear Plant (some paint fumes can affect the efficency of ventilation filters)
  • Inspection of containment, systems, components, and structures
  • Eddy current testing of heat exchangers
  • Steam generator tube inspections


Licensing engineers deal with license related activities for the specific plant. These engineers provide the interface with the headquarters and regional Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Such activities include:

  • Submittals to change the operating license or technical specifications with supporting analyses
  • Submittals to support reload of the reactor with new fuel
  •  Submittals documenting licensee events (in accordance with 10CFR50.72 and 10CFR50.73)

Licensing engineers usually have nuclear engineering background.



These engineers are responsible for the design of modifications to the plant. Modifications may include new systems, system improvements, or replacement of obsolete or unreliable equipment. Modifications are usually on a project basis with design, construct, install, test, and turnover phases. Such projects are usually budgeted as capital projects, not under operations and maintenance budgets.


In addition to the system engineering disciplines noted above, engineers with specialty knowledge in civil and structural engineering may be used. A select group of the design/construction/modification department are permanent members of the plant staff, however, additional engineers are usually hired on a contract basis to handle specialty and high demand projects.




Operations engineers may be assigned as part of an operating shift or supervision. Those assigned to supervise manipulation of the reactor controls must qualify by passing NRC written, oral, and simulator examinations to obtain a NRC Senior Operator License. Engineers may also be assigned as Shift Technical Advisors to provide advice in the event of accident or transient at the plant. Engineers may come from any of the disciplines noted above.




Maintenance Engineers may develop procedures for performing maintenance at a plant. In some cases, engineers with extensive experience in engineering and maintenance may supervise maintenance departments.


Radiation Protection


Engineers assigned to radiation protection departments may have nuclear engineering or health physics backgrounds. Radiation Protection departments are concerned with developing and implementing methods to reduce radiation dose to plant personnel and the offsite population. Often the person assigned responsibility for emergency planning training, plan implementation, and drills is assigned to this department.




Engineers assigned to chemistry departments usually have nuclear engineering, chemistry, or chemical engineering backgrounds. Chemistry departments are responsible for monitoring, testing, identifying problems and solutions for out of specification conditions for the systems containing liquids, gases, chemical, and radioactive materials at the plant.


Quality Assurance


Engineers assigned to the quality assurance department may be from any of the engineering disciplines. Engineers may be assigned to review performance in the plant administration, operations, maintenance, chemistry, radiation protection, systems departments by assigned personnel, contractors, supervision, or managers. Such engineers may review the accuracy and appropriateness of method in design calculations. They would also be expected to review procedural compliance. The basis for such reviews is provided by NRC regulations, industry codes and standards, plant license and technical specifications, and Institute of Nuclear Power Operations guidance.


Information Technology


Engineers assigned to the information technology department usually have computer engineering background or extensive experience with computer engineering topics.


Additional Resources


  1. Web search nuclear power plant engineer
  2. Nuclear Power Plant Systems and Operation, Dr. George T. Bereznai, 2005


Copyright 1996-2010.  The Virtual Nuclear Tourist. All rights reserved. Revised: June 24, 2010.