The United States generates about 18% of its electricity from nuclear power plants. Nuclear engineers in this field generally work, directly or indirectly, in the nuclear power industry or for national laboratories. Current research in the industry is directed at producing economical, proliferation-resistant reactor designs with passive safety features. Although government labs research the same areas as industry, they also study a myriad of other issues such as nuclear fuels and nuclear fuel cycles, advanced reactor designs, and nuclear weapon design and maintenance. A principal pipeline for trained personnel for US reactor facilities is the Navy Nuclear Power Program.
Nuclear materials research focuses on two main subject areas, nuclear fuels and irradiation-induced modification of materials. Improvement of three nuclear fuels is crucial for obtaining increased efficiency from nuclear reactors. Irradiation effects studies have many purposes, from studying structural changes to reactor components to studying nano-modification of metals using ion-beams or particle accelerators.
Uranium ore, the principal raw material of nuclear fuel
Radiation measurement is fundamental to the science and practice of radiation protection, sometimes known as radiological protection, which is the protection of people and the environment from the harmful effects of ionizing radiation
Nuclear engineers and radiological scientists are interested in the development of more advanced ionizing radiation measurement and detection systems, and using these to improve imaging technologies. This includes detector design, fabrication and analysis, measurements of fundamental atomic and nuclear parameters, and radiation imaging systems, among other things.