Nuclear engineering vs chemical engineering

Many students ask about the best choice, nuclear engineering or chemical engineering. In this post, we will respond to this question.

We will also help you to choose the best major for you by:

  • exposing the difference between chemical engineering and nuclear engineering
  • Mentioning the important subjects that you will study in nuclear and chemical engineering
  • finally gives some recommendations. 

If you are interested, you have to keep reading till the end to take the whole picture.

Differences between nuclear engineering vs chemical engineering

Nuclear engineers and chemical engineers focus on or study both physics and chemistry. But nuclear engineers go deeper and focus only on the nuclear field. While chemical engineers focus on many industries. So, in general, nuclear engineering is a specialty of chemical engineering.

For example, chemical engineers do chemical separations to prepare fuel or remove byproducts and recycle chemical products to protect the environment.

But nuclear engineers focus on the chemistry of elements such as uranium and its principles like separation or liquid-liquid extraction that chemical engineers don’t study.

In general, chemical engineers can also work in nuclear occupations because they have all the physics and chemistry basics to do that.

What do students study in nuclear engineering?

We will list the 3 principal subjects that students study in nuclear engineering which are:

1 – Physics and chemistry

Nuclear engineers also focus on physics and chemistry because both subjects play a big part in the nuclear engineering process. So as a manufacturing engineer, you will study a lot of physics and chemistry.

In chemistry engineering, you will take 2 courses, chemistry 1 and chemistry 2.

In chemistry 1, the majorities of its topics base on the high school classes. So you will study in the first year as a revision and recap to solidify all knowledge acquired in high school.

While in chemistry 2, things become serious when you start digging into some advanced chemistry subjects like:

  • stoichiometry
  • states of matter
  • and reaction kinetics.

In physics, nuclear engineers also focus on the principal topics like:

  • Thermodynamic,
  • fluid flow
  • science of material

These subjects require a lot of math and physics basics, especially 11th and 12th math and physics subjects you studied in high school. So having a solid foundation is crucial.

2 – Nuclear models

nuclear engineering students focus on nuclear engineering models or subjects such:

  •  Nuclear Reactions and Radiation
  •  Nuclear Reactor Theory
  •  Radiation Detection and Nuclear Instrumentation
  •  Design in Nuclear Power Technology and Instrumentation

There are a vast variety of other fields that we didn’t include you can choose to make a master’s in nuclear engineering.

You will gain deep insight into atomic particles and how to implement math and physics to accomplish this task.

 You have to know that nuclear engineering requires heavy quantities of math and physics into nuclear engineering studies.

3 – Math

The first thing you should consider is math. Nuclear engineers study a lot of math, especially the hardest and most demanding math subjects like calculus. in the nuclear engineering curriculum, you will have to complete theses math courses:

  • calculus 1
  • calculus 2
  • calculus 3

In other words, you will study the most difficult math subjects like:

  • Multivariable
  • Triple integral
  • Differential equations etc

These aspects represent calculus 3. You will find all the details in the article below.

Is calculus 3 hard?: all you need to know about

What do students study in chemical engineering?

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chemical-engineering-1024x683.jpg

Studying chemical engineering is not easier. You will need to prepare and focus on many hard subjects. But we’re going to list the most important ones to consider before majoring in chemistry.

1 – Math

In all engineering classes, math is the principal subject to focus on. So whether you choose chemical or nuclear engineering, you will be studying the same math subjects, including:

  • calculus 1,2,3
  • linear algebra
  • discrete math

So if you aren’t good at math, we recommend taking precalculus courses to be prepared for both majors.

2 – Physics

Physics is the second primordial subject in chemical engineering. You’ll be required to complete some hard subjects, including:

  • physics 1
  • physics 2

In physics 1 you will study subjects like:

  • Kinematics and introduction to dynamics
  • Newton’s laws
  • Circular motion and gravitation
  • Energy and momentum

In physics 2 you will go deeper in physics study subjects like:

  • thermodynamics with kinetic theory
  • probability
  • electrostatics
  • electrical circuits
  • magnetic fields
  • electromagnetism

All these subjects are heavy in math, especially calculus. So you will be implementing a lot of calculus into these subjects.

3 – Chemistry models

As a chemical major, you will study 3 principal models in chemistry:

  • chemistry 1
  • chemistry 2
  • organic chemistry

In chemistry 1 you study theses following subjects like

  • nature of matter
  • Stoichiometry,
  • Basic chemical reactions,
  • Thermochemistry,
  • atomic structure and the periodic table
  • chemical bonding

In chemistry 2, you will study the same topics mentioned in chemistry one, but at a more advanced level.

  • acids and bases
  • kinetics and equilibria of chemical reactions
  • properties of gases and solutions
  • electrochemistry
  • nuclear chemistry

Chemical engineering vs nuclear engineering market demand

Usually, nuclear engineers start from $73000 and reach $124,000 as a median salary. But the problem with nuclear is a declining occupation. According to Blsnuclear engineering is declining each year by 8%.

While chemical engineers make $105,000 make as medical salary. This occupation is growing by 9% faster than the average engineering occupation.

Which is better for me, chemical engineering or nuclear engineering

Both chemical and nuclear engineering study math and physics. The only difference is nuclear engineering focuses on physics and nuclear chemistry while chemical engineering stays broader.

Generally, you can work as a nuclear engineer with a chemical engineering degree. In some cases, you might need to have a master’s degree to apply for particular companies or nuclear engineering background.  

So if you are interested in working as a nuclear engineer, you can either do your masters in nuclear engineering to raise the odds of being accepted into the nuclear engineering field. But it is not required to apply for, it is optional, a bachelor’s degree is enough.

But having a master’s in nuclear engineering will be helpful. Because, as we mentioned previously, nuclear engineering is a declining major. So you find it difficult to find job opportunities like chemical engineering.

Conclusion (the savviest plan to choose)

for people who are looking for money and engage as fast as possible in the workforce choosing chemical engineering will be the savviest and the wisest decision.

Because chemical engineering can also work in nuclear occupations, so is better and smarter to choose chemical engineering as a major. In other words, if you didn’t find a job in the nuclear industry, you could apply for the chemical engineering industry.


Yassin ajanif is a physics graduate and electromechanical engineer width more than 5 years in the field. My goal and my team are to share our experience to help you succeed in your career as a stem major. we talk about all tips, problems, and struggle STEM students face in their career and how to overcome them.