Working as a design engineer in the nuclear industry

Name: Chris Rhodes
Age: 35
Job title: Team Leader – Concept Design Engineering
Qualifications: Eur Ing. BEng (Hons) from Nottingham University, CEng, MIChemE
Employer: National Nuclear Laboratory
Lives in: Bolton, Lancashire

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I work as a design engineer for the nuclear industry. No, I don’t build reactors and no I don’t work with Homer Simpson, although I have to admit that one of our facilities is at a place called Springfields!

So what do I do? Here at the National Nuclear Laboratory our role is to take existing nuclear applications and make them work better or more safely; we also work on novel technology and applications for the nuclear industry, and that’s where I tend to come in.

Current jobs I am working on:
• Working with the European Space agency to create nuclear ‘space batteries’ to power unmanned probes to the far reaches of the solar system
• Making plutonium waste safe to store by turning it into ceramic blocks using a ‘HIP’ high temperature and pressure press.
• Deploying virtual and augmented reality technology for designing nuclear installations (that’s me below immersed in a reactor design)
• Developing new fuel formats that would be safer following a reactor failure

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I love my job and would recommend it to anyone who likes to challenge themselves and solve problems. Every day is interesting and brings a new challenge which will either make the world a safer place or push the boundaries of what mankind can achieve. I get to work with amazing people who are excited about what they do. I particularly like working on international projects which often take me to around Europe and over to the USA fairly regularly.

My route into engineering? My Dad was an engineer and got me engaged in practical engineering from an early age (I was the first kid at school who could change a car tyre and ride a motorbike). I was lucky enough to get good enough grades at school and studied chemical engineering at university.

What I have learnt though is engineering is about being inquisitive and having a logical mind to work out problems. Getting good schooling is important but some of the best engineers I have worked with came through apprentice routes instead of university.

I also work with some excellent female engineers. Gender is irrelevant; if you like to know how things work and have a logical mind you could be a great engineer! If you are thinking about being an engineer my advice would be focus on science, technology, engineering and maths-related subjects at school, but more importantly get involved in hobbies where you can challenge your brain as well as your body.

So my job is great but, I won’t lie, I do it to make money and enjoy my life! What do I do outside of work? I have hobbies that challenge my body and my mind. I have always been involved in racing boats and enjoy motorsport. Not only are they great competitive hobbies but you are always thinking “how can I use these tools to go faster and get the most out of them?”

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When I’m not enjoying time at home with my kids you can usually find me on a motorbike or halfway up a rock face fastened to a climbing rope, (I’m wearing blue in this picture ?). Both of these hobbies are great examples of relying on equipment designed and built by engineers! For me it’s important to understand what makes you safe and to be thinking about the best way to use your body and equipment to the best possible advantage.

My advice to you would be to get into your engineering, either through similar hobbies or after school clubs. It’s interesting, it’s fun, and you learn a whole lot about how the world around you works.

Related links:

Careers at National Nuclear Laboratory
Engineering at Nottingham University