A nuclear physicist is a research scientist who conducts research and experiments to investigate the behaviour and structure of atomic nuclei. To become a nuclear physicist, candidates must have a doctorate degree in physics. Within employment they will devise experiments, conduct them and write up the results. Experiments may concern detection of harmful radiation, protection of nuclear power plants, nuclear defence strategies, investigation of gases and liquids and the development of medical radiation technologies. His salary is comparable with that of other specialist physicists.
In its occupational employment and wage data published in May 2009 the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) placed the mean annual salary for a physicist, such as a nuclear specialist, working in the U.S. at £72,312, equivalent to an hourly rate of £34.7. The top 10 per cent of earners achieved an average of £107,737, the median 50 per cent earned £69,153, and the bottom 10 per cent received a mean salary of £36,536.
Salary by Industry
Nuclear physicists are employed by a number of industry sectors and the employer type may impact upon salary expectations. The BLS reports that a physicist position in a general medical and surgical hospital --- researching radiation technologies --- pays an average of £96,447 as of May 2009. Scientific research and development services offer an average annual salary of £75,322, while positions within federal government research agencies achieve pay rates of £73,112 per year. A nuclear physicist pursuing a career in the academic field --- researching and teaching in a college, university or professional school --- receives a mean salary of £53,813 per year.
Salary by Geography
Where in the United States a nuclear physicist works can also play a significant role in determining his pay level. The data published by the BLS suggests that employment in Kentucky should bring the best remuneration packages, an average of £90,876 annually. Florida and Indiana are close behind, offering £88,647 and £88,530 respectively. Maryland and Virginia are among the states paying the lowest annual salaries to nuclear physicists, £75,842 and £71,253 respectively.
The BLS predicts that the job market for physicists in all specialist areas, including nuclear physics, will expand by approximately 16 per cent in the decade between 2008 and 2018. This outstrips the national growth rate across all professions, predicted to be between seven and 13 per cent. The America COMPETES Act, passed by Congress in 2007, which intends to double funding for the physical sciences by the year 2016, is cited as a primary reason for this growth. As a result, nuclear scientists should continue receiving very competitive rates of pay.