Nuclear Power Plant Technicians
Nuclear power plant technicians monitor equipment and measure radiation levels at a nuclear power plant. They may also assist reactor operators, engineers, and physicists in nuclear experiments and research. Working under the direction of engineers, reactor operators and others, Nuclear technicians must make sure that reactors and related equipment are used safely and effectively.
Most technicians who work at nuclear power plants fall under two broad categories. Operating technicians keep track of the performance of nuclear power plant systems. This can include measuring levels of radiation in water, looking for leaks, and repairing equipment. Radiation protection technicians focus more on protecting power plant employees and the nearby environment. They may measure radiation levels in personnel and facilities while recommending decontamination and safety procedures.
Technicians who work around nuclear materials often have to wear protective gear, including hearing and eye protection, respirators, and plastic suits. Plants must be supervised around the clock, and those working rotating shifts might feel stress from the atypical work hours. As of May 2015, the median annual salary was $80,260 for nuclear technicians, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Most aspiring nuclear technicians need at least an associate degree, but prior experience working with U.S. Navy nuclear technology or at nuclear facilities can be beneficial and may also count as equivalent experience. Prospective technicians should develop the following key skills:
- Critical thinking: In addition to evaluating available information, nuclear technicians may need to make decisions about whether an area is safe or needs to be decontaminated.
- Math skills: Technicians should be familiar with formulas that may be used to analyze data associated with reaction rates and radiation exposure.
- Monitoring equipment: The ability to read and assess computers, gauges, sensors, and other instruments is crucial for ensuring that equipment is functioning properly.
- Mechanical aptitude: Nuclear power plants have complex facilities and equipment, so technicians need to have an understanding of how parts work to make adjustments and repairs.
- Communication: Technicians want to be crystal clear when working in a team environment and providing recommendations needed to maintain a safe work environment.
Earn an Associate's Degree
According to the BLS, nuclear technicians need at least an associate degree in nuclear science nuclear technology, or a related field to work at a nuclear power plant. These degree programs may be found at community colleges and universities. Some programs may be partnered with companies within the nuclear power industry. Core courses include radiation health, atomic and reactor physics, nuclear chemistry, fundamentals of electrical circuits, and machines and fluid mechanics. Students are also introduced to nuclear instruments, controls, and simulations. Certificate programs may also be available.
Seek Employment and Complete Training
After earning an associate degree or demonstrating equivalent experience, prospective nuclear technicians can seek employment at a nuclear power plant. Many employers require applicants to be a U.S. citizen and capable of obtaining a security clearance that allows them access to nuclear facilities. Individuals who work well on teams and are willing to work extended hours when needed may be preferred. Additionally, some employers may require applicants to pass a mechanical aptitude test as part of the hiring process.
After obtaining a position, nuclear technicians need to complete training at a power plant, which usually takes place under the guidance of more experienced technician. Significant on the the job training is provided and covers areas such as proper use of equipment, plant policies, and safety procedures. According to the BLS, most required training can last from six months to two years, although this depends on the technician's level of experience and education.
Pursue Continuing Education
Nuclear technicians need to keep up with nuclear science and technology developments to stay on top of their job duties. And technicians may become reactor operators with additional training and experience. Technicians can also pursue continuing education to improve their advancement opportunities. For example, they can earn a bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering to become a nuclear engineer. A bachelor's degree program can prepare individuals for broader careers in the nuclear industry. Nuclear engineers also need to be licensed by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
Remember that nuclear power plant technicians monitor equipment and safety at nuclear power plants, usually need at least an associate degree, and receive significant on-the-job training.