Becoming a nuclear technician can frequently lead to higher-level employment in other science-related fields. While some experience and education is required, this position can be a good way for those with high aspirations in the field to gain a foothold.
Nuclear technicians operate and maintain equipment in nuclear power plants and on vessels in the U.S. Navy. They also assist scientists with nuclear research. Nuclear technicians generally need to have at least two years of postsecondary education and on-the-job training.
|Required Education||Associate's degree in nuclear science or related field|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||-5%|
|Median Salary (2015)*||$80,260 annually|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Education Requirements for Nuclear Technicians
Nuclear technicians, who are a type of science technician, usually need 2-4 years of postsecondary education. Employers may look for nuclear technicians who have earned a certificate or an associate's degree in an area like nuclear technology. Coursework includes nuclear physics, chemistry, electricity, radiation and mathematics. Programs may also include supervised experiences in the field.
Although nuclear technicians may be able to find work with just a high school diploma, those without postsecondary education need to receive extensive on-the-job training. They should also have completed several advanced math and science courses while in high school. Some nuclear technicians receive prior training from the U.S. Navy, which operates nuclear ships and submarines. Nuclear technician trainees are supervised by experienced technicians. They learn how to service the nuclear equipment at power plants and ensure that safety procedures are followed.
Nuclear technicians operate nuclear equipment, monitor radiation levels, provide quality control support and assist nuclear physicists in research activities. After working as trainees, nuclear technicians may move into positions that have more responsibility and less supervision. With more experience, some nuclear technicians can become supervisors. Because of the nature of their work, nuclear technicians risk exposure to radiation.
Nuclear technicians must have strong communication skills and be able to work well with others. They should be organized, detail-oriented and mechanically adept. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nuclear technicians held approximately 6,500 jobs in 2014. The BLS projects a 5% job decline during the 2014-2024 decade due to increased automation in power generation. Job opportunities are likely to exist mostly in nuclear medical technology, waste management and national security.
The BLS reported median hourly wages of $38.59 per hour in 2015. The states with the most employed nuclear technician include Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Illinois, North Carolina and New York.
While it is not currently a period of job growth for nuclear technicians, interested individuals can stand out by specializing in areas that are expected to see the most growth in coming years. Additional education and training can also make it easier to break into the field.