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Nuclear Technologist: Job Information for Recent Graduates

Discover what type of work a nuclear technologist performs. Learn about employment outlook and salary in addition to necessary skills and education in order to make an informed career decision.

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Career Definition for a Nuclear Technologist

Nuclear technologists, known also as nuclear technicians, help physicists and nuclear engineers conduct research. They conduct tests that monitor nuclear activity and track radiation levels. Nuclear medical technologists work in hospitals and other health care facilities where they administer small amounts of safe radioactive materials to patients in order to track and diagnose disease by using equipment which tracks the nuclear material through the patients' bodies.

Education Associate's degree is typically required but many seek a bachelor's degree to assist in career advancement
Job Skills Strong background in science and math, oral and written communication skills, operate complex machinery, and follow detailed instructions
Median Salary (May 2015)* $80,260 (for nuclear technicians)
Job Outlook (2014-2024)* 5% decline (for nuclear technicians)

Source: *United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Required Education

A career in nuclear technology requires a 2-year associate degree, but many people looking for more advancement opportunities in the field have a 4-year bachelor degree. Some states require additional certification in order to work with nuclear materials. Students interested in a career in nuclear technology should take courses in mathematics, engineering technology, physics and chemistry.

Skills Required

Nuclear technologists need a strong background in science and math, good oral and written communication skills. They should also be able to operate complicated machinery and be capable of closely following detailed instructions.

Career and Economic Outlook

Most nuclear technologists work for utilities companies, where they help run nuclear equipment, monitor conditions and perform nuclear research. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the number of jobs for nuclear technicians is expected to decrease by 5% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). As of May 2015, the median annual salary for nuclear technicians was $80,260.

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Alternative Careers

Professional alternatives in the same field include:

Nuclear Engineer

Individuals interested in researching devices and processes involving nuclear materials should consider becoming nuclear engineers. Depending on the industry, nuclear engineers may work in a lab, office or power plant. They design machines and system components, oversee power reactor operation activities, create waste handling procedures, ensure safety standards are met and develop new ways to use nuclear materials in the medical field and in power creation.

To work in the profession, a bachelor's degree in nuclear engineering is required, and professional engineer (PE) licensure can provide an advantage when seeking a job. Although licensing from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is not required for engineers working at nuclear power plants, they must complete months of training in safety and regulatory practices. The BLS projected a 4% decrease in the number of nuclear engineer positions during the 2014-2024 decade, resulting in a loss of 700 jobs. According to the BLS, these engineers received $102,950 in median yearly wages in 2015.

Nuclear Power Reactor Operator

For those interested in running nuclear reactors and monitoring power generation, becoming a nuclear power reactor operator may be the right fit. Reactor operators activate controls, make sure all equipment is functioning properly and run status reports. They are also trained to make sure safety procedures are in place and how to respond when malfunctions occur.

Extensive on-the-job-training is how most skills are learned, and prospective nuclear power reactor operators start out in entry-level maintenance and tech positions to learn about equipment usage. All nuclear reactor operators must also obtain licensure from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission by fulfilling experience and training requirements, in addition to passing licensing and medical exams.

New nuclear plants are currently in the planning stages, but because no new plants have opened in the past two decades, the BLS predicts a 6% decline in the number of operators between 2014 and 2024. As measured by the BLS in May of 2015, nuclear power operators earned a median annual salary of $88,560.

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