CHOOSING A CAREER / SEP. 25, 2014
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How to Become a Nuclear Power Plant Operator in the US

Nuclear power plants must be operated by highly trained professionals because of the hazardous nature of the energy source. The number of professionals who operate nuclear power plants is relatively small but these operators are very vital to the country. If you are looking for a career in the energy industry, being a nuclear power plant operator could be the job for you.

What Do Nuclear Power Plant Operators Do?

Nuclear power plant operators typically do the following tasks:

  • Controlling equipment used to generate electricity from a nuclear reactor
  • Monitoring electricity flow and voltage by reading meters, charts and gauges
  • Diagnosing operating problems in equipment
  • Regulate the flow of power
  • Start or stop turbines and generators

Qualifications

Nuclear power plants need to be operated by highly skilled professionals because any mistake could have catastrophic results. The following qualifications are required to ensure only the most deserving people do the job:

  • At least a high school diploma
  • College or vocational school degrees are preferable
  • Strong science and math backgrounds
  • Classroom and onsite technical instruction
  • Several years’ experience in electricity transmission, generation and distribution
  • Regular training courses to update skills for the latest monitoring systems
  • License from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC)
  • Pass a medical exam every two years
  • Pass an annual plant-operating exam
  • North American Electric Reliability Corporation’s (NERC) certification if your position could affect the power grid
  • Pass a background check
  • Pass alcohol and drug screenings
  • Pass Plant Operator (POSS) and Power Plant Maintenance (MASS) and exams

You should have the following qualities to help you become more competent:

  • Concentration skills are required to enable you perform tasks, such as monitoring the reactors for many hours without distraction
  • Detail-oriented power plant operators ensure that the intricate machinery operates properly
  • If you have dexterity, you will be able to work with precision despite doing repetitive motions when you are in the control room
  • Mechanical skills are necessary since you will be required to maintain, operate and repair equipment
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Excellent reading comprehension skills
  • Good understanding of mechanical concepts
  • Spatial ability
  • Mathematical ability

Salary

Nuclear power reactor operators are highly paid compared to power plant operators of other energy sources. The following table shows the median wage of nuclear power plant operators:

Entry Level

$44,110

Middle Level

$68,230

Successful

$92,570

Source: US Bureau of Labor Statistics

Work Environment

Knowing the challenges that come with this job will make you better prepared. You will work rotating 8- or 12-hour shifts, which can be tiring and stressful owing to the inconsistent living and sleeping patterns. Nuclear power reactors harbor radioactive materials that can be lethal when exposed. The slightest mistake could affect many people for decades. The job requires that you take mandatory training and exams within a relatively short time, such as every six months.

Career Prospects

When you get your license, you can advance to become a senior reactor operator. This position enables you to supervise the operation of the control room. You can also become a plant manager or operator instructor. You will have better job prospects if you constantly update your technical and mechanical skills. Job prospects for nuclear power reactor operators are positive from 2012 to 2022 because licenses have been applied for construction and operation of new sites. These sites will require staffing.

If you feel you have the aptitude for this challenging but exciting career, then start the process by seeking the necessary qualifications.

 

Image: istock

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