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Nuclear Occupations


What is an occupation? To put it simply, an occupation is a job. It is the work that you do to earn a living.

Choosing an occupation can be difficult. For most the choice comes down to a few simple things: Will you enjoy working in the occupation; Is the average income for the occupation an amount that will support your life style; Is the job secure (is the occupational industry growing); Is the occupation in demand; Are there jobs in the areas that you are willing live? There are a lot of tools out there that will help you research your potential occupations. There is a need for trained workers in the energy field. The Center for Energy Workforce Development has developed a website, Get Into Energy, that provides information about need for trained workers and the career paths into energy related occupations. The data below was obtained from the Occupation Outlook Handbook. Another resource for finding out more about a job occupation is O*NET.

Occupational Titles:

Nuclear Technicians

Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers


The median annual wage of nuclear technicians was $68,090 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $40,570, and the top 10 percent earned more than $93,890.

The median annual wage of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers was $65,360 in May 2010. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $42,550, and the top 10 percent earned more than $88,330.

Median annual wages for power plant operator, distributor, and dispatcher occupations in May 2010 were as follows:

  • $75,650 for nuclear power reactor operators
  • $68,900 for power distributors and dispatchers
  • $63,080 for power plant operators

Job Duties

Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear production. They operate special equipment used in these activities and monitor the levels of radiation that are produced.

  • Monitor the performance of equipment used in nuclear experiments and power generation
  • Measure the levels and types of radiation produced by nuclear experiments, power generation, and other activities
  • Collect and test samples of air, water, and other substances for levels of radioactive contamination
  • Instruct personnel on radiation safety procedures and warn them when conditions are hazardous
  • Maintain radiation monitoring and operating equipment

Job duties and titles of nuclear technicians often depend on where they work and what purpose the facility serves. Most nuclear technicians work in nuclear power plants, where they ensure that reactors and other equipment are operated safely and efficiently. Two examples of technicians who work in nuclear power plants are operating technicians and radiation protection technicians.

Operating technicians use computers, gauges, and other instruments to monitor the performance of nuclear power plants under the supervision of nuclear reactor operators and engineers. They base calculations on factors such as temperature, pressure, and radiation intensity to determine whether equipment is functioning properly. Operating technicians must make adjustments to improve the performance of reactors and other equipment, such as opening and closing valves and electrical breakers.

Power plant operators, dispatchers, and distributors control the systems that generate and distribute electric power.

  • Control power-generating equipment, such as boilers, turbines, generators, and reactors
  • Read charts, meters, and gauges to monitor voltage and electricity flows
  • Check equipment and indicators to detect evidence of operating problems
  • Adjust controls to regulate the flow of power
  • Start or stop generators, turbines, and other equipment as necessary
  • Monitor all systems for normal running conditions, performing activities such as checking gauges to assess output or the effects of generator loading on other equipment.
  • Note malfunctions of equipment, instruments, or controls and report these conditions to supervisors.
  • Respond to system or unit abnormalities, diagnosing the cause, and recommending or taking corrective action.
  • Record operating data, such as the results of surveillance tests.
  • Implement operational procedures, such as those controlling start-up or shut-down activities.

Electricity is one of our nation's most vital resources. Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control power plants and the flow of electricity from plants to substations, which distribute electricity to businesses, homes, and factories. Electricity is generated from many sources, including coal, gas, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy (from water sources), and wind and solar power.

Nuclear power reactor operators control nuclear reactors. They adjust control rods, which affect how much electricity a reactor generates. They monitor reactors, turbines, generators, and cooling systems, adjusting controls as necessary. Operators also start and stop equipment and record the data. They may need to respond to abnormalities, determine the cause, and take corrective action.

Power distributors and dispatchers, also known as systems operators, control the flow of electricity as it travels from generating stations to substations and users over a network of transmission and distribution lines. They prepare and issue switching orders to route electrical currents around areas that need maintenance or repair. Distributors and dispatchers also monitor and operate current converters, voltage transformers, and circuit breakers. They must detect and respond to emergencies, such as transformer or transmission line failures.

Power plant operators control, operate, and maintain machinery to generate electric power. They use control boards to distribute power among generators and regulate the output from several generators. They regulate the flow of power between generating stations and substations, and they monitor instruments to maintain voltage and electricity flows from the plant.

Work Environment

In nuclear power plants, nuclear technicians typically work in offices and control rooms where they use computers and other equipment to monitor and help operate nuclear reactors. Nuclear technicians also need to measure radiation levels onsite, requiring them to travel to several plant locations throughout the workday. Nuclear technicians who conduct scientific tests for scientists and engineers typically work in laboratories.

Nuclear technicians must take precautions when working with or around nuclear materials. They often have to wear protective clothing and film badges that indicate if they have been exposed to radiation. Many technicians also wear respirators as a safety precaution.

Most nuclear technicians work full time. In power plants, which operate 24 hours a day, technicians may work nights, holidays, and weekends. In laboratories, technicians typically work during normal business hours.

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers held about 55,900 jobs in 2010. About 72 percent were power plant operators, 18 percent were power distributors and dispatchers, and 9 percent were nuclear power reactor operators.

About 72 percent of power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers worked in the electric power generation, transmission, and distribution industry. Government employed 16 percent, most of which worked in local government.

Operators, distributors, and dispatchers who work in control rooms generally sit or stand at a control station. The work is not physically strenuous, but it does require constant attention. Workers also may do rounds, checking equipment and doing other work outside the control room.

Because power transmission is both vitally important and sensitive to attack, security is a major concern for utility companies. Nuclear power plants and transmission stations have especially high security, and workers should be prepared to work in secured environments.

When operators are on rounds or doing other work outside the control room, they may be exposed to danger from electric shock, falls, and burns. Still, workers in these jobs experience rates of injuries and illnesses that are lower than the average for all occupations.

Because electricity is provided around the clock, operators, distributors, and dispatchers usually work rotating 8- or 12-hour shifts. As a result, all operators share the less desirable shifts. Work on rotating shifts can be stressful and tiring because of the constant changes in living and sleeping patterns.

Job Outlook

Employment of nuclear technicians is expected to grow by 14 percent from 2010 to 2020, as fast as the average for all occupations. Most growth will be due to higher demand for nuclear energy, stemming from overall growth in energy demand and greater interest in energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gases.

Demand for technicians should grow because of higher levels of production at existing nuclear power plants, as well as new nuclear power plant operations.

Greater interest in nuclear energy also is expected to increase demand for research in nuclear physics and nuclear engineering. Technicians will be needed to help scientists and engineers develop smaller and more efficient reactors, as well as fuels that are safer, last longer, and produce less waste.