Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear energy production.
What they do
Nuclear technicians typically work in nuclear energy production or assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research. They operate special equipment used in these activities and monitor the levels of radiation that are produced.
Nuclear technicians typically do the following:
- 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 samples of air, water, and soil, and test for radioactive contamination
- Instruct personnel on radiation safety procedures and warn them of hazardous conditions
- Operate and maintain radiation monitoring 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. The following are types of nuclear technicians who work in the power generation industry:
Operating technicians monitor the performance of systems in nuclear power plants. They measure levels of radiation and other contaminants in water systems. The levels they find could indicate a leak or could decrease the efficiency of the turbines in the power plants. They measure efficiency and ensure safety by making calculations based on factors such as temperature, pressure, and radiation intensity. Operating technicians must make adjustments and repairs to maintain or improve the performance of reactors and other equipment.
Radiation protection technicians monitor levels of radiation contamination to protect personnel in nuclear power facilities and the surrounding environment. They use radiation detectors to measure levels in and around facilities, and they use dosimeters to measure the levels present in people and objects. Technicians map radiation levels throughout the plant and the surrounding environment and recommend radioactive decontamination plans and safety procedures for personnel. They also monitor worker activity from a control room and alert personnel who may be entering a dangerous area or working in an unsafe way.
Nuclear technicians also work in waste management and treatment facilities, where they monitor the disposal, recycling, and storage of nuclear waste. They perform duties similar to those of radiation protection technicians at nuclear power plants.
Some nuclear technicians work in laboratories. They help nuclear physicists, nuclear engineers, and other scientists conduct research and develop new types of nuclear reactors, fuels, medicines, and other technologies. They use equipment such as radiation detectors, spectrometers (utilized to measure gamma ray and x-ray radiation), and particle accelerators to conduct experiments and gather data. They also may use remote-controlled equipment to manipulate radioactive materials or materials exposed to radiation.
Most nuclear technicians work in nuclear power plants, where they typically work in offices and control rooms. The technicians use computers and other equipment to monitor and help operate nuclear reactors. Nuclear technicians also need to measure radiation levels onsite, requiring them to visit several areas in and around the plant throughout the workday. This task may sometimes require them to work outside, regardless of weather conditions. Working around nuclear reactors may involve exposure to high temperatures. 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 gear and special badges that indicate whether they have been exposed to radiation. Protective gear may include hardhats, hearing and eye protection, plastic suits, and respirators.
How to become a Nuclear Technician
Nuclear technicians typically need an associate degree in nuclear science or a nuclear-related technology. Some may have gained equivalent experience from serving in the military. Nuclear technicians also go through extensive on-the-job training. For safety and security reasons, nuclear technicians usually must undergo a background check and receive some type of security clearance after they are hired.
Nuclear technicians typically need an associate degree, or they may have equivalent experience from serving in the military—specifically, the U.S. Navy. Many community colleges and technical institutes offer associate degree programs in nuclear science, nuclear technology, or related fields. Students study nuclear energy, radiation, and the equipment and components used in nuclear power plants and laboratories. Other coursework includes mathematics, physics, and chemistry.
In nuclear power plants, nuclear technicians start out as trainees under the supervision of more experienced technicians. During their training, they are taught the proper ways to use operating and monitoring equipment. They are also taught safety procedures, regulations, and plant policies. Workers who do not have the appropriate associate degree or its equivalent usually have a substantial period of onsite technical training provided by their employer before they begin full duties and a normal training schedule.
Training varies with the technician’s previous experience and education. Most training programs last between 6 months and 2 years. Nuclear technicians go through additional training and education throughout their careers to keep up with advances in nuclear science and technology.
The Nuclear Energy Institute offers a certificate through its Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program. The American Society for Nondestructive Testing offers Industrial Radiography and Radiation Safety Personnel certification. The National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists offers certification as a Registered Radiation Protection Technologist.
The median annual wage for nuclear technicians was $82,080 in May 2019. 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 $52,860, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $117,480.
Employment of nuclear technicians is projected to decline 19 percent from 2019 to 2029.
Technicians will be needed to help maintain and upgrade existing nuclear power plants. However, traditional forms of power generation are becoming more productive because of increased automation. In addition, increasing pressure from alternative forms of power generation, such as solar arrays and wind turbines, will impact employment growth in traditional energy production.
Similar Job Titles
Auxiliary Operator, Equipment Operator, Licensed Nuclear Operator, Non-Licensed Nuclear Equipment Operator (NLO), Non-Licensed Nuclear Plant Operator (NLO), Nuclear Auxiliary Operator, Nuclear Equipment Operator (NEO), Nuclear Plant Equipment Operator (NAPEO), Operations Technician, Systems Operator, Chemistry Technician, Health Physics Technician (HP Tech), Nuclear Chemistry Technician, Radiation Control Technician (Radcon Technician), Radiation Protection Specialist (RP Specialist), Radiation Protection Technician (RPT), Radiation Technician, Radiochemical Technician, Senior Health Physics Technician, Senior Radiation Protection Technician
Environmental Engineering Technician, Non-Destructive Testing Specialist, Agricultural Technician, Chemical Technician, Agricultural Inspector, Nuclear Monitoring Technician, Nuclear Power Reactor Operator, Power Plant Operator, Gas Plant Operator, Petroleum Pump System Operator, Refinery Operator and Gauger
The trade associations listed below represent organizations made up of people (members) who work and promote advancement in the field. Members are very interested in telling others about their work and about careers in those areas. As well, trade associations provide opportunities for organizational networking and learning more about the field’s trends and directions.
- American National Standards Institute
- American Nuclear Society
- Health Physics Society
- International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
- National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists
- North American Young Generation in Nuclear
- Women in Nuclear
Magazines and Publications
- Nuclear Engineering International Magazine
- Power Magazine – Nuclear
- Nuclear Plant Journal
- World Nuclear News
- Radiology Today
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Content retrieved from: US Bureau of Labor Statistics-OOH www.bls.gov/ooh,
CareerOneStop www.careeronestop.org, O*Net Online www.onetonline.org