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Nuclear power reactor operators operate or control nuclear reactors and implement emergency procedures when needed

Nuclear Power Reactor Operator Jobs and Green Career Profile

Nuclear power reactor operators work at a nuclear power plant and are responsible for directly controlling a nuclear reactor from a control panel. A nuclear reactor is a device to initiate and control a sustained nuclear chain reaction. Heat from a nuclear reaction is passed to a working fluid (water or gas), which runs through turbines which turn the generators. Those with nuclear power reactor operator jobs can directly alter significant amounts of reactor activity. Nuclear power reactor operators may be required to start up a nuclear reactor, shut down a critical nuclear reactor, and monitor reactor parameters.

Understanding Nuclear Power Reactor Operator Jobs

Learn About Nuclear Power Reactor Operators JobsA nuclear power reactor operators’ main duty is to adjust controls to position the rods and to regulate flux level, reactor period, coolant temperature, or rate of power flow, following standard procedures. They implement operational procedures, which control start-up or shutdown activities. They will often report conditions such as malfunctions of equipment, instruments, or controls to supervisors. They also respond to system or unit abnormalities, diagnosing the cause, and recommending or taking corrective action.

Nuclear power reactor operators 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. They record operating data, such as the results of surveillance tests. They dispatch orders or instructions to personnel through intercommunication systems to coordinate auxiliary equipment operation. They also monitor or operate boilers, turbines, wells, or auxiliary power plant equipment.

Nuclear power reactor operators participate in nuclear fuel element handling activities, such as preparation, transfer, loading, or unloading of fuel. They conduct inspections or operations outside of control rooms as necessary. They direct reactor operators in emergency situations, in accordance with emergency operating procedures. They also authorize maintenance activities on units or changes in equipment or system operational status.

As part of their green job functionality, nuclear power reactor operators can authorize actions to correct identified operational inefficiencies or hazards so that operating efficiency is maximized and potential environmental issues are minimized. They direct measurement of the intensity or types of radiation in work areas, equipment, or materials. They also direct the collection and testing of air, water, gas, or solid samples to determine radioactivity levels or to ensure appropriate radioactive containment.

Safety is an important aspect of the nuclear power reactor operators’ job. Those with nuclear power reactor operator jobs identify or direct implementation of appropriate decontamination procedures, based on equipment and the size, nature, and type of contamination. They operate nuclear power reactors in accordance with policies and procedures to protect workers from radiation and to ensure environmental safety. They also supervise technicians’ work activities to ensure that equipment is operated in accordance with policies and procedures that protect workers from radiation and ensure environmental safety.

Nuclear power reactor operators Green Job Summary

  • Nuclear power reactor operators operate or control nuclear reactors and implement emergency procedures when needed. They move control rods, start and stop equipment, monitor and adjust controls, and record data in logs. They also respond to abnormalities, determine cause, and recommend corrective action.
  • Nuclear power reactor operators’ job outlook is projected to have little or no change from 2012 to 2022.
  • Nuclear power reactor operators’ jobs are expected to have 2,300 new jobs filled by 2022.

Work Environment for Nuclear power reactor operators

Nuclear power reactor operators work in control rooms in nuclear power plants where they use computers and other equipment to monitor and help operate nuclear reactors. Working around nuclear reactors may involve exposure to high temperatures. Senior reactor operators supervise the operation of all controls in the control room. At least one senior operator must be on duty during each shift to act as the plant supervisor.

Nuclear power reactor operators must take precautions when working with or around nuclear materials. They often have to wear protective gear and film badges that indicate if they have been exposed to radiation. Protective gear may include hard hats, hearing and eye protection, plastic suits, and respirators. Most nuclear power reactor operators work full time. In power plants, which operate 24 hours a day, nuclear power reactor operators may work variable schedules that include nights, holidays, and weekends. Occasionally plants stop operations for maintenance and upgrades and they may need to work overtime during these periods.

Nuclear power reactor operators Education, Training and Licensing

To enter a green job as a nuclear power reactor operators, it is usually required a combination of education, on-the-job training, and experience. Candidates with strong computer and technical skills are generally preferred. Those with college or vocational school degrees will have more advancement opportunities in nuclear power plants. Although it is not a prerequisite, many senior power reactor operators have a bachelor’s degree in engineering or the physical sciences. Most operators start working as nuclear equipment operation technicians. They help the more senior workers with equipment maintenance and operation while learning the basics of plant operation. With experience and training they may be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission as nuclear power reactor operators and authorized to control equipment that affects the power of the reactor in a nuclear power plant.

In terms of licensing, extensive training and experience are necessary to pass the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) examinations required for nuclear power reactor operators and senior nuclear power reactor operators. Before beginning training, a nuclear power plant worker must have 3 years of power plant experience. At least 6 months of this must be on-site at the nuclear power plant where the operator is to be licensed. Training generally takes at least 1 year, after which the worker must take an NRC-administered examination. To maintain their licenses, reactor operators must pass an annual practical plant operation exam and a biennial written exam administered by their employers. Reactor operators can upgrade their licenses to the senior reactor operator level after a year of licensed experience at the plant by taking another examination given by the NRC. Training may include simulator and on-the-job training, classroom instruction, and individual study. Experience in other power plants or with Navy nuclear propulsion plants also is helpful.

Employment Figures, Projections, Outlook and Earnings

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates a bright outlook for Nuclear power reactor operators and expects little or no change in employment of this field. The BLS projected 2,300 nuclear equipment operation technician new openings between 2012 and 2022, and noted 7,000 jobs are currently filled. Titles include Reactor Operator (RO), Nuclear Station Operator (NSO), Nuclear Reactor Operator, Nuclear Control Room Operator, Nuclear Power Reactor Operator, Nuclear Control Operator, Nuclear Plant Operator (NPO), Nuclear Unit Operator, Licensed Reactor Operator, and Nuclear Operator. The BLS further reports that the median annual wage for salaried Nuclear power reactor operators was $78,350 in 2012 with median hourly wage of $37.67. Across the US job market, he lowest 10 percent earned less than $55,060, and the top 10 percent earned more than $97,300. Nuclear power reactor operators can receive the best compensation in New York, where they earn compensation, on average, of about $83,530. People in this job function are compensated at the highest average salary in Public Administration, where they get average pay levels of $78,000.

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