Nuclear technicians typically work in nuclear power 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.

Duties

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 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. 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 that could indicate a leak or could decrease the efficiency of the turbines in the power plants. They measure efficiency and safety by making calculations based on factors such as temperature, pressure, and radiation intensity. Operating technicians must make adjustments and repairs to improve or maintain the performance of reactors and other equipment.

Radiation protection technicians monitor levels of contamination to protect personnel in nuclear power facilities and the local environment around a plant. They use radiation detectors to measure levels in and around facilities and dosimeters to measure the levels present in people and objects. They also monitor worker activity from a control room and alert personnel who may be entering a dangerous area or working in some other unsafe way. They use the data collected to map radiation levels throughout the plant and the surrounding environment. From their findings, they recommend radioactive decontamination plans and safety procedures for personnel. 

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.

Other 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 (used 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.

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Work Environment

Nuclear technicians held about 8,100 jobs in 2012.

The industries that employed the most nuclear technicians in 2012 were as follows:

Electric power generation, transmission and distribution 50%
Engineering services 11
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 10
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 9

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 on-site, requiring them to visit several areas in and around the plant throughout the workday. This may require them to sometimes 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 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. 

Work Schedules

Most nuclear technicians work full time. In power plants, which operate 24 hours a day, technicians may work variable schedules that include nights, holidays, and weekends. Occasionally plants stop operations for maintenance and upgrades. Workers may need to work overtime during these periods. In laboratories, technicians typically work during normal business hours.

Education and Training

Nuclear technicians typically enter the occupation with an associate’s degree in nuclear science or a nuclear-related technology. 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.

Education

Nuclear technicians typically enter the occupation with an associate’s degree, or after gaining equivalent experience in the Armed Forces, specifically the U.S. Navy. Many community colleges and technical institutes offer associate’s 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.

Training

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 instructed on safety procedures, regulations, and plant policies. Workers who do not have the appropriate associate’s degree or its equivalent usually have a significant period of on-site classroom 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.

Advancement

With additional training and experience, technicians may become nuclear power reactor operators at nuclear power plants. Technicians can become nuclear engineers by earning a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering. Nuclear physicists need a Ph.D. in physics. For more information, see the profiles on power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers; nuclear engineers; and physicists and astronomers.

Personality and Interests

Nuclear technicians typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a nuclear technician, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Nuclear technicians should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Nuclear technicians receive complex instructions from scientists and engineers that they must follow exactly. They have to be able to ask questions to clarify anything they do not understand. Nuclear technicians must be able to explain their work to scientists, engineers, and reactor operators. They must also instruct others on safety procedures and warn them when conditions are hazardous. Because of the risky nature of the work, many of the daily procedures and work processes must be thoroughly documented.

Computer skills. Nuclear technicians must be able to use computers for plant operations and for normal office work such as documenting their activities.

Critical-thinking skills. Nuclear technicians must carefully evaluate all available information before deciding on a course of action. For example, radiation protection technicians must evaluate data from radiation detectors to determine if areas are safe and develop decontamination plans if they are not safe.

Interpersonal skills. Nuclear technicians must be comfortable having open and honest discussions with supervisors because clear communication is very important to maintaining a high level of safety.

Math skills. Nuclear technicians use scientific and mathematical formulas to analyze experimental and production data such as reaction rates and radiation exposures.

Mechanical skills. Nuclear technicians need to have strong mechanical aptitude. Nuclear power facilities are complex, and workers need to understand how the facilities work in order to make adjustments and repairs to equipment and to maintain a safe working environment. Employers hiring nuclear technicians in nuclear power plants often conduct mechanical aptitude tests as part of the hiring process.

Monitoring skills. Nuclear technicians must be able to assess data from sensors, gauges, and other instruments to make sure that equipment and experiments are functioning properly and that radiation levels are controlled.

Pay

The median annual wage for nuclear technicians was $69,060 in May 2012. 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 $42,270, and the top 10 percent earned more than $97,300. 

Most nuclear technicians work full time. In power plants, which operate 24 hours a day, technicians may work variable schedules that include nights, holidays, and weekends. Occasionally plants stop operations for maintenance and upgrades. Workers may need to work overtime during these periods. In laboratories, technicians typically work during normal business hours.

Job Outlook

Employment of nuclear technicians is projected to grow 15 percent from 2012 to 2022, faster than 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 limit greenhouse gas emissions.

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. 

Technicians are also expected to be in demand to develop nuclear medical technology, enforce waste management safety standards, and work in defense-related areas such as nuclear security.

Job Prospects

Nuclear technicians should have good job opportunities over the next decade. In the nuclear power industry, many openings should arise from technicians who retire or leave the occupation for other reasons.

For More Information

For more information about nuclear technicians, visit

Center for Energy Workforce Development

Get Into Energy

Nuclear Energy Institute

FAQ

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The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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