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How Do I Become a Nuclear Power Reactor Operator?

By Jennifer Leigh
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Nuclear power reactor operators undergo extensive training before they are able to work unsupervised, because of the dangerous nature of the job. This position requires some education as well as experience working in a nuclear power plant. To become a nuclear power reactor operator, you will need to have skills in math and science. In some countries, you will need to be licensed, so be sure to check with your government to find out about the requirements.

A high school diploma is the minimum level of education required to work as a nuclear power reactor operator. An associate's or bachelor's degree is helpful when looking for a job or trying to move up within a nuclear power plant, particularly in engineering or science. Nuclear power plants offer on-the-job training and classes that can take many months to complete. Operators generally work their way into the position by beginning as equipment or auxiliary operators.

If you want to succeed in this job, you should have a propensity for math and science. The profession requires an understanding of algebra and trigonometry along with physical sciences. Classes are provided during training, but people who naturally understand these subjects are more likely to succeed in the field.

You can apply to a nuclear power plant for a job as an equipment or auxiliary operator. After being hired, you will have to work at the plant for at least a certain amount of time — typically three years — before becoming eligible to become a licensed nuclear power reactor operator. At least one of the years might need to be at the plant where you plan to be licensed as a nuclear power reactor operator.

At this time, training can commence for the role of licensed nuclear power reactor operator. Training usually takes about one year before you can take a test to become fully licensed. It is possible to move to senior licensed nuclear reactor operator after a number of years on the job, and the amount of on-the-job training varies depending on the country where you are working as a nuclear power plant reactor operator.

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Discussion Comments

By anon973502 — On Oct 11, 2014

Reactor operators are always working under supervision. The job itself is not dangerous. It is highly technical in nature (reason for the extensive training before achieving license. All operators are required to work rotating shifts, since all nuclear power plants operate 24 hours around the clock. Additionally, the training never stops. All operators are required to attend refresher training on a regular basis (typically once every four to six weeks).

By Feryll — On Jul 16, 2014

I think people are too worried about the dangers of nuclear reactors. Sure they can be dangerous, but so can almost everything else in the world. When I try to think of major problems that have happened at nuclear reactor plants, I can remember only three.

When you consider all the plants operating and all the years they have been around, they are relatively safe. We need energy and nuclear energy is a good way to get what we need in my opinion.

By Drentel — On Jul 16, 2014

I disagree with @Animandel when she says that a person should need more than a high school diploma to work as a nuclear power reactor operator. It's not like a person is hired and then given the run of the plant from the first day on the job.

Nuclear power reactor operators start with no work experience like everybody else. What they need to know they learn on the job by putting in the hours, day after day. Also, I imagine there are many people responsible for the safety of nuclear reactors, not just one person, so they are able to check the work of one another.

By Animandel — On Jul 15, 2014

I was surprised to read in the second paragraph of this article that you could possibly get a job as a nuclear power reactor operator with as little as a high school diploma. I think we should have people who have at least a college degree in those positions.

After all, if you make a mistake in that job then a lot of people might have to pay a high price. Haven't we learned anything from the nuclear plant accidents we have already seen in different countries around the world?

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