In 2019, there were 5,050 nuclear power plant reactor operators and 7,600 nuclear technicians employed in the United States. There are 95 nuclear power plants in 29 states in the United States, according to the Nuclear Energy Institute. In addition, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates research and test reactors. Nuclear reactor operators and technicians work at nuclear power plants and are employed by utility or energy companies, universities, and other institutions operating these facilities.
In recent years, nuclear technology programs have been the best source for hiring nuclear reactor operator technicians. Students are usually interviewed and hired by the nuclear power plant personnel recruiters toward the end of their technical college program and start working in the power plant as trainees after they graduate.
Navy veterans from nuclear programs and employees from other parts of the nuclear power plant may also be good candidates for entering a nuclear reactor operator training program.
Many licensed reactor operators progress to the position of senior reactor operator (as they gain experience and undergo further study). To be certified as senior reactor operators (SROs), operators must pass the senior reactor operator exam, which requires a broader and more detailed knowledge of the power plant, plant procedures, and company policies. In some locations, the senior reactor operator may supervise other licensed operators.
SROs may also advance into the positions of field foreman and then control room supervisor or unit supervisor. These are management positions, and supervisors are responsible for an operating crew. Successful supervisors can be promoted to shift engineer or even plant manager.
Licensed nuclear reactor operators and senior reactor operators may also become part of a power plant's education staff or gain employment in a technical or four-year college, company employee training department, or an outside consulting company. Both operators and SROs may work for reactor manufacturers and serve as research and development consultants. They also may teach trainees to use simulators or operating models of the manufacturer's reactors. Finally, operators and SROs may work for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which administers license examinations.
Get a firsthand look at a power plant by scheduling a tour of your local electric utility company.
Become a member of your school's science or computer club, or join a local chapter of the Technology Student Association (https://tsaweb.org) to gain experience in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields.
Contact or visit the Web site of the Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (http://www.inpo.info) to learn more about nuclear power plants and career opportunities in the industry.