Jobs, Training, and Salary for Nuclear Power Reactor Operators
Nuclear power reactor operators earn a salary far above those of general power-plant operators. There are no formal requirements for this job, but getting a college education in certain fields can greatly enhance the odds of getting employment.
There were about 5000 jobs for nuclear power reactor operators in May of 2010, according to the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. These specialized technicians were earning an average median salary of $75,650 at that time.
Naturally, electric companies that use nuclear power plants hire almost all of these reactor operators. However, the federal government hired about 380 at that time. Local governments and colleges and universities had only a few dozen jobs for these operators.
There is no formal educational requirement for these jobs. However, a background or even a degree in math, a physical science, or engineering would be good for employment reasons.
One option for education as a nuclear power reactor operator is to major in nuclear engineering or nuclear engineering technology. ABET has a list of accredited programs for nuclear and radiological engineering and technology programs for this discipline.
Engineering and technology programs are somewhat different. There is more theory in engineering courses than engineering technology. The latter are more like trade schools that may prepare you for employment as nuclear engineering plant operator. On the other hand, if you do intend to get at least a bachelor's degree in nuclear and radiological engineering, then that would open the doors to an additional career as a nuclear engineer.
Thus, if you intend to graduate from college, selecting a 4-year degree program in nuclear and radiological engineering is probably the better path to qualifying for jobs as a nuclear power reactor operator. But if you want to get a job as quickly as possible, you can consider a shorter technology course. You can often complete these courses in 2 years instead of the standard 4 years for a bachelor's degree.
Finally, to get the better jobs as an operator in this field, you will need to get licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Read the "Licensing Process for Operators" page on the NRC website for more details about how to qualify for this valuable professional license.
ABET Accredited Programs for Nuclear Engineering and Nuclear Engineering Technology (Search Page)
Bureau of Labor Statistics: Jobs and Salary for Nuclear Power Reactor Operators
Nuclear Regulatory Commission: Licensing Process for Operators