Nuclear technicians typically work in nuclear energy 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:
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. The levels they find could indicate a leak or could decrease the efficiency of the turbines in the power plants. They measure efficiency and ensure safety by making calculations based on factors such as temperature, pressure, and radiation intensity. Operating technicians must make adjustments and repairs to maintain or improve the performance of reactors and other equipment.
Radiation protection technicians monitor levels of radiation contamination to protect personnel in nuclear power facilities and the surrounding environment. They use radiation detectors to measure levels in and around facilities, and they use dosimeters to measure the levels present in people and objects. With the data collected, they map radiation levels throughout the plant and the surrounding environment. From their findings, they recommend radioactive decontamination plans and safety procedures for personnel. They also monitor worker activity from a control room and alert personnel who may be entering a dangerous area or working in an unsafe way.
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.
Some 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 (utilized 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.
Nuclear technicians typically need an associate’s degree in nuclear science or a nuclear-related technology. Some may have gained equivalent experience from serving in the military. 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 need an associate’s degree, or they may have equivalent experience from serving in the military—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 taught safety procedures, regulations, and plant policies. Workers who do not have the appropriate associate’s degree or its equivalent usually have a substantial period of onsite technical 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.Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations
The Nuclear Energy Institute offers a certificate through its Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program. The American Society for Nondestructive Testing offers Industrial Radiography and Radiation Safety Personnel certification. The National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists offers certification as a Registered Radiation Protection Technologist.Important 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 of hazardous conditions. Many of the daily procedures and work processes must be thoroughly documented because of the risky nature of the work.
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 must 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.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.
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