Students interested in nuclear science or nuclear technology fields often ask how to become a nuclear technician. Nuclear technicians are energy production workers who operate the high-tech equipment used to generate power. Nuclear technicians participate in all nuclear plant activities to safely produce electricity. A nuclear technician provides assistance to engineers, physicists, mechanics, and other related energy professionals. Technicians are also involved in nuclear research to determine how reactors and plant materials can reach better production levels. Becoming a nuclear technician is a popular path for individuals who seek a high-paying job without a bachelor’s degree. The steps to become a nuclear technician include an associate degree, professional certification, extensive on-the-job training, and acquisition of specific skills.
Pick a Nuclear Technician Career Path
How to become a nuclear technician starts with selecting the right field specialization. The Bureau of Labor Statistics counted 6,420 nuclear technicians who fall into two distinct types: operating technicians and radiation protection technicians. First, operating technicians are focused on ensuring all power plant equipment functions at peak performance. Operating technicians constantly monitor nuclear production systems for inefficiencies and leaks. Operating technicians take measurements to determine factors like turbine temperature and pressure to test the reactor’s productivity. On the other hand, radiation protection technicians have a more public safety role in guaranteeing dangerous radiation is contained. Radiation protection technicians use dosimeters to determine the location’s absorbed dose of ionizing radiation. Radiation protection technicians devise protocol for controlling nuclear plant emissions and maintaining good air quality. Radiation protection technicians focus more on keeping work conditions safe and disposing of nuclear waste.
Earn an Accredited Associate Degree from a Nuclear Technician School
In 2019, Business Insider recognized nuclear technicians for the fourth top-paying job with an associate degree. Entering an associate program is how to become a nuclear technician. Associate degrees in nuclear science, nuclear technology, or closely related areas are best. Students must gain an understanding of nuclear energy tools and equipment that are used in power plants. Most associate programs require the completion of at least 60-65 credits. Community colleges and trade schools deliver these two-year associate degrees. Associate programs teach about nuclear power history, radiation detection instrumentation, and emergency planning. Students commonly complete a strong STEM foundation with core courses from chemistry to calculus. Associate major classes, such as Fluid Mechanics, Nuclear Physics, and Nuclear Engineering Technology, will follow. High school diploma or GED recipients should apply to nuclear-related associate programs only at regionally accredited colleges.
See our ranking of nuclear technician schools:
Pursue Professional Certification
Professional certification in nuclear science is a voluntary, yet recommended step. Certification makes the road to become a nuclear technician easier because employers trust one’s skills. Certification for nuclear technicians generally involves taking a test and passing a qualification review. Associate degree graduates can select from several different certification options. For example, the American Society for Nondestructive Testing (ASNT) credentials nuclear technicians. The Industrial Radiography Radiation Safety Personnel (IRRSP) certification requires passing a four-hour exam at Pearson VUE centers in 170+ countries. The National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists (NRRPT) certifies technicians who are 21 or older with five years of experience. Becoming a Registered Radiation Protection Technologist (RRPT) involves taking a $250 exam at one of two U.S. testing times. The Nuclear Energy Institute also offers the Nuclear Uniform Curriculum Program for professional certification.
Complete Extensive Training on the Job
How to become a nuclear technician also entails gaining hands-on experience. Learning about nuclear reactors and radiation detectors in textbooks isn’t sufficient. After completing an associate degree and professional certification, technicians typically need on-the-job training. Engaging in extensive training programs ensures technicians have the know-how to safely practice. Nuclear technicians begin as trainees and complete tasks under the careful observation of experienced nuclear specialists. Technicians learn the correct techniques for using power plant monitoring and operating equipment. Radiation protection technicians also learn safety procedures, industry regulations, and the policies of their plant. How long training lasts depends on the technician’s education and experience level. Generally, on-the-job training takes between six months and two years. Nuclear apprenticeships are available at companies like Exelon, Siemens, PSEG, Dominion Energy, and more. Nuclear technicians also attend continuing education throughout their careers to stay up-to-date on field advancements.
Sharpen Specialized Nuclear Science Skills
Becoming a competent, successful nuclear technician mandates sharp specialized skills. Nuclear technicians need effective communication skills to receive and convey complex job instructions. Nuclear technicians must be good speakers to explain work to other nuclear workers and instruct personnel on safety procedures. Computer skills are needed for today’s nuclear technicians to carry out plant operations and document reactor activities. Good critical thinking skills are essential for nuclear technicians to carefully assess all monitoring equipment data and make sound decisions. Mathematical skills help nuclear technicians use scientific formulas to measure production levels and rates of reactions. Mechanical skills are a must-have for nuclear technicians to operate nuclear facilities and conduct effective equipment repairs. Nuclear technicians need great attention to detail when evaluating gauges, sensors, and similar instruments. Nuclear technicians also need quick problem-solving skills to react when radiation levels rise.
Related Resource: Best Tiny Colleges
Finding the First Nuclear Technician Job
How to become a nuclear technician ends with the search for a permanent job. In 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor reported that 58 percent of nuclear technicians worked in electric power generation. Currently, there are 57 commercial nuclear power plants with 95 reactors across 29 states. The entire globe has 440 nuclear reactors functioning in about 30 nations. Nuclear technicians can work at manufacturing companies to create power plant equipment. Some nuclear technicians are employed at engineering services firms to find new methods of breaking down atomic nuclei. Four percent of nuclear technicians also work in employment services. Most nuclear technicians work full-time with variable shifts on a 24/7 operational schedule. The 10-year job outlook for nuclear technicians shows a 4 percent decline. The number of nuclear technician jobs will drop by 300 before 2028.
Working in the nuclear science field is intense and stressful. Nuclear technicians have a tremendous responsibility in working with hazardous materials. Nuclear technicians benefit from a high mean annual wage of $82,710. Most nuclear technicians make between $52,860 and $117,480 each year. Nuclear technicians with associate’s from nuclear technician schools often earn more than bachelor’s degree graduates with only two years of college. Becoming a nuclear technician is ideal for diligent, hard-working STEM majors who are interested in the operations of nuclear environments. The necessary steps for how to become a nuclear technician include education, certification, job training, and skill development.