Individuals looking for a career that’s not only interesting but also one that offers good wages without having to spend many years in college may find becoming a nuclear technician a good fit. Nuclear technicians can choose to work in a few different job settings and may have duties that are interesting and helpful to people and the environment. Learn more about nuclear technicians, including what it takes to become one and what to expect in terms of career outlook and wage potential.
What is a Nuclear Technician?
Nuclear technicians are professionals who assist engineers, physicists and other professionals in the area of nuclear energy production. They monitor radiation levels and operate special equipment using in power generation and nuclear experiments. Their other duties include:
- Collecting samples of water, air and soil for contamination testing
- Maintaining and operating radiation monitoring equipment
- Measuring types and levels of radiation produced by power generators and nuclear experiments
- Instructing staff on radiation safety protocols
Although the majority of nuclear technicians work in the power generation industry, they typically work as either:
- Operating technicians – They measure the levels of radiation in water systems while also monitoring the performance of systems in nuclear power plants.
- Radiation protection technicians – They protect personnel in nuclear power facilities by monitoring the levels of radiation contamination.
How to Become a Nuclear Technician
To work as a nuclear technician, an individual must have at least an associate’s degree in nuclear science or a field related to nuclear technology. Individuals who have served in the military may have experience equivalent to the associate degree. Students in this associate degree program will complete courses in physics, nuclear energy, chemistry, nuclear power components, radiation and mathematics.
Once the student has completed the degree requirements, he or she will typically work as a trainee under an experienced nuclear technician. The trainee is taught about regulations, safety, monitoring equipment maintenance and plant policies. They must also keep up with continuous training to keep current in new technologies.
In addition to the degree and training, many nuclear technicians choose to obtain certification through agencies like the Nuclear Energy Institute, the American Society for Nondestructive Testing and the National Registry of Radiation Protection Technologists.
Career Outlook & Wage Potential
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that nuclear technicians can expect a decline of -4% in job growth during the 2018-2028 decade. As the world continues to look towards alternate forms of energy, the job growth for nuclear technicians may be affected. As of May 2018, nuclear technician wages ranged from $49,820 to $114,670 annually with the average annual wage at $79,970. The average hourly wage was $38.45.
Work Environment & Schedule
Nuclear technicians work in a variety of work settings. While many of them work in laboratories, many others work in waste management and treatment facilities. The BLS reports that 58% of nuclear technicians work in the field of electric power generation, transmission and distribution. Because they have to work around nuclear materials, they must take precautions and often wear protective gear such as hearing and eye protection, hardhats, respirators and plastic suits.
Nuclear technicians may also be required to wear badges that indicate they may have been exposed to radiation. Since power plants generally operate 24 hours a day, many nuclear technicians are required to work evenings, weekends and even holidays.
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Despite the fact that the job growth for nuclear technicians is declining, nuclear technology is a growing field due to the demand for nuclear energy. Working as a nuclear technician can be not only beneficial salary-wise but also very rewarding knowing it’s making the individual a part of the future.