If you are interested in growing your career in the nuclear industry, you should consider becoming a power plant operator. These jobs are an excellent opportunity for technicians to develop their skills and make a real difference in the industry and their community. But if you are new to the field or just starting in your career, it can be confusing to figure out what training and education a power plant operator really need. Luckily, knowledge is power. Here’s what you need to know to grow your career in this industry.
Nuclear power plant operators are tasked with monitoring the power-generating equipment within a plant. This includes nuclear reactors and other equipment within the control rooms. They control the systems that generate and distribute electrical power to customers of the nuclear energy facility. Most workers in this position are employed full-time, and many work rotating shifts. There were around 60,000 jobs for power plant operators in 2014 across the US. The annual mean wage for power plant operators in Virginia as of May 2016 was around $60,000.
Education and Training
Power plant operators need a high school diploma, but many employers prefer applicants with a college or degree from a vocational school. Candidates with a strong math and science background do well in highly technical jobs such as this. Training is extensive and generally takes place on-the-job. Operators are expected to keep their skills up to date through further training courses over the course of their careers.
Examples of the specific training power plant operators can benefit from include but are not limited to: Cycle Efficiency, Electrical Energy and Power Generation Processes, Power Plant Efficiency, Power Plant Operation Safety, and Pollution Control, Heat Rate Improvement, Boiler, and Turbine Protection, Integrated Systems Protection, and Thermodynamics. There are many courses and training available to help you develop your industry knowledge in this area, so make sure to research the job you are looking to apply for and target the education you need to succeed in that role.
Power plant operators are responsible for controlling power-generating equipment, reading charts, meters, and gauges that monitor voltage and electricity flows. They check equipment and indicators to detect evidence of operating problems and adjust controls to regulate the flow of power as needed. They are responsible for starting or stopping generators, turbines, and other equipment as necessary.
To complete these tasks, operators need to have strong concentration skills, be careful and attentive to monitor reactors’ temperature over a certain length of time. They need to be highly detail-oriented with problem-solving skills that will help to find and quickly solve issues that arise with equipment or controls. This also requires a certain amount of dexterity and mechanical skills that help operate, repair, and maintain equipment.
Nuclear power plant operators often begin their careers as non-licensed operators, helping more experienced workers operate and maintain the equipment while learning the basics of how to operate the power plant. After in-plant training and licensing through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), they can become licensed reactor operators. To become licensed, they must meet certain requirements, pass a medical exam, and pass the NRC licensing exam. To keep their license, operators must pass a plant-operating exam each year, pass a medical exam every two years, and apply for renewal of their license every six years.
To learn more about a power plant operator’s career path, check out the American Public Power Association, the Center for Energy Workforce Development, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.