How To Get A Job In A Nuclear Power Plant

Nuclear power plants offer challenging careers for those qualified or willing to be trained. Here are some guidelines for finding a job in this field.

With over 100 nuclear power plants currently operating in the United States, there are certainly opportunities for employment for people who have a desire to work in this field. But, because of tight security regulations, the general public rarely has an opportunity to get inside one of these plants, and learning about the types of jobs that may be available is difficult. Nuclear power plants do not generally advertise for job openings and rely instead on word of mouth, employee referrals or college recruiting to fill open positions.

Nuclear power plants offer a wide range of employment possibilities, some requiring a high level of training and education, while others are entry-level. Because these plants operate twenty-four hours a day, they usually require three fully staffed shifts. Each plant employs a number of power plant operators whose job it is to monitor generators, boilers, and turbines, making sure that power is evenly distributed according to requirements. These operators are responsible for monitoring computers and generating reports for each shift. They must be on alert at all times and keep a close eye on any potential problems with the generators or transformers.

In plants where all the systems are controlled by computers, the operators are called "Control Room Operators." The senior reactor operator is in charge of the entire operation and is ultimately responsible for controlling all aspects of the process. All operators must be licensed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and, once licensed an operator must continue to update training.

Each plant also employs a number of dispatchers who keep an eye on the distribution of the electricity that the plant produces. Their job is to monitor all the conversion equipment as well as to keep the output flowing smoothly. Dispatchers must react when external conditions change, watching for situations that might require a redistribution of power. Winter storms or intense heat can require redirecting resources from one location to another.

Most people seeking jobs as dispatchers and operators are hired in entry-level training positions. A high school diploma is required as are solid math and science background. Computer skills are also required. In most plants, a government security clearance is required and drug testing administered. Entry-level jobs may be clerical or labor intensive in nature. Normally, testing is administered and training placement is determined by the results of these tests. Training can be as long as three years. Ultimately, dispatchers must pass the licensing test for the NRC and continue training throughout their careers.

While training is intensive, and becoming a full-fledged operator or dispatcher takes time and patience, there is certainly compensation for all the hard work. Salaries for these positions are above average and, due to the specific nature of the jobs; promotions almost always come from within. Benefits are also generous. The downside is that, since the responsibilities are enormous, there is a certain degree of stress related to these jobs. Shifts run around the clock and, no matter what the time of day, an operator or dispatcher must be alert and ready to react to any emergency.

As a perspective employee, the first thing you need to determine is what company or agency is responsible for the operation of the plant to which you wish to apply. Nuclear power plants in the United States are not all operated by the federal government or even one particular company. Some are owned and operated by private utility companies, others by the individual state's power authority. In upstate New York, for example, there are two power plants operating within sixty miles of one another, both on the shores of Lake Ontario. They are each owned and operated by two different utility companies and operate independently of one another. The Tennessee Valley Authority operates plants in Tennessee, while plants in Southern California are under the jurisdiction of Southern California Edison, a public utility company. Ownership varies from location to location and hiring policy also varies.

To find out which company or agency owns the plant in which you are interested, search the Internet for "nuclear power plant addresses." There are several sites that list each operating plant, its location and the company that owns it. From this list, you will be able to link to the operating company's website. Once you have accessed the website, find the employment page and check to see if there are any openings. Note that some plants may hire only through the U.S. Civil Service Commission, while others hire directly. If there are entry-level positions listed, follow the company's procedure for submitting a resume and online application. Look for the name of a contact person and be sure to follow-up with a phone call or email within two weeks. Remember, these jobs are not easy to obtain, and in the end, perseverance is what counts. Don't rule out your state's Department of Labor job bank either. Depending on your locale, these jobs may be required to be listed as part of the unemployment job register.

If you have no preference as to location and can accept a job at any nuclear power plant, you have more options available. Use your Internet search engine to look for "nuclear power plant jobs." There are sites that specialize in listing open positions and the selection is vast. A recent search of one site yielded nearly 150 positions. While most of these jobs require experience and certification, you can use these listings to find contact names, company web addresses and specific training needed to prepare for a job. There are also non-technical positions listed that might also be used as an entrée into the company.

If you are a college student and interested in a career in nuclear power, consider nuclear engineering. Recent graduates are hired as assistant engineers and receive intensive training on the job. Additional study may be required to attain more senior positions but many companies will assist employees with tuition benefits for post-graduate work. These agencies often recruit on-campus and are sometimes overlooked by students considering technical careers.

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