Summary

nuclear technicians image
Nuclear technicians working for nuclear power plants use computers and other equipment to monitor and help operate nuclear reactors.
Quick Facts: Nuclear Technicians
2014 Median Pay $74,690 per year
$35.91 per hour
Typical Entry-Level Education Associate's degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training Moderate-term on-the-job training
Number of Jobs, 2014 6,800
Job Outlook, 2014-24 -5% (Decline)
Employment Change, 2014-24 -300

What Nuclear Technicians Do

Nuclear technicians assist physicists, engineers, and other professionals in nuclear research and nuclear energy production. They operate special equipment used in these activities and monitor the levels of radiation that are produced.

Work Environment

In nuclear power plants, nuclear technicians typically work in offices and control rooms where they use computers and other equipment to monitor and help operate nuclear reactors. Most nuclear technicians work full-time, variable schedules in the nuclear power industry. Their schedules may include working nights, holidays, and weekends. Nuclear technicians must take safety precautions to avoid exposure to radiation.

How to Become a Nuclear Technician

Nuclear technicians typically need an associate’s degree in nuclear science or a nuclear-related technology. Nuclear technicians also go through extensive on-the-job training.

Pay

The median annual wage for nuclear technicians was $74,690 in May 2014.

Job Outlook

Employment of nuclear technicians is projected to decline 5 percent from 2014 to 2024. Although technicians will be needed to help maintain and upgrade the existing stock of nuclear power plants, traditional forms of power generation will likely come under increasing pressure from alternative forms of energy.

State & Area Data

Explore resources for employment and wages by state and area for nuclear technicians.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of nuclear technicians with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about nuclear technicians by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Nuclear Technicians Do About this section

Nuclear technicians
Nuclear technicians use instruments, such as geiger counters, to monitor radiation levels.

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:

  • Monitor the performance of equipment used in nuclear experiments and power generation
  • Measure the levels and types of radiation produced by nuclear experiments, power generation, and other activities
  • Collect samples of air, water, and soil, and test for radioactive contamination
  • Instruct personnel on radiation safety procedures and warn them of hazardous conditions
  • Operate and maintain radiation monitoring equipment

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.

Work Environment About this section

Nuclear technicians
Nuclear technicians may monitor radiation levels at nuclear power plants.

Nuclear technicians held about 6,800 jobs in 2014. The industries that employed the most nuclear technicians were as follows:

Electric power generation, transmission and distribution 62%
Manufacturing 8
Management, scientific, and technical consulting services 3
Engineering services 3
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 3

In nuclear power plants, nuclear technicians typically work in offices and control rooms where they use computers and other equipment to monitor and help operate nuclear reactors. Nuclear technicians also need to measure radiation levels onsite, requiring them to visit several areas in and around the plant throughout the workday. This task may sometimes require them to work outside, regardless of weather conditions. Working around nuclear reactors may involve exposure to high temperatures. Nuclear technicians who conduct scientific tests for scientists and engineers typically work in laboratories. 

Nuclear technicians must take precautions when working with or around nuclear materials. They often have to wear protective gear and special badges that indicate whether they have been exposed to radiation. Protective gear may include hardhats, hearing and eye protection, plastic suits, and respirators. 

Work Schedules

Most nuclear technicians work full time. In power plants, which operate 24 hours a day, technicians may work variable schedules that include nights, holidays, and weekends. Occasionally, plants stop operations for maintenance and upgrades. Workers may need to work overtime during these periods. In laboratories, technicians typically work during normal business hours.

How to Become a Nuclear Technician About this section

Nuclear technicians
Most employers prefer applicants who have at least an associate’s degree in nuclear science or a nuclear-related technology.

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.

Pay About this section

Nuclear Technicians

Median annual wages, May 2014

Nuclear technicians

$74,690

Life, physical, and social science technicians

$42,630

Total, all occupations

$35,540

 

The median annual wage for nuclear technicians was $74,690 in May 2014. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $46,430, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $102,400.

In May 2014, the median annual wages for nuclear technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Management, scientific, and technical consulting services $84,520
Electric power generation, transmission and distribution 76,210
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 69,670
Manufacturing 60,280
Engineering services 59,910

Most nuclear technicians work full time. In power plants, which operate 24 hours a day, technicians may work variable schedules that include nights, holidays, and weekends. Occasionally, plants stop operations for maintenance and upgrades. Workers may need to work overtime during these periods. In laboratories, technicians typically work during normal business hours.

Job Outlook About this section

Nuclear Technicians

Percent change in employment, projected 2014-24

Total, all occupations

7%

Life, physical, and social science technicians

5%

Nuclear technicians

-5%

 

Employment of nuclear technicians is projected to decline 5 percent from 2014 to 2024.

Technicians will be needed to help maintain and upgrade the existing stock of nuclear power plants. However, traditional forms of power generation are becoming more productive due to increased automation, which will contribute to the decline. In addition, increasing pressure from alternative forms of power generation, such as solar arrays and wind turbines will impact employment growth in traditional energy production.

Technicians are expected to be in demand to develop nuclear medical technology, enforce waste management safety standards, and work in defense-related areas such as nuclear security. In addition, environmental remediation of infrastructure at now defunct nuclear facilities will create the need for spending on cleanup projects.

Employment projections data for nuclear technicians, 2014-24
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Nuclear technicians

19-4051 6,800 6,400 -5 -300 [XLSX]

State & Area Data About this section

Occupational Employment Statistics (OES)

The Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) program produces employment and wage estimates annually for over 800 occupations. These estimates are available for the nation as a whole, for individual states, and for metropolitan and nonmetropolitan areas. The link(s) below go to OES data maps for employment and wages by state and area.

Projections Central

Occupational employment projections are developed for all states by Labor Market Information (LMI) or individual state Employment Projections offices. All state projections data are available at www.projectionscentral.com. Information on this site allows projected employment growth for an occupation to be compared among states or to be compared within one state. In addition, states may produce projections for areas; there are links to each state’s websites where these data may be retrieved.

Career InfoNet

America’s Career InfoNet includes hundreds of occupational profiles with data available by state and metro area. There are links in the left-hand side menu to compare occupational employment by state and occupational wages by local area or metro area. There is also a salary info tool to search for wages by zip code.

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of nuclear technicians.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2014 MEDIAN PAY Help
Chemical technicians

Chemical Technicians

Chemical technicians use special instruments and techniques to help chemists and chemical engineers research, develop, produce, and test chemical products and processes.

Associate's degree $44,180
Hazardous materials removal workers

Hazardous Materials Removal Workers

Hazardous materials (hazmat) removal workers identify and dispose of asbestos, lead, radioactive waste, and other hazardous materials. They also neutralize and clean up materials that are flammable, corrosive, or toxic.

High school diploma or equivalent $38,520
Mechanical engineering technicians

Mechanical Engineering Technicians

Mechanical engineering technicians help mechanical engineers design, develop, test, and manufacture mechanical devices, including tools, engines, and machines. They may make sketches and rough layouts, record and analyze data, make calculations and estimates, and report their findings.

Associate's degree $53,530
Nuclear engineers

Nuclear Engineers

Nuclear engineers research and develop the processes, instruments, and systems used to derive benefits from nuclear energy and radiation. Many of these engineers find industrial and medical uses for radioactive materials—for example, in equipment used in medical diagnosis and treatment.

Bachelor's degree $100,470
Nuclear medicine technologists

Nuclear Medicine Technologists

Nuclear medicine technologists operate equipment that creates images of areas of a patient’s body. They prepare radioactive drugs and administer them to patients. The radioactive drugs cause abnormal areas of the body to appear different from normal areas in the images.

Associate's degree $72,100
Occupational health and safety technicians

Occupational Health and Safety Technicians

Occupational health and safety technicians collect data on the health and safety conditions of the workplace. Technicians work with occupational health and safety specialists in conducting tests and measuring hazards to help prevent harm to workers, property, the environment, and the general public.

High school diploma or equivalent $48,120
Physicists and astronomers

Physicists and Astronomers

Physicists and astronomers study the ways in which various forms of matter and energy interact. Theoretical physicists and astronomers may study the nature of time or the origin of the universe. Some physicists design and perform experiments with sophisticated equipment such as particle accelerators, electron microscopes, and lasers.

Doctoral or professional degree $109,290
Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers

Power Plant Operators, Distributors, and Dispatchers

Power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers control the systems that generate and distribute electric power.

High school diploma or equivalent $72,910
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Nuclear Technicians,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/nuclear-technicians.htm (visited February 13, 2016).

Publish Date: Thursday, December 17, 2015

What They Do

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2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,540.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

Work experience in a related occupation

Work experience that is commonly considered necessary by employers, or is a commonly accepted substitute for more formal types of training or education.

Number of Jobs, 2014

The employment, or size, of this occupation in 2014, which is the base year of the 2014-24 employment projections.

Job Outlook, 2014-24

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024. The average growth rate for all occupations is 7 percent.

Employment Change, 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Entry-level Education

Typical level of education that most workers need to enter this occupation.

On-the-job Training

Additional training needed (postemployment) to attain competency in the skills needed in this occupation.

Employment Change, projected 2014-24

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Growth Rate (Projected)

The percent change of employment for each occupation from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Number of New Jobs

The projected numeric change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

Projected Growth Rate

The projected percent change in employment from 2014 to 2024.

2014 Median Pay

The wage at which half of the workers in the occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. Median wage data are from the BLS Occupational Employment Statistics survey. In May 2014, the median annual wage for all workers was $35,547.