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Nuclear power reactor operator salary & career outlook

If you use electricity, then you might have a nuclear power reactor operator to thank. These workers control nuclear reactors, adjust control rods, correct abnormalities and monitor reactors, generators, cooling systems and turbines, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). It's a complex job, and aside from just keeping things running smoothly, nuclear reactor operators might have to use skills such as problem-solving, dexterity and concentration to respond to and fix abnormalities. A good understanding of both electricity and mathematics (especially trigonometry and algebra) is also crucial.

Becoming a nuclear power reactor operator typically requires only a high school diploma, though the BLS reports that employers might prefer a candidate with a vocational school or college degree. Reactor operators typically start their career as auxiliary or equipment operators, "helping more experienced workers operate and maintain the equipment while learning the basics of how to operate the power plant," according to the BLS. The next step is becoming licensed through the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), which requires operators to meet training and experience requirements, pass a medical exam and pass the NRC licensing exam. Training programs across the country can help prepare you for this important career.

Nuclear power reactor operator salary

According to the BLS, the mean annual wage for nuclear power reactor operators in the U.S. was $78,400 as of May 2013, with the lowest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage of $56,910 or less and the highest-paid 10 percent earning an annual wage of $101,050 or more.

As in many other careers, the industry you work in tends to affect pay. According to the BLS, the top-paying industries nationally for nuclear power reactor operators in May 2013 were:

  • Local government: $86,100 annual mean wage
  • Federal executive branch: $81,720 annual mean wage
  • Scientific research and development services: $79,780 annual mean wage

Similarly, pay also tends to vary between states. The BLS reports that, as of May 2013, the highest-paying states for nuclear power reactor operators in America as of May 2013 were:

  • California: $92,500 annual mean wage
  • Virginia: $81,420 annual mean wage
  • Mississippi: $81,410 annual mean wage

As may be expected, the metropolitan area or town you live in can also dictate your salary as a nuclear power reactor operator. BLS data show that the two top-paying metropolitan areas for this job as of May 2013 were:

  • Richmond, VA: $86,570 annual mean wage
  • New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA: $77,440 annual mean wage

Job outlook for nuclear power reactor operators

According to the BLS, employment of nuclear power reactor operators is projected to show little to no change between 2012 and 2022. However, this isn't necessarily a bad thing, because a lack of growth is not the same as a projected decline. In fact, the BLS states, "Although no new plants have opened since the 1990s, new sites have applied for construction and operating licenses, and they will need to be staffed before the end of the next decade."

If you want one of these jobs, it might be wise to head to one of the American states or metropolitan areas with the highest employment level for this career. According to the BLS, the American states with the most nuclear power reactor operators employed as of May 2013 were:

  • Illinois
  • Louisiana
  • California

The American metropolitan areas with the highest employment level of nuclear power reactor operators, as of May 2013, were:

  • New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA
  • Richmond, VA

Although the overall national growth is projected to have a net gain of zero, not all states are expected to remain stagnant with nuclear power reactor operator positions. For example, according to Projections Central's collection of state labor department data, the following states are projected to see employment growth through 2020 of nuclear power reactor operators:

  • New Jersey: 27.8% growth
  • Georgia: 25.8%
  • Louisiana: 16.5%
  • North Carolina: 5.3%

As nuclear power reactor operators are necessary for helping to generate a significant portion of the world's electricity, it's an important and rewarding position. Without nuclear power reactor operators, it'd be a darker world. Literally. Knowing that, the paycheck is just a bonus.

Sources:

Long Term Occupational Projections for Nuclear Power Plant Operators, Projections Central,
http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

Power Plant Operators, Distributors and Dispatchers, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/power-plant-operators-distributors-and-dispatchers.htm#tab-1

Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2013: Nuclear Power Reactor Operators, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes518011.htm