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Offline tcpcman

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I received a job working as a STE for a defense contractor and am currently undergoing the clearance process, but while I was waiting I interviewed for an auxiliary operator position at a commercial nuclear powerplant and I have been told that my chances of landing that job are favorable. I am a recent graduate from college and have a degree in mechanical engineering with some nuclear electives under my belt. I was wondering if anybody has worked either of those jobs and could give me some more information to help me decide which position is best for myself and my future career.

Offline JMD

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I became a non-licensed operator after getting my Mech Eng degree 20+ years ago - I would make that move again without hesitation. 

Pros are you get lots of initial & continuing training - much more than other positions.  The NLO position is probably union or at least non-exempt so you should be paid for your OT, and probably get premiums for working nights, Sundays, Holidays, etc.  Also working for a utility should be very stable if you choose the plant wisely.  At my plant the ops career path pays MUCH better than the Engineering path.  (In my first year as an NLO I made ~50% more than I would have as a new engineer).  Make sure you speak to an incumbent about how much either job REALLY pays. 

Downside for some is the shift work schedule (nights weekends & holidays).  Also all of that training comes with a lot of testing, and your work is often observed and critiqued (more so once you are licensed), and finally the more time you spend away from engineering the more you risk losing some of your technical skills you just worked so hard to get.       

Note that with the engineering degree you should qualify to get an instant SRO license IF that interests you.  The Ops path is a much more certain path to that goal than any other and an SRO license IS your ticket to further advancement in commercial nuclear.

Whether its easier to go from ops to engineering or from engineering to ops - that will depend on your organization, their demographics and philosophy - but Ops is generally a pipeline to the rest of the organization, not the other way around.  I don't think Engineering would offer the same level of career opportunity.

That's my 2 cents

Offline hamsamich

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Understand what rotating shift work is and whether you will be doing that or not.  If I can help it I will never do that again.  On the other hand some people love it.  Ask specifically about rotating shift work.

Offline scotoma

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A position as a NLO will give you hands on experience and classroom education. You will actually be able to operate the equipment and get a feel for the way it works and compre it to its design intentions. The career path could eventually get you to a Plant Manager, corporate executive, or CEO. An engineer will be looking at it from 30,000 feet using blueprints, tech manuals, and diagrams (some may not be completely accurate). It could lead to a management position or corporate executive position, but the competition may tougher. Of course, if you don't like the OPS path, you can always fall back on your engineering education. In either case, you'll have to play golf and know when to lose if necessary. 8)

Offline tcpcman

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Understand what rotating shift work is and whether you will be doing that or not.  If I can help it I will never do that again.  On the other hand some people love it.  Ask specifically about rotating shift work.


I would be doing two weeks days and two weeks nights with 12 hour shifts. I already work 10 hour shifts (sometimes more, sometimes less) and I feel like I can handle 12 hour ones reasonably well. My one concern however would be going down a career path that would still have rotating shifts 10+ years down the line.

Offline tcpcman

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A position as a NLO will give you hands on experience and classroom education. You will actually be able to operate the equipment and get a feel for the way it works and compre it to its design intentions. The career path could eventually get you to a Plant Manager, corporate executive, or CEO. An engineer will be looking at it from 30,000 feet using blueprints, tech manuals, and diagrams (some may not be completely accurate). It could lead to a management position or corporate executive position, but the competition may tougher. Of course, if you don't like the OPS path, you can always fall back on your engineering education. In either case, you'll have to play golf and know when to lose if necessary. 8)
HAHA I better get some golfing lessons then. My dream goal would be to work on designing a 4th gen reactor assuming government and public opinion don't get in the way. If I decide to go the defense route I would train for 18ish months and get certified by the DoE and I would be the expert on the reactor of the nuclear subs. Its also rotating shift work but primarily day shift work. My true passion is design and tinkering but I am very happy with keeping that as a hobby while I gain real world experience working with reactors.

Offline tcpcman

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I became a non-licensed operator after getting my Mech Eng degree 20+ years ago - I would make that move again without hesitation. 

Pros are you get lots of initial & continuing training - much more than other positions.  The NLO position is probably union or at least non-exempt so you should be paid for your OT, and probably get premiums for working nights, Sundays, Holidays, etc.  Also working for a utility should be very stable if you choose the plant wisely.  At my plant the ops career path pays MUCH better than the Engineering path.  (In my first year as an NLO I made ~50% more than I would have as a new engineer).  Make sure you speak to an incumbent about how much either job REALLY pays. 

Downside for some is the shift work schedule (nights weekends & holidays).  Also all of that training comes with a lot of testing, and your work is often observed and critiqued (more so once you are licensed), and finally the more time you spend away from engineering the more you risk losing some of your technical skills you just worked so hard to get.       

Note that with the engineering degree you should qualify to get an instant SRO license IF that interests you.  The Ops path is a much more certain path to that goal than any other and an SRO license IS your ticket to further advancement in commercial nuclear.

Whether its easier to go from ops to engineering or from engineering to ops - that will depend on your organization, their demographics and philosophy - but Ops is generally a pipeline to the rest of the organization, not the other way around.  I don't think Engineering would offer the same level of career opportunity.

That's my 2 cents


Should I try to become a SRO? I am a fresh graduate from college and I'm already very happy with the pay suggested on glassdoor. Becoming an SRO and skipping AO and RO seems like a big jump but I don't want to tread water in my career when I could be advancing it and taking more responsibility. I was also wondering what the difference between a NLO and an AO is (more so the day to day not the actual titles). Please let me know if I am being dense and can find this information elsewhere. I was also wondering if anybody here has any experience in defense? My other job I am waiting on my clearance for would be conducting the safety tests on submarine reactors when they come into port for maintenance. l am trying to decide which route I want to take because this is my first career job and want to set myself up on the best path. Would getting a clearance be beneficial in this field?

Offline hamsamich

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Well you can always try it (rotating shift) and if you hate it gravitate to a dayshift job if you can find one.  But hey, you might like it!  You won't know whether you hate it or like it until u do it.

Offline scotoma

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NLO (non licensed operator) and AO (auxiliary operator) are essentially the same. The path to SRO goes through NLO and CRO, just quite a bit faster if they put you on fast track. The faster you go, the less you see alnog the way. Sometimes it's best to see things through your own eyes and pick the brains of those around you. It seems as though your decision is between DOE and commercial. Each has its pluses and minuses, many of them personal.

Offline rlbinc

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Degreed - you have the option of Direct SRO - which I do not advise.
I started as an Aux Operator (Clinton), 5 years later RO, then I switched to another utility for SRO.
The in-plant experience comes in handy when an operator calls the Control Room with trouble.
You know what they're looking at, what's around there, and what systems may be impacted.
The folks with no field experience are less good at that.
MY NRC Walkthrough was a breeze - now they do scripted tasks, but they used to take a 4 to 8 hour walk around the plant and assess a candidate's knowledge.
Degreed - you have an excellent shot at management. Cool and exceptional are the managers with the broad level of plant experience.
Good luck and have fun

 


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