Serving a core function: nuclear technicians and power plant operators Nuclear Operations

Stealth submarines. Powerful aircraft carriers. The most imposing vessels in America’s Navy rely on small-scale nuclear reactors to provide everything from basic propulsion to power generation. But they also depend upon an essential human element – skilled nuclear technicians, power plant operators and subsystems specialists. These highly trained, hands-on professionals perform the complex technical functions that are at the core of sub and carrier capabilities.

In the nuclear operations area, you’ll have the opportunity to undergo training that’s among the most advanced the Navy has to offer. Not to mention the chance to work with and among some of the brightest technical professionals in the nuclear, technology and engineering fields. Such are the challenges and rewards that go with being associated with one of the world’s top nuclear programs.

Job Description

As a member of the Navy nuclear community, you’ll operate, control and maintain the state-of-the-art components that power Navy aircraft carriers and submarines. That could involve doing anything from operating nuclear propulsion plant machinery to controlling auxiliary equipment that supports Naval reactors to maintaining the electronic equipment used to send and receive messages, detect enemy planes and ships and determine target distance.

You may also:

  • Stand watch on generators, switchboards, control equipment and electrical equipment
  • Repair gas turbine engines
  • Control steam generators
  • Operate pumps, turning gear, air compressors, air dehydrators, and engineering and control systems
  • Inspect and maintain ship alarm systems

A college degree is not required to become an Enlisted member of the highly respected Navy nuclear community, but an aptitude for math, science and problem solving is key – as is the ability to think fast, retain complex knowledge and work under pressure.

Specific Responsibilities

Responsibilities in the Navy Nuclear operations area depend upon the job rating or specialty you are in.

MACHINIST'S MATES (MM) operate and maintain steam turbines and reduction gears used for ship propulsion and auxiliary machinery such as turbogenerators, pumps and oil purifiers. They also maintain auxiliary machinery outside of main machinery spaces, such as electrohydraulic steering engines and elevators, refrigeration plants, air conditioning systems and desalinization plants. They may also operate and maintain compressed gas producing plants. Nuclear-trained MMs perform duties in nuclear propulsion plants operating reactor control, propulsion and power generation systems.

ELECTRICIAN'S MATES (EM) are responsible for the operation of a ship's electrical power generation systems, lighting systems, electrical equipment and electrical appliances. The duties include installation, operation, adjustment, routine maintenance, inspection, test and repair of electrical equipment. EM's also perform maintenance and repair of related electronic equipment. Nuclear-trained EMs perform duties in nuclear propulsion plants operating reactor control, propulsion and power generation systems.

ELECTRONICS TECHNICIANS (ET) are responsible for electronic equipment used to send and receive messages, computer information systems, long range radar, and calibration of test equipment. They maintain, repair, calibrate, tune, and adjust electronic equipment used for communications, detection and tracking, recognition and identification and navigation. Nuclear-trained ETs perform duties in nuclear propulsion plants operating reactor control, propulsion and power generation systems.

Beyond being capable of general duties, each of these specialized ratings requires additional “A” school training to earn required qualification in the Nuclear Field (NF).

Interested in submarine service? Learn more about life on a sub.

Work Environment

As an Enlisted Sailor working in nuclear operations, you’ll have the opportunity to work at sea or onshore. Your assignment could place you aboard a nuclear-powered submarine or on board nuclear-powered aircraft carriers. Whatever your specific responsibilities, you'll be operating, controlling and maintaining shipboard nuclear propulsion plants. Working closely with industry-leading technology and highly specialized personnel in an intense, fast-paced environment with little room for error.

Training and Advancement

To work in Navy nuclear operations, you will receive some of the most advanced job training the military has to offer. After your initial recruit training, you will report to “A” School for technical training that's based on your specific job rating, and then move on to acquire advanced nuclear training.


To become a nuclear-trained MM, EM or ET qualified in the Nuclear Field (NF), you must complete:

  • “A” School requirements associated with your rating
  • Training requirements at Naval Nuclear Power School (NNPS)
  • Training requirements at Nuclear Power Training Unit (NPTU)

“A” School for MMs – The three-month Machinist’s Mate (MM) course in Charleston, SC, provides you with a basic knowledge of technical mathematics and a basic understanding of the theory and operation of a steam power plant. You will learn to operate tools, test equipment, and system components, read blueprints, practice rigging techniques, and perform maintenance procedures such as packing a valve or aligning a pump coupling. From there, it’s on to NNPS and NPTU (see description below).

“A” School for EMs – The six-month Electrician’s Mate (EM) course in Charleston, SC, provides you with a basic knowledge of technical mathematics and a basic understanding of power distribution. You will solve basic equations using phasors, vector notations and basic trigonometry and analyze DC and AC circuits. You’ll have the opportunity to demonstrate working knowledge of DC and AC motors and generators. In addition, you will learn how to operate electrical equipment using controllers, and how to properly test, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair electrical circuits, motors, cables, circuit breakers, and other related electrical equipment for power distribution. From there, it’s on to NNPS and NPTU (see description below).

“A” School for ETs – The six-month Electronics Technician (ET) course in Charleston, SC, provides you with a basic knowledge of technical mathematics and a good working knowledge of electricity and electronics, solid-state devices, digital logic and systems, microprocessors, and instrumentation and control circuits. You will learn how to interpret schematic diagrams and use appropriate test equipment to isolate and correct faults in electronic systems. From there, it’s on to NNPS and NPTU (see description below).

Naval Nuclear Power School (NNPS) – Upon completion of “A” School training, MMs, EMs and ETs then attend Naval Nuclear Power School (NNPS) in Charleston, SC. Here, you will learn theory and practical application of nuclear physics and reactor engineering. The six-month course will provide you with a comprehensive understanding of a pressurized-water Naval nuclear power plant, including reactor core nuclear principles, heat transfer and fluid systems, plant chemistry and materials, mechanical and electrical systems, and radiological control.

Nuclear Power Training Unit (NPTU) – Following NNPS, MMs, EMs and ETs begin prototype training in their rating specialty at one of two Nuclear Power Training Units (NPTUs) – located in Charleston, SC, or Ballston Spa, NY. This six-month course will provide you the knowledge of the fundamentals of a Naval nuclear power plant and the interrelationship of its mechanical, electrical, and reactor subsystems. Here, you will develop oral communications skills, as well as obtain an understanding of the physical nature of nuclear radiation, its detection, interaction with matter and human health consequences, and gain knowledge of the safe operation of a complex Naval nuclear power plant and its sophisticated subsystems with an emphasis on basic industrial safety principles. In addition, you will learn to identify, troubleshoot, and correct problems in nuclear mechanical, electrical, or reactor control systems at the component level with an emphasis on reactor systems, and apply earlier technical classroom knowledge gained to the practical, safe operation of Naval nuclear power plants.

Education Opportunities

The educational opportunities available to nuclear- and submarine-trained Enlisted Sailors range from college-level classes in physics, chemistry, mathematics, electrical engineering, circuit theory, systems maintenance, communications and thermodynamics to nuclear engineering training in nuclear power plant design, construction, instrumentation and operations. The American Council on Education (ACE) has verified the extensive nature and unsurpassed quality of the Navy’s nuclear propulsion training program by recommending up to 77 semester hours of college credit.

Pay Range

Upon selection for nuclear and/or submarine training, you will enter the Navy in paygrade E-3. If you complete all advancement-in-rate requirements, you may advance to paygrade E-4. Enlistment and reenlistment bonuses in addition to Navy salary, special duty assignment pay, and allowances for food and housing are also available. If you volunteer and are selected to serve on nuclear submarines, you are eligible for added submarine duty incentive pay from the day you graduate from nuclear training.


You are required to be a U.S. citizen and less than 25 years old at the time of your enlistment. You must be a high school graduate with a diploma and with successful completion of one year of Algebra, and able to meet security clearance requirements.

After the Navy

Your knowledge of traditional and nuclear power will be an asset in high demand, whether with America’s Navy or the civilian sector. Your advanced understanding of the operation and maintenance of sophisticated electronics will put you at the top of any civilian job candidate list. Your experience, ability to work under pressure and advanced skill level will lead to opportunities to work closely with specialists in the fields of nuclear technology, engineering and electronics.