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Nuclear technicians, power plant operators and subsystems specialists are responsible for keeping vital Naval submarines and aircraft carriers running. These highly trained, hands-on professionals perform the complex technical functions that are at the core of sub and carrier capabilities.
Their job involves everything from operating nuclear propulsion plant machinery, to controlling auxiliary equipment that supports Naval reactors, to maintaining various electronic, propulsion and weapons systems.
There are three types of Nuclear Operations jobs for enlisted Sailors. Responsibilities depend on your training, interests and designation. All three of these ratings are eligible to receive up to a $40,000 bonus for first-time enlistment and up to a $100,000 bonus for re-enlistment.
Nuclear Machinist’s Mates operate and maintain steam turbines and reduction gears used for nuclear 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. This job is perfect for Sailors with deep interest in math, chemistry, physics and engineering—in other words, it takes hard work and smarts to get you into the reactor room.
Nuclear Electrician’s Mates 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. They also perform maintenance and repair of related electronic equipment. As an EMN, you’re responsible for troubleshooting the electric breakers and circuits aboard nuclear-powered ships like aircraft carriers and submarines.
Nuclear Electronics Technicians operate and perform maintenance on the electronic systems that make the nuclear reactor on Navy ships run. From submarines to aircraft carriers, these Sailors calibrate the actual nuclear control rods to generate power aboard these ships. After your training at Nuclear Power & Prototype School, you’ll be part of a watch team that enables the fission process, which generates steam for propulsion. Few can say they get hands-on experience in a nuclear power plant just three years out of high school—you’re one of them.
Interested in submarine service? Learn more about life on a ship.
There are no part-time jobs available for this career track.
As an Enlisted Sailor working in nuclear operations, you’ll have the opportunity to work at sea or ashore. Your assignment could also place you in an intense, fast-paced environment aboard a nuclear-powered submarine or aircraft carrier.
Upon completion of initial 7–9 week Recruit Training (known as Boot Camp), those pursuing a Nuclear Operations role report to “A” School for technical training based on their specific job rating, and then move on to acquire advanced nuclear training.
“A” School for MMNs – The three-month Machinist’s Mate Nuclear (MMN) course in Charleston, SC provides a basic knowledge of technical mathematics and understanding of the theory and operation of a steam power plant. Students learn to operate tools, test equipment and system components, read blueprints, practice rigging techniques, and perform maintenance procedures. From there, it’s on to NNPS and NPTU (see below).
“A” School for EMNs – The six-month Electrician’s Mate Nuclear (EMN) course in Charleston, SC provides a basic knowledge of technical mathematics and power distribution. Students learn to solve basic equations using phasors, vector notations and basic trigonometry and analyze DC and AC circuits. They also learn how to operate electrical equipment using controllers, and how to properly test, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair electrical circuits, motors and other related electrical equipment. From there, it’s on to NNPS and NPTU (see description below).
“A” School for ETNs – The six-month Electronics Technician Nuclear (ETN) course in Charleston, SC provides 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. Students 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, MMNs, EMNs and ETNs attend Naval Nuclear Power School (NNPS) in Charleston, SC. Here they learn theory and practical application of nuclear physics and reactor engineering. The six-month course provides 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, MMNs, EMNs and ETNs begin prototype training in their rating specialty at one of two Nuclear Power Training Units (NPTUs) – located in Charleston, SC and Ballston Spa, NY. This six-month course teaches the fundamentals of a Naval nuclear power plant and the interrelationship of its mechanical, electrical, and reactor subsystems. Students develop oral communications skills, obtain an understanding of nuclear radiation, and gain knowledge of the safe operation of a complex Naval nuclear power plant.
For all nuclear power trained ratings, promotion opportunities are regularly available but competitive and based on performance. It’s also important to note that specialized training received and work experience gained in the course of service can lead to valuable credentialing and occupational opportunities in related fields.
Beyond offering access to professional credentials and certifications, Navy technical and operational training in the field of nuclear operations can translate to up to 77 credit hours toward a bachelor’s or associate degree through the American Council on Education. You may also continue your education through opportunities like the following:
A high-school diploma or equivalent is required to become an Enlisted Sailor in the nuclear operations field in the Navy. Those seeking one of these positions must be US citizens with successful completion of one year of Algebra, and who can meet eligibility requirements for a security clearance.
General qualifications may vary depending upon whether you’re currently serving, whether you’ve served before or whether you’ve never served before.