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To become a nuclear officer, an occupation restricted to branches of the armed services, a person has to earn a college degree in a technical field and successfully complete a military nuclear training program to learn the intricacies of how nuclear propulsion works. Upon graduation, that person can then apply to a department of government needing nuclear officers; in the United States, that department is the U.S. Navy. The U.S. Navy puts applicants through rigorous science and mathematics exams before considering highest performers as candidates for open nuclear officer positions. While companies that generate nuclear energy often label supervisors nuclear officers, the formal term is mainly reserved for people with actual officer status in the military.
As a prelude to joining a nuclear training program, which is paid military training, a person aiming to become a nuclear officer typically earns a bachelor’s degree or master’s degree in engineering, science or a technical field. Students apply to join a post-graduate nuclear training program in their junior or senior year of college. Post-graduate nuclear training programs can be pursued through an officer training corps, a naval academy or the reserved officer training corps. Three main training tracks to become a nuclear officer exist in the U.S. and are specific to a student’s desired future occupation: the naval reactors engineer track, the nuclear-trained naval officer track, and the nuclear power instructor track.
A naval reactors engineer training program focuses on the engineering of nuclear weapons, vessels, storage and plants. In the nuclear-trained naval officer track, a student learns the theories of nuclear energy and how to operate various nuclear equipment. Someone studying to become a nuclear officer who works as a nuclear power instructor learns how to teach Navy peers the principles of radiological control, nuclear heat transfer and the physics of nuclear reaction.
Once the goal to become a nuclear officer has been reached, daily duties for officers include overseeing nuclear-powered ships, nuclear-powered airplanes, nuclear-powered submarines and other attack vessels. Job duties may also include managing sailors, making sure nuclear devices are safe and possibly coordinating covert attacks. Besides working on watercraft or aircraft, a nuclear officer may teach in a nuclear power military school, work in a military engineering department that builds nuclear-powered craft or be positioned at the site of government-owned nuclear reactors.
A career as a nuclear officer is often short-lived due to the stress of constant military deployment. The wide range of high-wage civil service jobs for former nuclear officers also influences them to leave the military early. After service in the military, a nuclear officer can typically use his background and experience to start a civilian career as a nuclear engineer.
Engineers not only design nuclear vessels, but also coordinate the disposal of nuclear waste. Post-military nuclear officers may also find jobs at private companies responsible for building and maintaining nuclear reactors. Universities also hire former nuclear officers for research in the field of nuclear reaction.
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