What Does a Nuclear Officer Do?

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  • Written By: Benjamin Arie
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  • Last Modified Date: 27 October 2019
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A nuclear officer is responsible for overseeing important operations aboard a nuclear powered submarine or ship. Several different countries, including France and Russia, use nuclear power systems for many of their vessels. In the United States Navy, a nuclear officer must have a college degree and is responsible for supervising other personnel.

"Submarine Officer" and "Surface Warfare" are the two general career paths for nuclear officers. A nuclear officer stationed on a submarine helps to command and manage either an attack or missile submarine. This requires familiarity with the propulsion systems, weapons systems, and atmosphere controls. The relatively small crew of a nuclear submarine means that an officer has a wide range of responsibilities, and must be knowledgeable about all areas of the vessel.

The career path for a submarine nuclear officer begins at training institute such as the Naval Nuclear Power School (NNPS) in the US. Here, officers spend several months studying nuclear reactor science in a classroom environment. This provides individuals with a solid education in the intricacies of nuclear power. Training typically continues with hands-on experience with nuclear power plants.

Typically, an officer receives additional training, such as the Submarine Officer Basic Course (SOBC) in the US. This course covers seamanship and operations procedures for a nuclear submarine, and qualifies a person to lead enlisted crew members as a division officer. Once this training is complete, a nuclear officer is ready to manage teams of workers aboard a deployed submarine.


Like submarine officers, surface warfare officers lead groups of sailors on nuclear-powered ships. Surface vessels are larger than submarines, and officers usually help coordinate air defense, propulsion, and surface warfare operations. Before an officer serves aboard a nuclear surface craft, candidates typically first gain experience as a division officer on a non-nuclear ship, after which nuclear training begins.

A surface warfare nuclear officer attends the same Naval Nuclear Power School as submarine officers. The Nuclear Power Training Unit location is also the same. Following this standardized training, a surface officer is typically assigned to an engineering plant on a nuclear aircraft carrier. In this position, nuclear officers ensure that the propulsion systems of the ship are properly monitored and maintained.

Several advancement opportunities exist for both submarine and surface nuclear officers. Individuals can go on to be instructors at nuclear power training units or work on special projects. Many officers go on to command their own nuclear-powered submarine or ship later in their Navy careers.


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