What Does a Nuclear Power Reactor Operator Do?

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  • Written By: Gregory Hanson
  • Edited By: Susan Barwick
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  • Last Modified Date: 16 November 2019
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A nuclear power reactor operator is responsible for the safe operation of a nuclear power plant. These operators handle the routine tasks that are necessary to operate a reactor and generate power. Nuclear power reactor operator duties also include monitoring reactor systems in order to detect any potential problems or abnormalities before they pose a danger. This job requires the ability to communicate effectively both with subordinates in a nuclear plant and with supervisors and power dispatchers responsible for the smooth functioning of the power grid.

Much of the work done by a nuclear power reactor operator focuses on the day-to-day operation of a nuclear reactor. This work will involve monitoring the energy generation of a reactor and adjusting control rods and cooling systems appropriately. Operators will also manage the startup and shutdown of nuclear reactors when needed either for refueling or maintenance. These operations are conducted with the assistance of sophisticated software systems, and a nuclear power operator needs solid computer skills in order to use this software effectively.

Nuclear power reactor operator jobs also require very careful attention to safety protocols and procedures. In most cases, an operator will simply need to follow written guidelines that have been created to cover the vast majority of possible contingencies. Operators are responsible for preventing emergencies, and this involves paying very close attention to the data generated by reactor systems and also maintaining a careful watch over the physical systems in a nuclear power reactor.


Communications skills are essential for the operator, as these men and women must coordinate the power generation of individual reactors with the needs of the power grid. Power dispatchers will inform operators of the level of power generation needed from a particular plant. Operators, in turn, need to be able to clearly communicate any specific issues or difficulties that might impact a plant’s ability to generate power for the electrical grid.

In many cases, a nuclear power reactor operator will also be called on to exercise management skills. Operators with significant experience will be in overall charge of the operation of a reactor and must manage the other employees on site in an effective manner. Lower-ranking nuclear power operators, too, must have good management skills, as other members of the staff at a reactor may report to them. These subordinates may provide critical information about the safety status of a nuclear power reactor, and an operator must be able to spot key pieces of information quickly.


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