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.
Responsibilities in the Navy Nuclear operations area depend on your job rating or specialty.
Machinist Mate (MM)
MMs 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 Mate (EM)
EMs 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)
ETs 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.
Interested in submarine service? Learn more about life on a sub.
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.
Training & Advancement
NAVY NUCLEAR FIELD (NF) PROGRAM
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 MMs – The three-month Machinist’s Mate (MM) course in Charleston, S.C., 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 EMs – The six-month Electrician’s Mate (EM) course in Charleston, S.C., 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 ETs – The six-month Electronics Technician (ET) course in Charleston, S.C., 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, MMs, EMs and ETs attend Naval Nuclear Power School (NNPS) in Charleston, S.C. 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, MMs, EMs and ETs begin prototype training in their rating specialty at one of two Nuclear Power Training Units (NPTUs) – located in Charleston, S.C., and Ballston Spa, N.Y. 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:
Servicemembers Opportunity Colleges Degree Network System (SOC DNS)
Navy College Program and Tuition Assistance
Post-9/11 GI Bill
Qualifications & Requirements
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.
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