So You Want My Job: Nuclear Engineer

by Brett on January 7, 2009 · 48 comments

in Money & Career, So You Want My Job

nuclear-engineer

Today we return to our “So You Want My Job” series, in which we interview men who are employed in desirable man jobs and ask them about the reality of their work and for advice on how men can finally become what they always wanted to be when they grew up.

For this installment, we interviewed Jack Gamble. Jack’s a nuclear system engineer. Many thanks to Jack and his green-glowing fingers for typing us out these answers.

Be sure and check out Jack’s blog: Babeled.

1. Tell us a little about yourself (Where are you from? Where did you go to school? How old are you? Describe your job and how long you’ve been at it).

I am 28 years old from Manahawkin, New Jersey. I earned my Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering from Rowan University in 2005. Most of my work experience has been blue collar; pool installation and commercial fishing, making this my second “real job” as they say.

I am a System Engineer at a nuclear power plant. I am better known as The Control Rod Drive (CRD) System Manager. In a nutshell, I am responsible for monitoring and maintaining the ability to safely and quickly shutdown the reactor. There is no system more important to safety than CRD and, as such, I take great pride and painstaking care to ensure that I do my job to the best of my ability.

My average day consists of monitoring system performance data (pressures, hydraulic flows, temperatures, etc.) and digesting this myriad of information to paint a picture of the condition of my equipment. I also spend a good amount of time away from my desk and inside the plant to observe my equipment first hand.

I treat my Control Rods like my babies, and I am the subject of much humor at work due to my passion and intolerance for the slightest defect in my equipment.

I have now been at my position for 14 months and I love every second of it.

2. Why did you want to become a System Engineer? When did you know that it was what you wanted to do?

Believe it or not, I landed this job by applying through Monster.com. I didn’t know for sure it was what I wanted to do as a career until I got a taste of the work. It is truly challenging and at the end of the day, I sleep easy knowing I am helping to provide much-needed reliable energy when the country in is the midst of a crisis.

3. If a man wants to become a System Engineer, how should he best prepare? What’s the best route into the job?

Before I was hired, I was first subjected to a series of psychological examinations, drug tests, and an extensive background check. In nuclear we are constantly monitored under a behavior observation program. This is a serious business and one needs to be prepared for plenty of scrutiny.

When I started, I had zero nuclear experience to go along with my engineering degree. However, during my first year on the job I was exposed to a very rigorous training program. I work with mechanical, chemical, and electrical engineers. About half of my co-workers are United States Navy Veterans as that is really the only place to get experience in the nuclear field.

4. How competitive is it to get a job as a System Engineer?

There are opportunities galore in the nuclear industry right now. These days are referred to as “The Nuclear Renaissance” due to the rekindled interest in nuclear as an alternative to fossil fuels (known to us as “Dirt Burners”). There are plans in place to build new nuclear power plants all over the country. Also, it is estimated that as much as 40% of the current nuclear workforce will retire in the next 5-10 years. This of course means there are plenty of jobs in nuclear available (for both blue and white collar workers).

Getting the position is not necessarily the challenging part. The job, however, is very demanding. Most System Engineers have a lifespan of little more than one year. Many can’t handle the pressure, and the top performers move on to higher positions.

There is absolutely ZERO tolerance for error in the Nuclear Industry. We’re not perfect, obviously, and there are multiple barriers in place to protect against human error. However, the fact is mistakes happen. When they do happen we must learn from them. When even the slightest mistakes are made, the individual is usually forced to perform a detailed investigation, present a report to a review board, and then share lessons learned with their peers. In some cases, this operating experience is shared throughout the entire US Nuclear Fleet.

The demand for performance and the consequences of error is a deterrent to many and as such, many people do not exceed their first year.

5. What sets a candidate apart from others when he’s applying?

Experience of course is a guarantee of employment at this point but by no means a requirement.

An applicant needs to demonstrate the ability to work under pressure and show a passion for his or her work. This may seem cliché but in Nuclear these skills are a must. A System Engineer is directly responsible for his or her equipment. It requires a proactive and persistent drive for improvement to maintain equipment at top notch performance levels under extreme conditions of 500 degrees Fahrenheit and 1,000 psi.

6. What is the best part of the job?

It is no secret that energy is the life blood of this country. Energy holds the key to the environment, the economy, and national security. My career in nuclear is more than just a paycheck to me. Every night when I go to sleep, I rest easy knowing I am doing my part.

Besides that, without going into too much detail, I will say the pay and benefits allow for a comfortable and stable lifestyle.

7. What is the worst part of the job?

It’s stressful. Besides the long hours, the constant need for perfection will wear on even the most durable personality. We are subjected to levels of scrutiny that are unmatched in any other field. Besides my own bosses, there are federal regulators, private watchdogs, uninformed environmentalists, and hostile media organizations that are always watching and judging your every move.

8. What is the biggest misconception people have about the job (i.e., how much is your job like Homer Simpson’s)?

Well, I can tell you my hair is falling out, but that is because of bad genes and NOT radiation.

Usually the first thing people ask me is something like “isn’t that dangerous?” or “aren’t you scared of radiation?” Truth be told, in one year’s time I will receive less radiation working at a nuclear plant than a US Congressmen receives in the US Capitol Building.

Most people don’t believe me when I say that, but it’s true. The granite in that structure is naturally radioactive and our legislators are not dropping dead from radiation poisoning anytime soon.

I use this story to counteract the fear that most people have of radiation. It is perfectly natural to fear what you don’t understand. Once informed of the facts about radiation exposure most people would not be opposed to nuclear energy.

I wear a radiation dosimeter that monitors my exposure around my neck at all times. In 14 months I have received about 100 milirems of radiation on the job. That is about the equivalent of a single spine X-ray procedure.

9. What is the work/family balance like?

I’ll be honest; work/life balance is an issue of contention with many of my co-workers. On average I put in a 50-hour week. Also, whenever the plant is shutdown for refueling or maintenance, I am expected to work a 72-hour week (this is the maximum allowed for nuclear workers by Federal Law).

I have been working 60+ hours per week my entire life so this does not bother me for now. However, one day I would like to have a wife and a few rug rats and when that day comes, I will be forced to cut back my hours at work.

I am prepared to do this, as many have. I believe at some point in life, any man will be faced with the same choice.

10. Are there ways to move-up in the job, or in other words, what is the hierarchy like?

The prospect of climbing the ladder looks great for me. I have several options to move up from my current position. I could apply for my Senior Reactor Operators License (SRO). This is considered by many in the industry to be the golden ticket career wise. Other options include Maintenance supervisor, Project Manager, or Training Instructor.

Also, many Nuclear Engineers transfer to regulatory organizations like The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and The Institute of Nuclear Power Operations (INPO). These are federal and private “watchdog” groups that ensure the safe operation of all Nuclear Plants nationwide. Much like the rest of the industry, they are currently hiring at an accelerated rate and are willing to pay top dollar for the experience.

11. Any other advice, tips, or anecdotes you’d like to share?

A few months back, my co-workers and I attended an anti-nuclear propaganda session hosted by none other than actor/activist Alec Baldwin. It was amazing because the organizers referred to Mr. Baldwin and a lawyer from Rutgers University as “A panel of experts on Nuclear Energy.” Are we to believe that an actor and a lawyer are supposed to be experts on anything other than selling an argument? The lengths these people will go to in order to distort the science is unfathomable.

At this meeting, my co-workers and I passed out informational leaflets about the science of Nuclear Fission and the truth about radiation. Many people threw the material back in my face and called me a corporate lackey or an environmental terrorist.

Some of these people are so blinded by their own fear and lack of understanding that they cannot be reasoned with. Also, they want to scare you over to their side. They will bring up past accidents and disgruntled former employees to make it seem like I want to poison you. This is absolutely not the case.

My entire immediate family lives within a few miles of my plant and I plan to raise my children in the same neighborhood. I can say without hesitation that they will all be perfectly safe living near a nuclear power plant.

My tip is not so much to someone interested in a career in nuclear but to John and Jane Q. Public.

Educate yourselves. There is so much fear surrounding nuclear energy due to previous accidents and near misses. People must realize that those events happened when the technology was in the early stages of development and the industry worldwide has studied and reviewed every mundane detail of these events in order to learn from them and prevent future ones.

There are some very legitimate concerns surrounding nuclear energy such as waste, radiation, and terrorism. Each of these issues is 100% manageable. People are scared too easily and there are many out there who want to scare you.

Do your own research. Listen to the science and not the celebrity.

Remember to vote for the Art of Manliness for Best Culture Blog of 2008. You can vote once every 24 hours, so remember to vote early and often.

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Cygnus January 7, 2009 at 11:30 pm

Now here’s an article about a job I can relate to. Thank you very much for this.

2 Logan W. January 8, 2009 at 12:56 am

I’m the second poster for once…

Looks like a rather exciting job you have there! Ever heard of Nikola Tesla? Look him up…I would suggest checking out an old biography, or even doing a little research online. I cannot stress how important what I am telling you is. Write his name down, scribble it in green ink, burn it into your arm with a soldering iron, SOMETHING to help you remember to look him up. You will enjoy what you find. I promise.

3 Bob Iger January 8, 2009 at 1:01 am

Great man-job and article!

4 Pipps January 8, 2009 at 2:29 am

Another brilliant installment of one of the blog-world’s best series.

An outstanding interview.

Thank you! :)

5 Tim January 8, 2009 at 4:56 am

Great article, and a great look into a very exclusive world. I am drawn to the final part about the protestors. How profoundly unmanly! I would not say that “Team America, World Police” was a “manly movie” and I am sure there are those here who would find it offensive, but I cannot help but think of it now every time Alec Baldwin’s name is mentioned. Instead of taking him and his ilk seriously, I see them absurd puppets.

6 Christopher January 8, 2009 at 8:49 am

Get me a nuclear airplane! What a great job and a very well written article. I am all in favor of nuclear power and I would hope that people would see it’s value in our current situation here in the US. Keep up the good work!

7 sarah January 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm

i love that he found this gig via monster.com

8 Man Overboard January 8, 2009 at 4:40 pm

This is Jack here, thanks for your kind words everyone. I was honestly expecting the Baldwinians to come out in force for this post. I was pleasantly surprised to read all of these comments. Gotta love AOM! Man Up!

9 Neal Davis January 8, 2009 at 4:44 pm

This was really exciting, as I’m currently working on my master’s degree in nuclear engineering.

10 Rob January 8, 2009 at 7:29 pm

Oh man, talk about good timing guys. Seriously, do you all have a camera on me?

I have been thinking of getting a N. E. degree for some time now. More the design side, but still! Great article. Monster.com? Wow, all my experiences with them have been “teh suxorz”, but good for Jack Gamble (Also, I am naming all my children that, best . name. ever.) It was good to hear about the life of a N.E. One question though, how is the medical coverage?

-Rob

11 Daniel January 8, 2009 at 7:39 pm

Alec Baldwin=Expert of Nuclear Energy? Hilarious!

12 Heart Afire January 9, 2009 at 4:06 am

Loved the article–
The guy sounds great, a very interesting, thoughtful and intelligent young man. This is my first time to read your blog (I linked here through Peter P) and though I am not a man found it really interesting.
I read it because I was intrigued by your post title: “What do you consider to be THE most manly job?”
Although this job certainly does seem manly, he has not yet done what I consider the very most manly job a guy can do, and that is to be a Dad. I don’t think there’s a manlier job on earth. (However, since this nuclear engineer is already thinking ahead, and is even considering its effects on his current job, kudos to him. He is a manly guy.)

I am serious. There is nothing that my husband says or does that makes him more manly to me than when he is caring for and about our girls. For those men who want more (ahem) attention from their wives, all I can say is be a great daddy to your children. There is something about a man bathing a baby, or teasing with a child, or coaching her softball team that is more manly than anything a quarterback or Navy Seal or nuclear engineer could ever do in the course of a day.

13 Scott January 9, 2009 at 1:11 pm

great article. Reminds me of my job: submarine officer. It basically combined your last two articles and where else could a 26 year old be in charge of the lives of 180 men, $2 billion in equipment, and (I can neither confirm nor deny the presence of) nuclear missiles.

14 Man Overboard January 9, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Rob,

The coverage is good and the other benefits are fantastic. The basic package is medical, dental, 401K, pension, company stock plan, and prescription plan. You also have the option to expand any of your plans for extra money of course.

15 Headless Blogger January 9, 2009 at 7:26 pm

I’d like to reiterate Jack’s thoughts on a career in the nuclear industry. You’ll hear plenty of whining and bitching about working at a nuke plant, but the level of dedication that nuclear employees exhibit is exceptional.

The industry is desperate to find new engineers and technicians. I would encourage anyone with a strong technical background to apply. I think there are plenty of good opportunities for engineers and project managers with automotive or aerospace backgrounds.

Rob – Any engineering degree will get you in the door. Jobs for ME’s and EE’s are more prevalent than for NE’s. Typically, NE’s will be shoehorned into one of those jobs.

16 TooExpensive January 10, 2009 at 9:26 pm

Even if everyone agrees that nuclear power is safe, not a security/proliferation problem and the waste will eventually find a home, those that call themselves fiscal conservatives are not asking the important question. The question is, “Is it profitable?”. In the history of the world not a single plant has been built with private money. There are several reasons for this:

1) Private money won’t start construction even with a 100% loan from Uncle Sam to cover the initial estimate. That’s because cost overruns are practically guaranteed and they are so high they cannot be recovered.

2) The costs of a new plant are so high that the plant won’t be able to produce enough electricity at a high enough price to turn a profit before it is decomissioned. Over time nuclear energy will only become more expensive due to operation costs and regulation but it’s energy producing competitors will become cheaper. Even conservation of energy robs the nuclear industry of revenue.

I gave a rough and dirty summary of a very thorough study explaining why nuclear power is a dead end. Anyone who considers themself a fiscal conservative should stop defending the nuclear waste and safety issues long enough to investigate the costs before they sign on the dotted line.

17 Man Overboard January 11, 2009 at 8:51 pm

Nuclear Companies pay astronomical fees and incur countless expenses due to the political climate surrounding the industry and still manage to be very profitable despite the high start up costs (between 5 and 7 billion dollars for a new plant).

Other forms of energy receive ridiculous government subsidies aka tax dollar handouts and still cannot compete with nuclear economically.

18 TooExpensive January 11, 2009 at 9:42 pm

Cite your sources. “Nuclear power, a mature industry providing 20 percent of U.S. power, has received some $100 billion in U.S. subsidies — more than three times the subsidies of wind and solar, even though they are both emerging industries.” – http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2008/06/02/nuclear_power_price/. Furthermore, Cambridge Energy Research Associates performed detailed study of coal, gas, wind and nuclear power capital costs and has concluded that the price of new nuclear power has risen faster than any other form of power.

Your figures of between $5 and $7 billion are off and should be bumped up to $11 billion to build in October of 2007. By mid-2007, a Keystone report, funded in part by the nuclear industry and Nuclear Engineering International, estimated overnight (assuming the plant was built in one day) costs at $3,000 per kilowatt, which, with interest, equals $3,600 to $4,000 per kilowatt. The report notes, “The power isn’t cheap: 8.3 to 11.1 cents per kilowatt hour.” That’s not cheap, when you consider that in December 2007, retail prices in this country averaged 8.9 cents per kilowatt-hour.

In October 2007, Florida Power and Light (FPL), “a leader in nuclear power generation,” presented its detailed cost estimate for new nukes to the Florida Public Service Commission. It concluded that two units totaling 2,200 megawatts would cost from $5,500 to $8,100 per kilowatt — $12 billion to $18 billion total.

I’m not sure where you found your information stating that nuclear plants “still manage to be very profitable” but I’d be interested in seeing it. If nuclear power is so profitable, the government has streamlined the application process, provided insurance against construction delays due to red tape and it’s such a good thing for the environment, why hasn’t private money jumped in? Put your money, not mine, where your mouth is.

19 Laura January 13, 2009 at 1:06 pm

Hi, I’m a recruiter in Southern New Jersey and stumbled accoss your article. As you can guess, I’m looking for a Nuclear Engineer for a company in Marlton, NJ. I would be delighted if you could refer somebody to me with your EXACT character! Thanks for the great article! Laura llaurenzano@volt.com.

20 Man Overboard January 13, 2009 at 1:38 pm

I suppose in the off chance that my boss sees this I should include a strongly worded statement expressing my complete and total job satisfaction and polite rejection of insinuated offer.

21 Man Overboard January 13, 2009 at 8:04 pm

2X,

The fact that I have a job, and the fact that the entire nuclear industry is scrambling to pay top dollar to hire and train engineers, operators, and craft workers in the midst of a recession that has nearly every other industry on the planet downsizing is my source.

22 TooExpensive January 13, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Just because everyone else is doing it doesn’t make of right or profitable. The last time everyone rushed into something thinking it was profitable before looking at the numbers and considering the consequences we had the housing bubble. The time before that we had the ethanol craze. The time before that we had the dot com bubble.

The startups during the dot com bubble thought they could create a business and sell it before generating any real profit. The second investors realized the startups couldn’t turn a profit the house of cards fell. Everyone rushed into ethanol figuring it was good for the environment, cost effective and energy efficient from seed to tank. In fact it is the opposite of all three of those. At some point during the housing bubble everyone knew someone making money in real estate. Hey, everyone else is doing it and they can’t all be wrong.

I don’t doubt your enthusiasm or desire to do what you think is right. It isn’t however correct to assume that a large group of people all doing something together must be right. Rather than hide behind blind courage you owe it to yourself (and your career) to do all you can to prove people like me wrong. Learn more about the future of your industry before you end up in a position you don’t want to be in (e.g. farmers who put their money into ethanol plants that no longer have government subsidies to make them competitive).

23 Laura January 19, 2009 at 11:34 am

Smart answer!

24 Jeremy January 19, 2009 at 9:56 pm

TooExpensive, it seems you are picking an choosing your facts. If you want to look at the total amount of subsidies that nuclear power receives, you must compare it to the total amount of energy produced. If nuclear power is subsidized three times as much as wind and solar, but is produces 20% of our nations power, in comprarison to 1% from wind and a whopping .1% for solar. Basically three times the cost for 20 times the power is a better deal, not a worse one. It is also worth noting that state governments are far more likely to subsides “green” sources of energy like wind and solar, and many energy companies actually have programs for customers to pay more money to get energy produced from those sources. Although I don’t have the numbers this surely makes that “3 times subsidies claim”, dubious at best,

25 TooExpensive January 19, 2009 at 10:41 pm

Jeremy,

I put the links to the data I used for a reason. I understand your reasoning but it’s not that simple. What it’s saying is that a mature industry should be profitable and not relying on government assistance for survival. An emerging industry is expected to need help.

There is a lot more information in the article I linked to that you should read because the figures are more specific. I also doubt your calculations are compelling enough to refute peer reviewed studies performed by a well known think tank and one of the best research institutions in the world.

26 Pil January 20, 2009 at 1:26 am

Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering?
HAHA! Go back to school and get yourself a real degree.

27 Jeremy January 20, 2009 at 7:41 am

TooExpensive, I read the link you provided. There were specifics, but no amount of dancing around the issues can refute the basic math I provided. You can tell me “it’s not that simple”, but it really is. As I said before, three times the cost for 20 times the power is a better deal, not a worse one. You can claim that only “new” technologies should be subsidized, but that is simply your opinion. I don’t think ANY of those sources of energy should be subsidized, let the free market determine what is best.

Furthermore the political motivation of this article is so blatant it slaps you across the face when you read it. This was written in June, while the presidential election was going on and the very first line of the article basically says “John McCain is wrong about nuclear power!” At the end of the article, in the “about the author” section, it links to the organization the author heads up, http://climateprogress.org/
it takes about 5 seconds looking at that website to realize it also is very politically biased. In short the author obviously has a chip on his shoulder, and I would take everything he wrote with a grain of salt.

28 TooExpensive January 20, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Why do you criticize an article then cherry pick the stats that work for your argument?

The bottom line is the cost per delivered kWh for nuclear is higher than anything else available regardless of the level of subsidies it gets. Even if the ratio of subsidies is lower for nuclear, you are still paying for it either through taxes or straight out of your pocket. As soon as people get the option to purchase power other than nuclear in markets where nuclear facilities exist, the public will stop personally subsidizing the cost, making it higher for the die-hards like yourself.

Many people much smarter than you or me have studied this and come to the conclusion that it is too expensive and will become even more so as time goes on. Here is another study you can “read”.

http://www.rmi.org/images/PDFs/Energy/E05-08_NukePwrEcon.pdf

29 Man Overboard January 20, 2009 at 5:11 pm

2X,

Show me a study I’ll show you another. One point you have driven home for me is the point I made in my article where part of my job is dealing with people like you on a daily basis.

This article is about the job – not the technology. If you want to argue the technology then there is no shortage of environmentalists on the net who would love to agree with you.

By the way – Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda, Namibia, Chile, Venezuela, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Bangladesh, Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Albania, Portugal, Norway, Poland, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Ireland, Turkey, Iran, Yemen, Israel, Syria, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Algeria, Morocco

All of those countries are developing nuclear energy – I bet they all have people smarter than us too.

30 WhoCaresIfItsTooExpensive January 20, 2009 at 6:16 pm

Nobody ever said it would be cheap to build nuclear power plants. The idea is that it is efficient, safe, cheap to OPERATE, and clean. In my eyes the industry is still an emerging market as there is a very small amount of plants in the U.S. compared to other places like France. As more plants are built the construction will get more and more efficient and drive the costs down. It also doesn’t help that there is only 1 or 2 companies that actually build plants allowing them to set their own prices. At the moment, we haven’t built any plants in ~20 years. Why? Because people are not educated. They think nukes will be the end of the world.

There is no private money because… it is expensive to build a plant. If something goes wrong the private investor is screwed and who knows the amount of money it could take to fix. Private investors typically invest in sure fire bets, which is hard to say about a nuclear plant because there is such a perceived uncertainty with them. The need for the government money is to take fiscal responsibility so that this technology can grow — eventually people will be come educated and learn that there is nothing to fear and private investing will take place.

100 billion? That is peanuts compared to the ongoing bailout, the war, healthcare costs, etc. There are privately run plants after they have been built and they don’t get any government funding and remain very profitable. It will take time but eventually this technology should be fully supported by the public.

I also work for a Nuclear power plant in Design Engineering, I just graduated from school in August with a degree in Electrical Engineering. It is good to see an article like this. Very accurate information, but I have so much more to learn.

31 Anderson Grossman February 17, 2009 at 2:00 pm

I don’t know why you are all saying that there are no private owned nuclear power plants.

http://www.brucepower.com/pagecontent.aspx?navuid=1

Bruce Power, a privately owned company currently provides 20% of Ontario’s power and is planning to open 5 new reactors in Ontario and some in Saskatchewan.

32 TooExpensive February 17, 2009 at 2:59 pm

This site and all the equipment on it was built using public money. To this day the reactors and the land are owned by the government while the operation of the facility is a public-private partnership.

http://www.canadianbusiness.com/markets/commodities/article.jsp?content=20061009_81255_81255

Private money has never financed the building of a nuclear power plant.

I’ll agree that the plant is operating at a profit but it is not out of the red yet. The operating partnership is making money while the real losers are the taxpayers because they will never recover the capital costs.

http://www.friendsofbruce.ca/IRs/Debt_Freightrain182002.html

33 el guapo February 23, 2009 at 10:32 pm

Wow! Good for you guys and being so pationate about your beleifs. Nuclear plants are so much more….. blah blah blah BORING! I was actually interested in this guys blog and a few of the comments, but I am curious about the actual job.

So, as for your job Jack, I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Being an ex-navy nuke, I am curious as to what your ex-navy coworkers say about their job. I can’t imagine any of them having as much love for it as you do. Seeing the situations some 20/21yr old navy kids deal with out at sea doing your job with so many other things factoring in on them is amazing. It blows my mind and I have all the respect in the world for them.

The job wasn’t for me, but knowing that I made it through my entire enlistment with; an honorable discharge, my sanity, all the memories, and knowing how many people (guys and girls) didn’t make it through, make me proud to be a veteran. Completing the nuclear program and fulfilling that commitment lead me to believe I can succeed at what ever my next career is. Good thing is I’ve got something to fall back on in case the situation requires it. Take those guys out for a round of beer (I imagine most of the crap you receive is from them) and let me know. How does it compare? Do they miss it? Why’d they stick with it? Are they actually making way more money?

Good luck to you Jack and congrats on finding a job you love

34 WhoCaresIfItsTooExpensive February 25, 2009 at 4:51 pm

I have news for you… no land is ever “owned” by you. You don’t pay your taxes then you lose the land to the government.

Nuclear is about to take off, there is no other option in our quest for green energy. You’re either going to be with it or against it, either way you’re going to have to learn to live with it.

35 NuclearEngineer March 24, 2009 at 4:36 am

Great article Jack, makes me look forward to getting out of the Navy. I too am interested in the questions that “el guapo” brought up. Everyone always talks about how great life is once you get out of the Navy and move into a civilian plant. I know life will still be ruff but hopefully I will make a lot more money.
To TooExpensive, you seem like a very intelligent person but I really don’t understand what you are trying to accomplish here. Are you trying to tell us all to grab a poster and run out and protest nuclear plants? I have read all the articles and links that you have posted; they are all extremely politically motivated. Being a man who serves my country and is an active nuclear engineer I have very strong feelings about nuclear power. Nuclear power allows us to put 80+ planes, 5000+ men and women, and a whole lot of bombs on one ship and take it to the other side of the world to protect people like you. We use the nuclear power to protect your right to say what you want.
I understand that the public has a huge misconception about nuclear power and how much it cost; I too used to be one of those people. But, you have to realize that without nuclear power we couldn’t continue to be the top Navy and country in the world. To give you an idea when we pull up to an apposing country with one nuclear carrier we are the 8th largest air force in the world, with just one ship.
TooExpensive I just ask you to not look at the political views and look at the big picture and appreciate what nuclear power provides you, the power to your computer, the lights in your home, but most of all your freedom.

36 usamah akhtar March 28, 2009 at 10:11 am

how much money do you get as a engineer on airoplanes?

37 Tom January 10, 2010 at 2:37 pm

Great interview. All the questions I had did not go unanswered after reading this article. This is some very handy information here, anyone looking to apply in this field or just to find out what a nuclear engineer does, this is definitely the article to look at. I’ve put a lot of effort into searching for other sites that might have half as much information as there was here, and when I found this article I was pleased to read it.

38 Matt February 15, 2010 at 1:50 am

This is a pretty interesting article (along with the comment debate) I am a senior in high school and am thinking about nuclear engineering as a possible career choice. This is an awesome blog, best on the internet in my opinion, keep it up

39 TooExpensive February 18, 2010 at 2:58 am

I’m not against the things only nuclear power can accomplish. I don’t see powering a carrier with solar or diesel as reasonable nor do I see going without a carrier as an option. Because nuclear powers our military and provides me with “freedom” doesn’t mean I owe it to the industry to subsidize a new plant to supply power for the lights in my home.

You might have read the articles I posted but based on your opinion that they are “politically motivated” it indicates you did not understand them. This is not a political issue it’s a financial issue. Numbers. Math. Look at what is needed to get the ball rolling. The President has pledged almost $10 billion in loans to push nuclear forward even with a >50% probability of default on those loans.

Although this does not have to be a political issue it unfortunately seems to always go that way. Here’s my two cents:

A Libertarian deserves infinitely more respect than any Republican. While I might not agree with Libertarians (or any party) 100%, they are honest and consistent whereas Republicans stink of hypocrisy. They praise the free markets and despise “big government” but don’t want to talk about the huge subsidies they provide to the coal and nuclear industries. If coal and nuclear are so great why can’t they stand on their own feet? The only reason new technologies are not cost competitive with coal is because of strong lobbying on behalf of the coal industry. A coal operation is also a lot cheaper to run when the full costs of doing business are not recognized. If you’re not sure what the full costs of running a coal operation are you can ask the poor folks who live and work at or near coal mines about their water quality. Republicans can’t have it both ways. Either pick free markets or big government and stop whining. The GOP almost sound like an incompetent socialists. Instead of owning the corporations outright they insist on handing money to various industries/companies with no say in how they operate.

40 TooExpensive February 18, 2010 at 3:08 am

An another note, my purpose is not to instigate protests but disuade people from pursuing dead end careers in the nuclear industry. The jobs outlook is probably similar to that of people with computer science degrees during the dot com bubble. We couldn’t push them out of college fast enough and now look at them. They’re probably serving your coffee at Starbucks.

You’re better off getting a construction management degree so you can be involved with the building of it (if that ever happens) and to have something to fall back on. Face it, there aren’t many jobs to go around when it comes to operating a nuclear plant. What are the odds you will beat the next guy for the job when we have millions of people out of work (granted they may not be trained) and overseas talent who have actual experience designing/building/running a plant instead of you coming right out of school.

If it’s your dream, by all means go for it. Just keep in mind that it’s not a video game and the whole thing isn’t rigged for a happy ending no matter what you choose.

41 What About Now? March 10, 2010 at 9:34 am

TooExpensive:

I am glad that you are driving the numbers and not just your liberal bias. But those who replied to you were effectively able to draw out your true liberal bend. Hence, I would like you to revisit your position now that Mr. Libertarian Obama has approved new construction on Nuclear Power Plants. Can you still defend this position with the numbers with your daddy going that direction, or is he just placating Republican pressure and trying to create jobs the Republican way because none of his pre-election rhetoric panned out? Is he showing that only Republican plans demonstrate PRACTICAL returns? And while you are at it, please address the $700 BILLION debt to China that libertarians poured into the economy like water into sand that our children will have to pay back with no return…as in the return of energy production. At least Nuclear Energy has a myriad of returns. It is far more important that the USA stay at the forefront of all areas of nuclear development on a global stage. The country that owns the most nuclear knowledge wins…not the country that gives away the most money to its citizens (or illegal guests) with zero show of return (i.e. willingness to WORK for their handouts.)

I do agree that it is best to have an industry that can stand on its own and not be forever in the red. And since you have identified the problem, what is your solution to the global energy crisis? You apparently have one…and it IS science based, right? The world is anxiously awaiting another libertarian savior to walk on water and solve our energy crisis…and YOU’RE IT obviously. Or is all your talk just more highlighting of Republican faults as seen through liberal eyes? Don’t we get enough of that kind of yellow journalism noise thru Michael Moore and Jon Stewart? What is your PRACTICAL solution to the energy dilemma? (I don’t expect a liberal to have a solution, just more finger pointing at Republicans. But give it your best shot.)

Thanks. I’m going for the Nuke master’s degree. You helped solidify that.

42 daniel March 19, 2010 at 10:16 pm

I mentioned the cost side of nuclear plants to an ex-navy nuke guy and his buddy. They thought this argument against nuclear engineering was very ironic, since over half the cost and the long delays are due to lawsuits and stalling by the likes of Greenpeace. I have also been accepted into a nuclear engineering program at Texas A&M.
BTW I am a libertarian, I hated Bush b/c of how loose he was with money. Obama is giving me a heart attack at 18.
Personally I think if the government got out of the way with the overly burdensome/excessive regulation nuclear power would be one of the premier sources of energy in the country today.
Despite Obama’s support for loans for the nuclear industry, I still can’t believe he pulled the plug on the Nevada waste depository. It makes you wonder about his true intentions

43 Matt March 25, 2010 at 1:16 am

Small world daniel. I too am going to Texas A&M for nuclear engieering.

44 Nuke ET April 10, 2010 at 11:02 pm

Great Article, lots of pros and cons for nuclear energy. I’m a Navy Nuke with ten years of experience and it sounds like the civilian side of the nuclear industry is very similar to the military program. I wanted to work in the nuclear field when I get out but now I’m starting to rethink that decision.

45 philTheEskimo February 15, 2013 at 6:42 am

Thanks for the great article, and thanks to all for the reader comments. I need to vent (nyuk nyuk) a thought about this debate on future power.
In the future we’re going to need a lot of power. A lot a lot. Our culture is built on cheap energy and we’re heading for trouble regardless. I think we’re going to need all the power we can get our hands on. A single-solution response to a critical problem like power generation is to me obviously unwise. Instead of talking about nuke OR coal OR solar OR pyramid OR whatever we must start talking about nuke AND coal AND solar AND … Any one-eyed solution on its own isn’t going to be enough. Not nearly enough. Most posters here are thoughtful and sincere, but everyone in this needs to stop treating the debate like a sport with a winner and losers and start thinking about a resilient, heterogenous, collaborative set of energy solutions that includes every available power generation method. It’s urgent.

46 Asad July 28, 2013 at 4:41 pm

It was great article. Really enjoyed very much.

I have little concerns if any one of you able to give me little comfort.
I have done my BS in chemical engineering and have received a scholarship offer for MS in nuclear engineering. What if after getting MS degree in N.E. with 5 years of experience can I switch to any nuclear power plant in UK or US?

47 Trevor Gowe November 12, 2013 at 3:54 pm

I agree with the author for the most part… but I think what happened in Japan recently shows that nuclear disaster is still a possibility. And saying your family is perfectly safe near the power plant is fine… unless one day they’re not.

To not realize the potential danger of nuclear power is folly.

48 DirtBurner December 20, 2013 at 11:49 pm

Small world indeed, I’m presently engaged fulfilling transfer requirements to A&M for Petroleum Engineering, but have a marked interest in nuclear and have considered switching since I really do feel that nuclear is the future of energy, and my investment in petroleum is largely motivated by a need to pay student loans post grad since I have literally -NO- financial support from my family (not one of those senators’ sons, I’m afraid).

@Trevor, it should be noted that Fukushima could and should have been avoided. Not only were there fail safes in the very design of the plant that were not implemented, other suggested safety measures, such as a seawall capable of withstanding a tsunami’s ravages, were not installed. Safety drills were treated as a formality, and Tepco did not invest in retaining experienced specialists to address these potential issues. The need for safety is absolutely at the forefront with nuclear, but that need does not negate the necessity for the increased energy generation that nuclear can provide.

On another note, I’m all for “green” energy alternatives, but for all the proponents of solar and wind, their respective contributions toward overall energy demand is very low. And, while this may be conjecture, it seems companies adopt “green” policies and projects more for appearances than anything else. They’ve made relatively minute investments in replacing coal, and they have little monetary incentive to do otherwise.

After all, you can choose to pay more for priority on green energy in some places. Aren’t you so very socially conscious? Driving your prius and powering it with coal plants, replacing your battery after a few years to the tune of ten grand, and ‘reducing your carbon footprint’, at least in your own mind.

Sorry to rant. I live around a lot of yuppies in NorCal. It kind of gets to me.

With that aside, geothermal and hydroelectric of course have great potential, but hydroelectric has striking environmental costs and naturally viable geothermal fields are few and far between. There is research being done in how to make more areas capable of generating geothermal, safely and with minimal environmental impact, but there are no solutions on the horizon.

Personally, my somewhat uninformed opinion (being a student, I’m inherently unqualified, so let the stones fly) is that we should foray into LFTR technology again. They are incapable of meltdown, and consume fuel we currently deem “nuclear waste”. Of course, while we’ve had this technology since the 60s, liquid fluoride thorium reactors don’t produce the weapons grade plutonium that traditional uranium breeders do. Makes you think about the politics.

For those who would ask for sources, that shit is tedious and I don’t care about your opinion enough to provide them. If you care about your opinion, do your own research and come back at me with contrary figures should you think this is truly a fight worth having.

However, since I am taking somewhat of a political stance in my endorsement of LFTR’s, for those unfamiliar with the technology, I strongly recommend doing some reading. If you’re lazy or just a layman, here’s a handy youtube clip!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uK367T7h6ZY (LFTRs in 5 Minutes)

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