What Is a Senior Reactor Operator? (With Job Requirements and Salary)

A reactor operator (or nuclear reactor operator) is an individual at a nuclear power plant who is responsible for directly controlling a nuclear reactor from a control panel and is the only individual at a nuclear power plant who can directly alter significant amounts of reactor reactivity. The reactor operator occupies a position of great responsibility that may require him or her to start up a nuclear reactor, shut down a nuclear reactor, monitor reactor parameters, or respond to a casualty of the nuclear reactor.

All reactor operators are required to be licensed or qualified by their respective governing body (for example, the NRC for U.S. civilian nuclear reactors and Naval Reactors for U.S. naval reactors).

Civilian reactor operators are individuals with enormous responsibilities to protect the health and the safety and their site and the public. The job can be extremely stressful and requires individuals to maintain high awareness of the controls. The high mental standard required for the job is often compared to that of naval aviators.

The median annual salary for a licensed reactor operator is $140,000 – $200,000 a year plus bonuses and other monetary benefits. The job outlook for the near future predicts a 10% growth with many people retiring.

A senior reactor operator supervises the reactor operators. The license is issued after the individual passes both a written exam and an operating test. The senior reactor operator exam also measures the individual’s ability to direct licensed operators.

Cool Jobs: Three Mile Island reactor operator

What does a senior reactor operator do?

A senior reactor operator is responsible for the following tasks:

What is a senior reactor operator?

A senior reactor operator, also called a nuclear operator, is a high-level professional who oversees the control panel of a nuclear reactor. This individual is responsible for making adjustments to the reactor reactivity. As working with nuclear energy comes with a potential risk, its quite important that those in this role complete extensive training. When working as a senior reactor operator, its your job to oversee the work of reactor operators.

What are the job requirements for a senior reactor operator?

A senior reactor operator needs to meet the following requirements before they are qualified for this important role:


In order to become a reactor operator, you need at least a high school diploma. You may consider earning additional education to make yourself a more marketable candidate. When moving up to become a senior reactor operator, you may want to earn a bachelors degree in engineering or physical science. Although, with at least a year of experience as a licensed reactor operator, you may not need a college degree.


Much of what you learn in this role will take place on the job. While you can apply directly to a nuclear power plant, you can also get started on this career path by joining the Navy. Prior to earning your license, expect to work under the guidance of highly skilled reactor operators. Use this as your time to prepare for your licensing requirements and learn how to properly do this important job.


Those without a license need 18 months of experience working as an operator before applying to a senior-level position. Along with starting your career as a non-licensed reactor operator, you can also learn about this industry as a plant manager or plant staff engineer.


Prior to earning your senior reactor license, consider earning your reactor operator license. In order to earn this license, you need three years of power plant experience, with at least six months of experience working for your current employer. Along with meeting your training requirements, you need to pass the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licensing exam along with a physical exam. Renewal of your reactor operator license requires you to pass a yearly exam and a medical exam every two years. You also need to apply to renew your license every six years.

When you want to apply for a senior reactor license, you will either need a college degree or have worked for a year as a licensed reactor operator. Those without a reactor operator license can apply for the senior reactor operator license after 18 months of power plant experience. This license also requires you to pass a yearly exam and a physical exam every two years. Once earning your license, realize that if you want to work at a different facility, youll need to undergo the licensing process all over again.


Working in this role requires a specialized set of skills. Here are a few you may want to develop:


How long does it take to become a reactor operator?

To obtain an NRC operating license, candidates must successfully complete a comprehensive training program at a nuclear site and pass a comprehensive examination administered by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. The site training programs are usually 18 to 24 months in duration.

What do reactor operators earn?

Salary Ranges for Nuclear Reactor Operators

The salaries of Nuclear Reactor Operators in the US range from $31,645 to $796,509 , with a median salary of $151,165 . The middle 57% of Nuclear Reactor Operators makes between $151,167 and $366,011, with the top 86% making $796,509.

How hard is it to become a reactor operator?

To become licensed, operators must meet training and experience requirements, pass a medical exam, and pass the NRC licensing exam. To keep their license, operators must pass a plant-operating exam each year, pass a medical exam every 2 years, and apply for renewal of their license every 6 years.

What is an operational reactor?

The reactor operations stage is where the fabricated fuel assemblies are loaded into nuclear reactor for the irradiation of nuclear fuels to cause fission of uranium. With each fission reaction producing about 200 MeV as thermal energy, the energy generated is utilized for steam production and electricity generation.

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