Skip to Main Content

Home Explore Careers

Nuclear Reactor Operators and Technicians

History

The potential for nuclear power generation was first demonstrated in 1942, when a group of scientists led by Enrico Fermi conducted the first controlled nuclear chain reaction in a nuclear reactor located under the football stands on Stagg Field at the University of Chicago. After World War II, research continued on peacetime uses of controlled atomic energy. In 1948, researchers increasingly emphasized the design of nuclear power reactors to generate electricity.

By late 1963, the technology for these nuclear reactors was ready for commercial use, and the first nuclear power plants were constructed. Their successful operation and the low cost of the electric power they generated were promising. Further development of technology continued, and the construction of several additional nuclear power plants began.

Since then, the field has learned a great deal about the design and safe operation of nuclear-fueled electric power plants. Quality assurance and control procedures have been developed to ensure that every step of a plant's construction and operation meets the necessary safety requirements.

Important lessons learned from power station accidents, such as those at Three Mile Island (United States), Chernobyl (Ukraine), and, most recently, Fukushima Daiichi (Japan), have led to specific procedures for protecting against radiation. Special technicians work in each plant to ensure the least possible risk of radiation exposure to workers. Studies show that the safest operation of nuclear plants is directly attributable to carefully selected and thoroughly trained nuclear reactor operators. Since 1963, the federal government has trained and licensed thousands of people to work as nuclear reactor operators.

Related Professions