Did you initially go straight into the Nuclear program? Or did you have to spend xx amount of time in the navy before eligible to get accepted into the program? How long did you spend in the program as well?
You do go straight into the program. As enlisted the path is like this: Boot Camp, 2 months; 'A' School, 3-6 months depending on the rate; Nuclear Power School, 6 months; Prototype (NPTU) , 6 months.
One important variable here is the rating. There are machinist mates, electricians and electronics technicians (machininst mates may also get training as an Engineering Labratory Technician or as a welder). Everyone learns a technical rating as well as theory and operations of the nuclear power plants. Electronic's Technicians get teh closest to the reactor operations specifically but everyone plays a part. The equilizer between the ratings comes after you get some operating time and qualify Enginneering Watch Supervisor (EWS).
I've always thought about going into the Navy after I get my Nuclear Engineer degree, but never thought about going through the Navy to getting the degree (if you can call it an actually 'degree' from the navy, or would it be equal to a community college degree ??)
If you htink you can wait to finish your degee then that is a fine way to go. You can enter the program as an officer. As an officer you get paid better and enter with a higher expectation of capability and a corresponding level of supervision.
If you cannot wait for whatever reason, there are opportunityies from the enlisted side of the house. Nearly everything has been rolled into the STA-21 program. Top performers, and it is competitive, may be selected to go to college for 30 months to finish your degree and gain a commission.
There is a particularly grueling path not often taken. If you have some Engineering coursework done (I would say at least one year) and you enter as enlisted you may, no promise, find yourself at prototype in Ballston Spa NY. If you can arrange a staff tour (3 years after our first sea duty) or a staff pickup tour 2 years commencing immediately after your prototype tour as a student there is an opprotunity to attend the RPI Nuclear Engineering Program in your off hours (there are not many so it is difficult). That is a unique opportunity to complete your Nuclear Engineering degree at a top 3(?) engineering school.
If you do go to a boat, work hard and qualify EWS as early as possible. Your first shore duty should be NPTU (everyone will tell you otherwise). Going to NPTU as a hard charging 1st class qualified Engineering Watch Supervisor sets you up to qualify Engineering Officer of the Watch. Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW) is the qualification that sets you up best for entry into the comercial nuclear power program. Many EOOW qualfied people are able to roll into commercial Senior Reactor Operator training programs (which all pay very well).
I know it depends a lot of where you work, and what type of work you do, but I wonder how big the pay difference is between working in the industry compared to work for the Navy.
Navy enlisted pay is not much but gets better with time. You are after all in an entry level position with no college degree. There is special duty assignment pay for nukes as well as submairine duty pay and sea pay for guys on 'boats'. Bonuses are pretty nice and will continue for some time as there are always good jobs available to those who do not wish to continue thier enlistment. Officer pay is not too bad, initally it is not much better than a standard engineer salary; about O3, 4 years, it becomes difficult to get out and make the same money.
Hope that helps...