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US Navy Nuclear Program (Propulsion)

  1. May 7, 2011 #1
    Anybody here who has gone through the Navy's Nuclear Propulsion program?

    Wanting to get some insight on the program
  2. jcsd
  3. May 7, 2011 #2


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    Yes, as an enlisted. But it was 34 years ago. I'm sure things have changed.
  4. May 7, 2011 #3


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    I retired from the Navy as a submarine warfare officer and was qualified as Engineer Officer for Naval Nuclear Propulsion Plants. The last few years I was in was as a training officer in the reserves. That was 20 years ago, but I can try. What would you like to know?
  5. May 8, 2011 #4
    I was a Machinist Mate/Engineering Laboratory Technician back in the 90's, on board USS Henry M. Jackson, SSBN 730 Gold Crew.

    Currently a Senior Reactor Operator at a University Research Reactor, where we still hire some ex-navy operators, though they have been passing us up lately, for more lucrative jobs in the commercial power sector.
  6. May 8, 2011 #5
    I am graduating from an EE program (top 10) and am looking into career opportunities. I have been interested in Nuclear Power for a while (considered Nuclear Engineering for a LONG time), and too a few Nuclear Engineering classes.

    I was considering the Nuclear Propulsion program, but it almost feels like the Navy gets the better deal, since I took out my own loans. Also, would a Nuc officer be doing the same work as an enlistee? My friend (former enlistee nuke) says that as an officer I'd probably get my loans paid off by the Navy and that I would probably get a decent signing bonus

    The power school instructor job seems really cool, but my gpa is not high enough Same probably goes for reactors engineering job (3.0 gpa) :(

    As a propulsion officer, does one get to choose if they get to be surface or submarine? I am single, no prospective significant others yet, as such factors would of course make this a little harder to do. The time commitment (5 years I think) is of course a bit daunting

    Also, it seems at times that only people who "couldn't make it anywhere else" choose the military....I mean, I understand this is likely not the case...but you know, the stereotype is there :(

    Any more info? experience? Fill me in

    Last edited: May 8, 2011
  7. May 8, 2011 #6


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  8. May 8, 2011 #7
    That's kinda true for many other organizations, not just the military... e.g. I'm making more working independently than typical software engineer at my age, and my career opportunities are unlimited - I can hire people to work under me, expand the business, etc. Typical software engineers employed at companies are mostly people who couldn't make a successful company themselves, something which a qualified software engineer should be able to do. (But of course there's also the top software engineers who founded the company or were given good stock options, those do make a lot of money).

    Have you considered career not involving nukes? There is a lot of jobs for electrical engineers.
    Last edited: May 8, 2011
  9. May 8, 2011 #8


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    Submarine duty is still a voluntary choice. Recent changes to allow women to serve and to eliminate smoking haven't changed that. The largest number of billets in nuclear propulsion is for submarines. All officers on subs are nuclear trained except the Supply officer and Weapons officers on SSBNs. You might limit your chance of selection if you want to avoid submarine duty. Personally I spent a few months when I was enlisted on an aircraft carrier, and would never have wanted any more of that. 24/7 in a dangerous, noisy steel labrynth with 5000 of your closest strangers.

    As to the stereotypes about military service, if you really care about what others think you may not have the self-confidence it takes to get through the training. In six months of nuclear power school and six months of prototype training you are going to be challenged mentally and physically. Once in the fleet your training and qualification will continue at an intense pace. Until you qualify to stand watches, you are a non-qual, synonym for useless. As an officer you will stand training watches with every station manned by enlisted sailors as part of your qualification as Engineer Officer of the Watch. You will also be assigned as a division officer, responsible for some of the sailors you work with. You will never again accept the sterotype that these men and women couldn't make it anywhere else.

    Once you are qualified to stand watches, you will be supervising the watchstanders on duty. You will be responsible for operation of the reactor and responding to alarms and problems in the control room or Maneuvering Room. Meanwhile you will have other training and qualifications to complete while continuing to run your division. You will be working on your qualifications as a submarine or surface warfare specialist. You will be working on standing watches in other parts of the ship.

    You will be at sea for long periods. In-port or in a shipyard the work seems harder, because you know the beach is just outside the gate.

    My advice is talk to a navy recruiter and get actual answers about signing bonuses and loan payoffs. You don't have to sign up to get answers.
  10. May 8, 2011 #9
    Just for clarification, this is referring to the aircraft carrier right? I take it you were on a submarine most of your time?

    It would seem (rightfully so) that there is a lot of pressure as a reactor operator...is there anyone else to consult? Lots of information in one's head, sometimes it's hard to access it all you know?

    Also, is the job of a nuclear propulsion officer any different than a nuclear propulsion enlistee, aside from the supervisory things? I feel like my years in an engineering program should mean something right?

  11. May 8, 2011 #10


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    My nephew is not a "forum" person or I'd ask him to jump in. A couple of years back, he had hit a wall as a Chief, despite being the top-rated chief out of more than 120 on his carrier. He accepted an appointment to propulsion school and a commission as warrant officer after the completion of his training. Not bad for a kid from a low-grade HS in rural Maine.
  12. May 8, 2011 #11
    making it somewhere else is about being a grown up independent person who can set his/her own goals and achieve them, not about being able to do stuff you're told to do.
  13. May 8, 2011 #12
    Yea I regret mentioning anything about military stereotypes....I was flat out wrong...
  14. May 8, 2011 #13
    Well it is kind of the case for real that military has a lot of people who wouldn't be in military if they could get a normal job, relationship, etc. I'd really recommend you to rethink it. The military is going to train you real hard. You could instead opt to train/work yourself this hard, and get yourself a good civilian job.
  15. May 9, 2011 #14


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    The enlisted watchstanders have also been through a year of nuclear power school and prototype training. They have detailed training as reactor operators, electrical operators, mechanics, instrumentation and controls, and chemistry. You have a senior petty officer or chief as a watch supervisor to support you and perform on the spot supervision outside the control room. The ship's Engineer (Scotty to you trekkies) and senior officers will always be available for questions, and are likely to be standing there in their skivvies when things go wrong. As an officer you won't be pulling or inserting rods at the reactor control panel or operating valves in the plant, But you will need to know enough to back the others up with the more intensive training you receive on integrated plant operations, casualties, and procedures.
  16. May 9, 2011 #15


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    No problem.

    I don't know how much of the forum you have read. But so you are informed. Dmytry is apparently in Lithuania and runs his own business in software development. I don't know where he gets his ideas about life and the quality of personnel in the US Navy. Don't just take my word for it. Do your research. Get your recruiter to provide you with all the information you can get. Find other vets who can give you both sides of the life you will have. Whether you go into the military or into engineering as a civilian, good luck.
  17. May 9, 2011 #16


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  18. May 9, 2011 #17
    Well the OP himself is an example of a person somewhat on the fence for joining the military, who would not think of joining if he could find a civilian job in the field that interests him, or had personal ties that would interfere. I simply don't think it is really uncommon. Joining the military is a serious decision that has massive disadvantages due to exclusion of personal life; for many people those disadvantages would outweight the benefits, for some them don't.
  19. May 9, 2011 #18
    I had considered the program many times, but due to some prejudice against all things military (my family is of Indian descent, they are not very fond of the military over there), I never gave it serious thought. I guess the impression I had growing up was that 1. People who can't make it elsewhere, go to the military since they "take everyone". 2. You are basically signing your life away. 3. You are basically asking to get put into harm's way. Now mind you, I am not planning on joining the Marines or anything, nor do I really like the idea of combat, but I figured frankly speaking, nobody messes with our navy.

    Does the training period ("A" school, and Nuclear Power school) count towards the commitment time?

    NUCENG, how long were you in the service? What did you do after active duty ended? Why did you prefer submarine duty over aircraft carrier duty? Both seem dangerous in their own ways.
  20. May 10, 2011 #19
    The military is much more respected than some of those who haven't served are making it out to be. Employers respect military service, and the job skills it gives its members. These include working under pressure and stress, meeting deadlines, self-reliance and confidence, among others. You aren't going to get anything close to the job skills sitting in college, protesting war on the weekends, and working as a self-employed consultant or contractor.

    The nuclear navy is that, on steroids. It is the hardest academic program in the military, where those that get in are already in the top 1% intelligence wise, and then anywhere from 1/4 to 3/4 fail or wash out of the program.

    The post-9/11 GI bill is phenomenal (100% of tuition paid, $1000/yr for books/supplies, and E5 housing allowance pay (roughly $1100/month, depending on location) WHILE going to school.

    The re-enlistment bonuses in the navy for nukes, are insane, pushing $60-$100k depending on your rate (and tax-free if you re-enlist in a combat zone, like the middle east). The training is first rate, the job experience second to none, and if you are not inclined to go to college after serving your 6 years (your time in training DOES count towards your contract) you can do your 6 years, then get on at a commercial nuclear power plant and make over $100k per year within 2 years of starting, and it only goes up from there.

    I work at a university research reactor, where we will hire a navy nuke, who did their 6 (or maybe 8, to get a bonus) then want to go to college. We pay 100% of their tuition and fees at the university here, up to 6 credits per semester (except school books and supplies) and let them sign out and go to class when they have it, then come back and make up their hours, while paying them $50-$60K per year (it takes most about 8 years to get their degree, while qualifying reactor operator and senior reactor operator).

    So these guys, by about 30-32 years old, have 6 years navy nuclear experience, 8 years research reactor experience, qualified senior reactor operator, usually shift supervisor for a few years by then, have a college degree and ZERO STUDENT LOAN DEBT and almost zero cost except for books. And they go start at $100-140K per year at a commercial reactor when done, and because they got their degree, can move into management rapidly. The alternative, is get out of navy, go straight to commercial power, and make $120k/year within 2 years (starting out around $70-$80k per year).

    I hated the navy, but I loved my job, so it was a means to an end. The military is not a career anymore, but a training program, and a well-respected one at that. Don't listen to those that never served or have some misguided stereo-types of what the military is. The most negative talking people I've met about the military, were the ones that got rejected for service or kicked out.

    The nuclear industry is not going anywhere, regardless of what the tree-huggers want to think. There have been accidents, and that means the regulations and requirements tighten up, but we live in a society addicted to energy, and wind/solar are not viable and coal/oil produce carbon and are going to run out eventually. Nuclear will last millenia, it's just a matter of time before the world realizes this.

    The one note, nuclear power is picky, and if you have a criminal background, you won't get in. They will ask about misdemeanors, credit, bankruptcy, etc... and will find out the answer. They can waiver some things, if you are honest about them. If you try to hide something, when (not if) they find out, you will not be hired and probably won't get into the industry anywhere else either. BE HONEST.

    The navy was 12-18 hours a day on average of watchstanding, training, drills, and cleaning. The food sucks, often your superior officers suck, but remember its for a fixed period of time then you are done. There are good and bad times, and you will miss your family when at sea. I recommend SUBMARINES as a better life however. I served on subs and carriers both, and subs beat the surface fleet hands down.

    Hope this info helps you.
  21. May 10, 2011 #20
    Everyone seems to be indicating that the submarine position is better than the carrier one. Why is that?

    Psychologically the carrier seems "safer", it seems like if the submarine gets messed up, there is nowhere to go.
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