# US Navy Nuclear Program (Propulsion)

## Main Question or Discussion Point

Anybody here who has gone through the Navy's Nuclear Propulsion program?

Wanting to get some insight on the program

Related Nuclear Engineering News on Phys.org
OmCheeto
Gold Member
Anybody here who has gone through the Navy's Nuclear Propulsion program?

Wanting to get some insight on the program
Yes, as an enlisted. But it was 34 years ago. I'm sure things have changed.

NUCENG
Yes, as an enlisted. But it was 34 years ago. I'm sure things have changed.
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?

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.

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 :(

Thanks!

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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 :(
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.

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NUCENG
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 :(

Thanks!
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.

. 24/7 in a dangerous, noisy steel labrynth with 5000 of your closest strangers.
Just for clarification, this is referring to the aircraft carrier right? I take it you were on a submarine most of your time?

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.

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?

Thanks

turbo
Gold Member
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.

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.
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.

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.
Yea I regret mentioning anything about military stereotypes....I was flat out wrong...

Yea I regret mentioning anything about military stereotypes....I was flat out wrong...
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.

NUCENG
Just for clarification, this is referring to the aircraft carrier right? I take it you were on a submarine most of your time?

That is correct.

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?

Thanks
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.

NUCENG
Yea I regret mentioning anything about military stereotypes....I was flat out wrong...
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.

Astronuc
Staff Emeritus
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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.

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.

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.

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.

NUCENG
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.
Enlisted commitment is for 6 years including training. As an officer when I was selected for nuclear I committed to 5 years after completing the training.

I spent 14 years on active duty and 7 years in the navy reserves. The first part of that sevice was as enlisted not involving nuclear propulsion. After completing nuclear training I served on an SSN and on an SSBN as Engineer Officer. After I left active duty I worked as a Systems Engineer at a major defense firm while I completed my time in the reserves and retired. Then I took a job at a BWR4 nuclear power plant. After that I became an independent contractor and have worked at a number of other plants since.

Submarine duty involves working with other volunteers. On a smaller crew you know everyone aboard. The qualification and training of the crew is tough and it weeds out phobics, shirkers, and those that just can't hack it. The atmosphere in a sub is more relaxed and informal that on a large ship. The combination of interesting operations and working with the quality people (officer and enlisted) made the long hour, hard work, and close quarters an experience that I enjoyed. You are right that there is danger, there is supposed to be a law that what goes up must come down, There is no law that a submarine that goes down must come up. But I had confidence that everyone on those submarines could be counted on to minimize that danger.

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.
Had job offer 1 year ago from some US recently-ex-military dude on startup project of his, he was extremely confident in himself, believing he knows business, etc. and also full of wrong ideas of how to secure funding or how much funding can be secured or how hard it is or how long it'd take to finish, plus entirely disinterested in my input. Basically, very arrogant. 1 year later - my project made a lot of money, he didn't get the funding and his project is at snail's pace.

re: a really good point about using it for training to get a civilian NPP job. That may be a good idea for OP, but only if he can be sure he won't get weeded out in the navy nuke program.

To compare, I'm 25, I'm making about 130K/year, no debt, but it was bloody hard to get to such level. (and it's computer science/software engineering, meaning you can start up by yourself, which is not so much the case for mechanical or electrical engineering and is entirely out of the question for anything nuclear). I do believe though that a determined person who can drive himself nearly as hard as military does, can make more working by himself (and more than me 'cause i'm not driving myself this hard). I'm a kind of libertarian so i don't like idea of military or even of a really big corporation.

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re: a really good point about using it for training to get a civilian NPP job. That may be a good idea for OP, but only if he can be sure he won't get weeded out in the navy nuke program.
I figured that if I could survive Electrical Engineering at one of the top undergrad programs in the US, I should be able to survive Nuclear Power School. Not saying it will be easy, but I think I have a decent shot provided I want to work for it.

NUCENG said:
Submarine duty involves working with other volunteers. On a smaller crew you know everyone aboard. The qualification and training of the crew is tough and it weeds out phobics, shirkers, and those that just can't hack it. The atmosphere in a sub is more relaxed and informal that on a large ship. The combination of interesting operations and working with the quality people (officer and enlisted) made the long hour, hard work, and close quarters an experience that I enjoyed. You are right that there is danger, there is supposed to be a law that what goes up must come down, There is no law that a submarine that goes down must come up. But I had confidence that everyone on those submarines could be counted on to minimize that danger.
I have a few friends who were in the Navy, one of which was a submarine officer, the other was an oceanographer. I also know of a surface nuke officer who I may speak to regarding his experience. The former oceanographer said that if he could choose, he would go with submarine for some of the same reasons you mentioned. He said that the US has a good track record, but sub life just kinda sucks.

I did speak to a surface officer (not the same one I mentioned earlier) who was on the USS Enterprise, he said that he had no probs (He did 8 years active instead of 4 active 4 reserve, and even said he would have rather just stayed the full 20 instead of leaving), but because of all the stuff going on (planes landing, taking off, etc), it is a somewhat tense environment, and if you aren't on your watch, you can get screwed pretty bad (die)

Do you know by chance how easy/not easy it is to work as an instructor after a few trips (tours? not sure if this is the right word) out at sea? Right now my gpa (~3.0) doesn't qualify me (at least I don't think it does) for power school instructor, but I was thinking there may be an alternative way of getting it

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NUCENG
I figured that if I could survive Electrical Engineering at one of the top undergrad programs in the US, I should be able to survive Nuclear Power School. Not saying it will be easy, but I think I have a decent shot provided I want to work for it.

I have a few friends who were in the Navy, one of which was a submarine officer, the other was an oceanographer. I also know of a surface nuke officer who I may speak to regarding his experience. The former oceanographer said that if he could choose, he would go with submarine for some of the same reasons you mentioned. He said that the US has a good track record, but sub life just kinda sucks.

I did speak to a surface officer (not the same one I mentioned earlier) who was on the USS Enterprise, he said that he had no probs (He did 8 years active instead of 4 active 4 reserve, and even said he would have rather just stayed the full 20 instead of leaving), but because of all the stuff going on (planes landing, taking off, etc), it is a somewhat tense environment, and if you aren't on your watch, you can get screwed pretty bad (die)

Do you know by chance how easy/not easy it is to work as an instructor after a few trips (tours? not sure if this is the right word) out at sea? Right now my gpa (~3.0) doesn't qualify me (at least I don't think it does) for power school instructor, but I was thinking there may be an alternative way of getting it
From what I experienced some Nuclear Power School instructors were selected and trained and went directly to instructor duty. Others were selected to go to work directly at naval Reactors. And some were on shore duty after their first sea tours. Both of these categories tended to be officers who had advanced degrees. At the prototypes most of the instructors were civilians although the were Navy Officer and enlisted there as well. Depending on how well you would do in training and how well you do when you go back to Naval Reactor to test out and be interviewed as an Engineer qualification will be taken into account forthe types of jobs you can get after your first sea tour. A return to instructor duty may be possible.

Again. Please check this out with a recruiter. They should have details on the qualifications for instructor selection and for the other questions like loan paybacks or signing bonuses. Get as much information as you can. Maybe we can get Xelera to explain what he hated about the navy. It is all part of making an informed decision. You mentioned that your family may also have cutural or philosophical antagonisms to the military. That should also play a large part in your decision making.

Maybe we can get Xelera to explain what he hated about the navy. It is all part of making an informed decision. You mentioned that your family may also have cutural or philosophical antagonisms to the military. That should also play a large part in your decision making.
Yea, I just want to make sure I give it a fair chance before I discard the idea.

It's interesting because it seems that one can have the same job (say, reactor engineer guys) as a civilian or in navy (knolls atomic lab guys vs. navy counterparts...both go to power school and do similar, if not, same work), but for some reason, that part about "being in the navy" is awkward...haha...quite interesting actually (I am wondering, what is the real difference at that point between these two?)