The MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory employs and trains a select number of students each year to become fully qualified NRC-licensed reactor operators. The training process involves gaining a broad and deep knowledge of the reactor systems and how they affect each other, and operation of the reactor. Trainees spend several months reading about the reactor systems and drawing components to help them understand how everything is connected. When the trainee has gained sufficient knowledge of the reactor they start to operate the reactor under direct supervision from the training supervisor. Trainees learn to operate the reactor by performing startups, shutdowns, power manipulations and control blade shuffles. Much like driving a vehicle, learning how quickly the reactor responds to control blade movement and temperature change can only gained by practice.
Once the trainee has demonstrated the ability to operate the reactor safely, including responding appropriately to abnormal conditions, the trainee applies for their license. The license exam is conducted over two days by an NRC examiner and includes a multiple-choice written exam, an interview, a tour of the reactor and a reactor startup. If the trainee passes the exam then they become a licensed Reactor Operator (RO). This license allows the holder to operate only the MIT reactor. If the operator moves to a different reactor, they must become relicensed for that specific plant.
Top left: Identifying core components; Top right: Practicing startup-up checks; Bottom left: Practicing a reactor startup; Bottom right: Tracing the cooling systems in the equipment room.
A reactor operator may choose to upgrade their license to a Senior Reactor Operator (SRO) license. This requires additional experience operating the reactor, training, and another exam. An SRO license allows an operator to act as the shift supervisor which has the added responsibility that they oversee operations on a given shift and make sure that any work is completed sufficiently and safely.
The MIT Nuclear Reactor Laboratory provides this unique opportunity to students who wish to become part-time operators, and also to full-time employees. If you are a student and are interested in joining the reactor team, please apply here. If you are looking for a full-time position with our laboratory, please check out our careers page.