Brief Program History:
A strong Navy is crucial to the security of the United States, a nation with worldwide interests that receives the vast majority of its trade via transoceanic shipment. Navy warships are deployed around the world every hour of every day to provide a credible "forward presence," ready to respond on the scene wherever America's interests are threatened. Nuclear propulsion plays an essential role in this, providing the mobility, flexibility, and endurance that today's Navy requires to meet a growing number of missions.
The mission of Naval Reactors (NR) is to provide militarily effective nuclear propulsion plants and ensure their safe, reliable, and long-lived operation. This mission requires the combination of fully trained U.S. Navy men and women with ships that excel in speed, endurance, stealth, and independence from logistics supply chains.
Presidential Executive Order 12344 codified in 50 U.S.C. sections 2406 and 2511 set forth the total responsibility of NR for all aspects of the Navy's nuclear propulsion, including research, design, construction, testing, operation, maintenance, and ultimate disposition of naval nuclear propulsion plants. NR's responsibility includes all related facilities, radiological controls, and environmental, safety, and health matters, as well as selection, training, and assignment of personnel. All of this work is accomplished by a lean network of dedicated research laboratories, nuclear-capable shipyards, equipment contractors and suppliers, and training facilities, which are centrally controlled by a small headquarters staff.
A leader in environmental protection, the Program has published annual environmental reports since the 1960s, which identify that the Program has not had any adverse effect on human health or the quality of the environment. Because of the Program's demonstrated reliability, U.S. nuclear-powered warships are welcomed in more than 150 ports of call in over 50 foreign countries and dependencies.
Since USS NAUTILUS (SSN 571) first signaled "Underway on nuclear power" in 1955, our nuclear-powered ships have demonstrated their superiority in defending the country -- from the start of the Cold War, to today's unconventional threats, and beyond to future advances that will ensure the dominance of American seapower well into the future.
Eligibility Requirements and Service Commitments:
Prospective engineers must be U.S. citizens and be willing to renounce any foreign citizenship they hold if accepted to work at NR.
Accepting a job at NR incurs a 5-year active duty military service obligation. NR Engineers are specially selected via the NROTC or NUPOC programs and commission as Ensigns in the U.S. Navy. Engineers complete their service obligations at NR Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
What Does the Typical Engineer's Job Entail?:
NR Headquarters is comprised of about 350 engineers who technically manage the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program (NNPP) under the direction of Admiral James Caldwell, Jr. This headquarters team is responsible for all technical aspects of the NNPP including:
- Overseeing advanced R&D in nuclear propulsion plant concepts, materials and designs
- Overseeing the acquisition, construction, testing and operation of propulsion plants
- Developing & implementing the operations, maintenance and refueling procedures for these plants
- Decommissioning and disposing of the nuclear propulsion plants when phased out of naval use
- Ensuring robust safety standards and radiological controls
To carry out these responsibilities, NR engineers function as technical managers in the following disciplines:
- Reactor design
- Materials development
- Testing and quality control
- Components (valves, heat exchangers, pumps, etc)
- Instrumentation and control
- Reactor physics
- Fluid systems design
- Chemistry and radiological controls
A typical engineer will be responsible for several projects, equipment types or designs. The engineer has responsibility for technical matters which can entail:
- Reviewing and approving equipment designs
- Allocating project funds
- Technically directing laboratory and contractor efforts
- Ascertaining equipment test requirements and reviewing/approving test results
- Responding to fleet engineering problems by coordinating technical investigations and approving corrective actions
- Determining the scope of work and timelines to support future projects
What are NR's onboarding and training programs for new engineers?
Before moving to Washington, D.C., every engineer is paired with a peer sponsor. Sponsors ensure that every new engineer has a smooth onboarding experience.
New engineers participate in an extensive nuclear reactor training program designed to provide them with the ability to interact knowledgeably across various technical fields involved in nuclear propulsion work. Training progresses in the following sequence:
- Ten weeks of classroom instruction in the theory and design of an operational nuclear plant. Courses are taught by NR engineers with cognizance over the various systems contained in the plant. This training is part-time and occurs in conjunction with a new engineer's normal duties.
- Two weeks of familiarization training at an operational prototype reactor plant in West Milton, NY or Charleston, SC.
- Six months of full-time graduate-level classroom instruction in nuclear engineering at the Bettis Reactor Engineering School (BRES) in Pittsburgh, PA.
- Three weeks of familiarization training at a nuclear shipyard (Puget Sound Naval Shipyard or Newport News Shipbuilding).
- One week of familiarization training at the Navy's Expended Core Facility in Idaho Falls, ID.
After returning to NR headquarters, engineers participate in an executive development seminar series to explore, in-depth with senior managers, the history and wide range of techniques, practices, and policy used to manage the NNPP.
Do NR engineers utilize their college major?
All NR engineers are trained to become competent nuclear engineers, regardless of their academic backgrounds. Owing to the wide variety of technical fields involved in NNPP work, the majority of new hires are given positions directly relating to their college major. Program needs ultimately dictate a new engineer's initial assignment.
Will I wear a uniform to work?
Usually not. All NR engineers wear civilian clothes to work (ranging from business casual to business formal attire). Special military events will take place requiring engineers to wear their uniforms.
Do NR engineers travel?
Engineers occasionally travel to Navy sites or contractor facilities. Travel frequency can increase as engineers become more experienced and assume greater responsibilities.
Do NR engineers ever go to sea?
NR engineers typically do not go to sea. 1-3 day ship rides aboard an aircraft carrier or submarine can be arranged for operations familiarization training. Additionally, some engineers will have the opportunity to participate in sea trials or shipboard propulsion plant testing (1-3 days) as headquarters technical representatives.
What happens when an engineer's five-year service obligation ends?
All engineers initially sign five-year active duty military contracts. As these service obligations end, engineers can choose from one of four different career paths:
(1) Leave the Navy but continue to work for NR as a civilian. Officers completing their service obligations may apply to stay at NR as civilian government employees (DOE or DON). The majority of transitioning officers go this route.
(2) Stay in the Navy and continue to work for NR. Near the completion of their military service obligations, engineers may apply to laterally transfer into the NR Engineering Duty Officer (EDO) community.
(3) Leave NR but stay in the Navy. Near the completion of their military service obligations, engineers may apply to laterally transfer to another officer community within the Navy.
(4) Leave the Navy and NR entirely. Engineers who have completed their service obligations are free to pursue other employment opportunities.
Can I pursue advanced degrees or a PE while working at NR?
Yes, NR strongly encourages professional development! Many NR engineers earn a Master's Degree while completing their military service obligations. Some popular graduate schools with distance learning programs include Duke, Penn State, Old Dominion University, Catholic University, and the Naval Postgraduate School -- all of which offer transfer credits to engineers who have completed BRES. Some engineers also choose to pursue a PE or Doctoral Degree.
NR provides tuition assistance (separate from Post 9/11 GI Bill or Navy Tuition Assistance) to support the professional development of its workforce. Many engineers earn a graduate degree without paying any out-of-pocket expenses.
My additional notes:
NRE's have the highest academic standards and must be obtaining a Bachelors of Science (or MS or PhD) in Engineering and be matched to a specific job at NR prior to being brought to the accession interviews in DC. They DO get the $15,000 bonus, but they may NOT interview until 18 months prior to graduation.
An important note here, even if you are tremendously qualified, you still may not be offered a chance to interview for NRE positions if they do not need someone in your particular area of expertise at that time. For example, there may be positions available, but they only desire to fill them with Materials and Chemical Engineers. In this hypothetical, if you were a Mechanical Engineer you would be effectively out of luck at least until circumstances changed. Getting a "No" when requesting to interview for NRE is not necessarily a pure reflection of your academic credentials.