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Nuclear Technician

Nuclear Tech Job Statistics

Nuclear Technician Jobs And Job Statistics

Nuclear Technicians Significant Points

  • Many science technicians work indoors in laboratory settings, but certain technicians work outdoors, sometimes in remote locations.
  • Most science technicians need some postsecondary training, such as an associate degree or a certificate in applied science or science-related technology; biological and forensic science technicians usually need a bachelor’s degree.
  • Overall growth is expected to be about as fast as average, although growth will vary by specialty.
  • Job opportunities are expected to be best for graduates of applied science technology programs who are well trained on equipment used in laboratories or production facilities.

Nature of the Work – Nuclear Technicians

Science technicians use the principles and theories of science and mathematics to assist in research and development and to help invent and improve products and processes. However, their jobs are more practically oriented than those of scientists. Technicians set up, operate, and maintain laboratory instruments, monitor experiments, make observations, calculate and record results, and often develop conclusions. They must keep detailed logs of all of their work. Those who perform production work monitor manufacturing processes and may ensure quality by testing products for proper proportions of ingredients, for purity, or for strength and durability.

As laboratory instrumentation and procedures have become more complex, the role of science technicians in research and development has expanded. In addition to performing routine tasks, many technicians, under the direction of scientists, now develop and adapt laboratory procedures to achieve the best results, interpret data, and devise solutions to problems. Technicians must develop expert knowledge of laboratory equipment so that they can adjust settings when necessary and recognize when equipment is malfunctioning.

Most science technicians specialize, learning their skills and working in the same disciplines in which scientists work. Occupational titles, therefore, tend to follow the same structure as those for scientists.

Agricultural and food science technicians work with related scientists to conduct research, development, and testing on food and other agricultural products. Agricultural technicians are involved in food, fiber, and animal research, production, and processing. Some conduct tests and experiments to improve the yield and quality of crops or to increase the resistance of plants and animals to disease, insects, or other hazards. Other agricultural technicians breed animals for the purpose of investigating nutrition. Food science technicians assist food scientists and technologists in research and development, production technology, and quality control. For example, food science technicians may conduct tests on food additives and preservatives to ensure compliance with Food and Drug Administration regulations regarding color, texture, and nutrients. These technicians analyze, record, and compile test results; order supplies to maintain laboratory inventory; and clean and sterilize laboratory equipment.

Biological technicians work with biologists studying living organisms. Many assist scientists who conduct medical research—helping to find a cure for cancer or AIDS, for example. Those who work in pharmaceutical companies help develop and manufacture medicines. Those working in the field of microbiology generally work as laboratory assistants, studying living organisms and infectious agents. Biological technicians also analyze organic substances, such as blood, food, and drugs. Biological technicians working in biotechnology apply knowledge and techniques gained from basic research, including gene splicing and recombinant DNA, and apply them to product development.

Chemical technicians work with chemists and chemical engineers, developing and using chemicals and related products and equipment. Generally, there are two types of chemical technicians: research technicians who work in experimental laboratories and process control technicians who work in manufacturing or other industrial plants. Many chemical technicians working in research and development conduct a variety of laboratory procedures, from routine process control to complex research projects. For example, they may collect and analyze samples of air and water to monitor pollution levels, or they may produce compounds through complex organic synthesis. Most process technicians work in manufacturing, testing packaging for design, integrity of materials, and environmental acceptability. Often, process technicians who work in plants focus on quality assurance, monitoring product quality or production processes and developing new production techniques. A few work in shipping to provide technical support and expertise.

Environmental science and protection technicians perform laboratory and field tests to monitor environmental resources and determine the contaminants and sources of pollution in the environment. They may collect samples for testing or be involved in abating and controlling sources of environmental pollution. Some are responsible for waste management operations, control and management of hazardous materials inventory, or general activities involving regulatory compliance. Many environmental science technicians employed at private consulting firms work directly under the supervision of an environmental scientist.

Forensic science technicians investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. Often, they specialize in areas such as DNA analysis or firearm examination, performing tests on weapons or on substances such as fiber, glass, hair, tissue, and body fluids to determine their significance to the investigation. Proper collection and storage methods are important to protect the evidence. Forensic science technicians also prepare reports to document their findings and the laboratory techniques used, and they may provide information and expert opinions to investigators. When criminal cases come to trial, forensic science technicians often give testimony as expert witnesses on laboratory findings by identifying and classifying substances, materials, and other evidence collected at the scene of a crime. Some forensic science technicians work closely with other experts or technicians. For example, a forensic science technician may consult either a medical expert about the exact time and cause of a death or another technician who specializes in DNA typing in hopes of matching a DNA type to a suspect.

Forest and conservation technicians compile data on the size, content, and condition of natural lands, such as rangeland and forests. These workers usually work under the supervision of a conservation scientist or forester, doing specific tasks such as measuring timber, tracking wildlife movement, assisting in road building operations, and locating property lines and features. They may gather basic information, such as data on water and soil quality, disease and insect damage to trees and other plants, and conditions that may pose a fire hazard. In addition, forest and conservation technicians train and lead forest and conservation workers in seasonal activities, such as planting tree seedlings and maintaining recreational facilities. Increasing numbers of forest and conservation technicians work in urban forestry—the study of individual trees in cities—and other nontraditional specialties, rather than in forests or rural areas.

Geological and petroleum technicians assist in oil and gas exploration operations, collecting and examining geological data or testing geological samples to determine their petroleum content and their mineral and element composition. Some petroleum technicians, called scouts, collect information about oil well and gas well drilling operations, geological and geophysical prospecting, and land or lease contracts.

Nuclear technicians operate nuclear test and research equipment, monitor radiation, and assist nuclear engineers and physicists in research. Some also operate remote-controlled equipment to manipulate radioactive materials or materials exposed to radioactivity. Workers who control nuclear reactors are classified as nuclear power reactor operators, and are not included in this statement. (See the statement on power plant operators, distributors, and dispatchers elsewhere in the Handbook.)

Other science technicians perform a wide range of activities. Some collect weather information or assist oceanographers; others work as laser technicians or radiographers.

Work environment. Science technicians work under a wide variety of conditions. Most work indoors, usually in laboratories, and have regular hours. Some occasionally work irregular hours to monitor experiments that cannot be completed during regular working hours. Production technicians often work in 8-hour shifts around the clock. Others, such as agricultural, forest and conservation, geological and petroleum, and environmental science and protection technicians, perform much of their work outdoors, sometimes in remote locations.

Advances in automation and information technology require technicians to operate more sophisticated laboratory equipment. Science technicians make extensive use of computers, electronic measuring equipment, and traditional experimental apparatus.

Some science technicians may be exposed to hazards from equipment, chemicals, or toxic materials. Chemical technicians sometimes work with toxic chemicals or radioactive isotopes; nuclear technicians may be exposed to radiation, and biological technicians sometimes work with disease-causing organisms or radioactive agents. Forensic science technicians often are exposed to human body fluids and firearms. However, these working conditions pose little risk if proper safety procedures are followed. For forensic science technicians, collecting evidence from crime scenes can be distressing and unpleasant.

Science technicians monitor experiments and record the results.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Most science technicians need some formal postsecondary training, such as an associate degree or a certificate in applied science or science-related technology. Biological and forensic science technicians usually need a bachelor’s degree. Science technicians with a high school diploma and no college degree typically begin work as trainees under the direct supervision of a more experienced technician, and they eventually earn a 2-year degree in science technology./p>

Education and training. There are many ways to qualify for a job as a science technician. Most employers prefer applicants who have at least 2 years of specialized postsecondary training or an associate degree in applied science or science-related technology. Some science technicians have a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, while others have no formal postsecondary education and learn their skills on the job.

Some science technician specialties have higher education requirements. For example, biological technicians often need a bachelor’s degree in biology or a closely related field. Forensic science positions also typically require a bachelor’s degree, either in forensic science or another natural science. Knowledge and understanding of legal procedures also can be helpful. Chemical technician positions in research and development also often require a bachelor’s degree, but most chemical process technicians have a 2-year degree instead, usually an associate degree in process technology.

Many technical and community colleges offer programs in a specific technology or more general education in science and mathematics. A number of associate degree programs are designed to provide easy transfer to bachelor’s degree programs at colleges or universities. Technical institutes usually offer technician training, but they provide less theory and general education than community colleges. The length of programs at technical institutes varies, although 1-year certificate programs and 2-year associate degree programs are common. Some schools offer cooperative-education or internship programs, allowing students the opportunity to work at a local company or some other workplace while attending classes during alternate terms. Participation in such programs can significantly enhance a student’s employment prospects.

Whatever their formal education, science technicians usually need hands-on training, which they can receive either in school or on the job. Job candidates with extensive hands-on experience using a variety of laboratory equipment, including computers and related equipment, usually require only a short period of on-the-job training. Those with a high school diploma and no college degree typically have a more extensive training program where they work as trainees under the direct supervision of a more experienced technician.

People interested in careers as science technicians should take as many high school science and math courses as possible. Science courses taken beyond high school, in an associate or bachelor’s degree program, should be laboratory oriented, with an emphasis on bench skills. A solid background in applied chemistry, physics, and math is vital.

Other qualifications. Communication skills are important because technicians are often required to report their findings both orally and in writing. In addition, technicians should be able to work well with others. Because computers often are used in research and development laboratories, technicians should also have strong computer skills, especially in computer modeling. Organizational ability and skill in interpreting scientific results are important as well, as are high mechanical aptitude, attention to detail, and analytical thinking.

Advancement. Technicians usually begin work as trainees in routine positions under the direct supervision of a scientist or a more experienced technician. As they gain experience, technicians take on more responsibility and carry out assignments under only general supervision, and some eventually become supervisors. Technicians who have a bachelor’s degree often are able to advance to scientist positions in their field after a few years of experience working as a technician or after earning a graduate degree.


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Science technicians held about 270,800 jobs in 2008. As indicated by the following tabulation, chemical and biological technicians accounted for 54 percent of all jobs:/p>

Biological technicians 79,500
Chemical technicians 66,100
Environmental science and protection technicians, including health 35,000
Forest and conservation technicians 34,000
Agricultural and food science technicians 21,900
Geological and petroleum technicians 15,200
Forensic science technicians 12,800
Nuclear technicians 6,400

AAbout 30 percent of biological technicians worked in professional, scientific, or technical services firms; most other biological technicians worked in educational services, government, or pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing. Chemical technicians primarily worked in chemical manufacturing and professional, scientific, or technical services firms. Most environmental science and protection technicians worked for professional, scientific, and technical services firms and for State and local governments. About 75 percent of forest and conservation technicians held jobs in the Federal Government, mostly in the Forest Service. Around 34 percent of agricultural and food science technicians worked in educational institutions and 25 percent worked for food manufacturing companies. Forensic science technicians worked primarily for State and local governments. Approximately 56 percent of all geological and petroleum technicians worked in the mining and oil and gas industries, while 51 percent of nuclear technicians worked for utilities.

Job Outlook

Employment of science technicians is projected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations, although employment change will vary by specialty. Job opportunities are expected to be best for graduates of applied science technology programs who are well trained on equipment used in laboratories or production facilities.

Employment change./span> Overall employment of science technicians is expected to grow by 12 percent during the 2008–18 decade, about as fast as the average for all occupations. The continued growth of scientific and medical research—particularly research related to biotechnology—will be the primary driver of employment growth, but the development and production of technical products should also stimulate demand for science technicians in many industries.

EEmployment of biological technicians should increase by 18 percent, faster than average, as the growing number of agricultural and medicinal products developed from the results of biotechnology research boosts demand for these workers. Also, an aging population and continued competition among pharmaceutical companies are expected to contribute to the need for innovative and improved drugs, further spurring demand. Most growth in employment will be in professional, scientific, and technical services and in educational services.

Job growth for chemical technicians is projected to decline by 1 percent, signifying little or no change. The chemical manufacturing industry, except pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing, is anticipated to experience a decline in overall employment as companies downsize and turn to outside contractors and overseas production. However, there will still be a need for chemical technicians, particularly in pharmaceutical research.

Employment of environmental science and protection technicians is expected to grow much faster than average, at a rate of 29 percent; these workers will be needed to help regulate waste products; to collect air, water, and soil samples for measuring levels of pollutants; to monitor compliance with environmental regulations; and to clean up contaminated sites. Most of this growth is expected to be in firms that assist other companies in environmental monitoring, management, and regulatory compliance.

Employment of forest and conservation technicians is expected to grow by 9 percent, about as fast as average. Opportunities at State and local governments within specialties such as urban forestry may provide some new jobs. In addition, an increased emphasis on specific conservation issues, such as environmental protection, preservation of water resources, and control of exotic and invasive pests, will spur demand.

Employment of agricultural and food science technicians is projected to grow by 9 percent, about as fast as average. Research in biotechnology and other areas of agricultural science will increase as it becomes more important to balance greater agricultural output with protection and preservation of soil, water, and the ecosystem. In addition, there will be increased research into the use of agricultural products as energy sources, also known as biofuels.

Jobs for forensic science technicians are expected to increase by 20 percent, which is much faster than average. Employment growth in State and local government should be driven by the increasing application of forensic science techniques, such as DNA analysis, to examine, solve, and prevent crime.

Employment growth of about 2 percent, representing little or no change, is expected for geological and petroleum technicians as oil companies continue to search for new resource deposits to meet world demand for petroleum products and natural gas. The outlook for these workers is strongly tied to the price of oil; historically, when prices are low, companies limit exploration and curtail hiring of technicians, but when prices are high, they expand exploration activities. In the long run, continued high oil prices will maintain demand for these workers.

Nuclear technicians should grow by 9 percent, about as fast as average, as more are needed to monitor the Nation’s aging fleet of nuclear reactors and research future advances in nuclear power. Although no new nuclear power plants have been built for decades in the United States, energy demand has recently renewed interest in this form of electricity generation and may lead to future construction. Technicians also will be needed to work in defense-related areas, to develop nuclear medical technology, and to improve and enforce waste management and safety standards.

Job prospects./span> In addition to job openings created by growth, many openings should arise from the need to replace technicians who retire or leave the labor force for other reasons. Job opportunities are expected to be best for graduates of applied science technology programs who are well trained on equipment used in laboratories or production facilities. As the instrumentation and techniques used in industrial research, development, and production become increasingly more complex, employers will seek individuals with highly developed technical skills.

Projections Data

Projections data from the National Employment Matrix

Occupational Title

SOC Code/p>

Employment, 2008

Employment, 2018


Detailed Statistics



Science technicians





Agricultural and food science technicians








Biological technicians








Chemical technicians








Geological and petroleum technicians








Nuclear technicians








Environmental science and protection technicians, including health








Forensic science technicians








Forest and conservation technicians








    NOTE: Data in this table are rounded. See the discussion of the employment projections table in the Handbook introductory chapter on Occupational Information Included in the Handbook.


Median hourly wages of science technicians in May 2008 were as follows:

Nuclear technicians/td> $32.64
Geological and petroleum technicians 25.65
Forensic science technicians 23.97
Chemical technicians 20.25
Environmental science and protection technicians, including health 19.34
Biological technicians 18.46
Agricultural and food science technicians 16.34
Forest and conservation technicians 115.39

In March 2009, the average annual salary in the Federal Government was $39,538 for biological science technicians, $55,527 for physical science technicians, and $42,733 for forestry technicians.

For the latest wage information:
The above wage data are from the Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) survey program, unless otherwise noted. For the latest National, State, and local earnings data, visit the following pages:

Other technicians who apply scientific principles and who usually have some postsecondary education include

Broadcast and sound engineering technicians and radio operators

Clinical laboratory technologists and technicians

Diagnostic medical sonographers


Engineering technicians

Radiologic technologists and technicians

Sources of Additional Information

Links to non-BLS Internet sites are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement.

General information on a variety of technology fields is available from the Pathways to Technology web site:

For information about a career as a biological technician, contact:

For information about a career as a chemical technician, contact:

  • American Chemical Society, Education Division, Career Publications, 1155 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036. Internet:

For career information and a list of undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs in forensic sciences, contact:

  • American Academy of Forensic Sciences, 410 North 21st St., Colorado Springs, CO, 80904. Internet:

For general information on forestry technicians and a list of schools offering education in forestry, contact:

O*NET-SOC Code Coverage

Get more information from O*NET—the Occupational Information Network:/b>
O*NET provides comprehensive information on key characteristics of workers and occupations. For information on a specific occupation, select the appropriate link below. For more information on O*NET, visit their homepage.

Suggested citation: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition, Science Technicians, on the Internet at (visited April 10, 2011).