What is a Power Plant Operator?

Also known as: Power Plant Systems Operator.

A power plant operator is someone who controls the systems that generate and distribute electric power. They need a combination of education, experience, and extensive on-the-job training. Nuclear power reactor operators also need a license. Many jobs require a background check, and workers are subject to drug and alcohol screenings.

What does a Power Plant Operator do?

A power plant operator controls the systems that generate and distribute electric power.

Power plant operators typically do the following:

  • Control power-generating equipment, such as boilers, turbines, generators, and reactors
  • Read charts, meters, and gauges to monitor voltage and electricity flows
  • Check equipment and indicators to detect evidence of operating problems
  • Adjust controls to regulate the flow of power
  • Start or stop generators, turbines, and other equipment as necessary

Electricity is one of our nation’s most vital resources. Power plant operators control power plants and the flow of electricity from plants to substations, which distribute electricity to businesses, homes, and factories. Electricity is generated from many sources, including coal, gas, nuclear energy, hydroelectric energy (from water sources), and wind and solar power.

Nuclear power reactor operators control nuclear reactors. They adjust control rods, which affect how much electricity a reactor generates. They monitor reactors, turbines, generators, and cooling systems, adjusting controls as necessary. Operators also start and stop equipment and record the data. They may need to respond to abnormalities, determine the cause, and take corrective action.

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What is the workplace of a Power Plant Operator like?

Operators who work in control rooms generally sit or stand at a control station. The work is not physically strenuous, but it does require constant attention. Workers also may do rounds, checking equipment and doing other work outside the control room.

Because power transmission is both vitally important and sensitive to attack, security is a major concern for utility companies. Nuclear power plants and transmission stations have especially high security, and workers should be prepared to work in secured environments.

When operators are on rounds or doing other work outside the control room, they may be exposed to danger from electric shock, falls, and burns. Still, workers in these jobs experience rates of injuries and illnesses that are lower than the average for all occupations.

Because electricity is provided around the clock, operators, distributors, and dispatchers usually work rotating 8- or 12-hour shifts. As a result, all operators share the less desirable shifts. Work on rotating shifts can be stressful and tiring because of the constant changes in living and sleeping patterns.

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