How long should reactor operators be trained?

A fascinating power reactor I’ve delved deeply into is the Shippingport Atomic Power Station built by Admiral Hyman Rickover. (Why was an electricity-producing plant erected by a sailor? It’s a long story.) A second-tier utility, Duquesne Light Company, partly funded the construction and then operated it to add electricity to its grid.

In 1959, with no other substantive reactor intended solely for electricity production in existence around the globe, Shippingport is a big deal, so both the Admiral and Duquesne maximise its impact and their own public relations. One such activity, described by historians Francis Duncan and Jack Holl (in an internal Department of Energy document it took me a long time to acquire), kicks off in February 1959. Duquesne snares some public money to launch a nitty-gritty course on reactor plant management. 20 men from 12 utilities attend. Because Washington bureaucrats worry that the teaching might hamper the running of Shippingport, the course launches as 6 months long but soon is dramatically trimmed to 4 months.

Duquesne’s education foray lasts for six years. That’s a long time in the electricity industry. Here’s the irony that I enjoy: in the end, the nuclear plant management course is canned because other emergent courses have demonstrated that 4 months of training is simply insufficient.


Duncan, Francis, & Jack M. Holl. 1983. Shippingport : The Nation’s First Atomic Power Station. Department of Energy, Washington, D.C., p. 21.