Leadership: Nuclear Pressure

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March 4, 2009: For the second time in three years, the U.S. Navy has had to discipline sailors who maintain nuclear power plants. Back in 2007, several members of the nuclear power department on a nuclear submarine were disciplined for not maintaining logs properly. The sailors were worked hard, as is often the case on a nuclear sub, especially among those running the nuclear power plant, and they sometimes cut corners. A similar situation arose recently in the nuclear power department of the carrier Eisenhower. There, seventeen senior NCOs and a junior officer were punished for cheating on a requalification examination. Some of these exams are administered monthly, to insure that all those who work on the nuclear power plant are maintaining their skills.

For the last few years, the U.S. Navy now has had to pay more to keep experienced people with certain skills. Some types of submarine and nuclear power technicians can now get a bonus of up to $125,000 if they reenlist for three years. This came about because, next to the SEAL commandos, the submarine service, and nuclear power specialists, are the most selective, and candidates require nearly as much training. These specialists have an easy time getting good civilian jobs if they get out. But the biggest attraction to leaving the navy is no more going to sea for up to six months at a time. This is tough on family life, and most sailors are married. The war on terror has meant more work for U.S. nuclear subs, which are very popular for staking out coastal areas where terrorists are operating. The problem also applies to many of the 350 personnel that staff the nuclear power plant on aircraft carriers. The navy will not lower standards for nuclear power specialists. There has never been an accident with nuclear power plants used on hundreds of U.S. submarines and surface ships since the 1950s. This admirable safety record has not been easy to achieve, as the two cheating incidents, and the retention problems attest.

 


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