The phrase in the world caught my attention.
Never quite sure how much I can (or can't) say .. cuz the curriculum is comprised, largely, of material labeled confidential (with a big red stamp). I'm sure I'll get a call if I say too much.
"Nuke school" was located in Orlando when I went (back when dinosaurs roamed the earth). Navy moved it to Charleston in (uh .. not sure the year .. probably mid-to-late '90's).
Biggest thing I remember (in looking back, reflecting) is the ego .. associated with being 20 years old, flying to Hawaii .. to run a reactor plant on a billion-dollar nuclear sub (the ultimate in WMDs).
And the Navy trains well .. best program of its kind .. due to a combination of Uncle Sam's unlimited budget (as reactors tend to be expen$ive) and Rickover's guiding influence ...
••••• today's entry continues below •••••
.. actually, "over-train" is probably a more accurate description .. point being » when they send you off, you have no doubts about your ability to do the job. So the 20-year-old ego is unrestrained.
The reason for that ego » comes from the sense of accomplishment (pride?) you get from knowing you just completed something difficult .. such as a scaling a wall .. one which many could not get over .. and one which tested you personally. And from knowing yourself a little better, as a result.
You don't hear very much about US Navy nuclear subs (in the news) .. cuz they don't make many blunders, despite logging many days underway every year .. year after year. (And that's no accident.)
Worst part of the job » the hours .. especially if you were assigned to an older boat (like I was) .. which needs more tender loving-care than the newer ones .. you log some brutal hours .. basically *living* with a reactor plant (intimately).
Could never work those hours now (90-hour work weeks, often 35 hours straight). Would kill me. When you're 20 years old however, you're damn-near invincible. If we had to stay up 2 days to get the job done .. oh, well. That's what we did.
I used to argue that they couldn't expect someone to operate a nuclear plant reliably with/on no sleep. Seems like we were always short of people. "Nobody's ever *died* from lack of sleep," they told us. (How comforting.)
Military vs Commercial
Commercial plants limit you (via NRC regulations) to 72 hours/week (which I could do standing on my head after spending 6 years in the Navy) .. never more than 16 hours in a row. Navy had no such limits. "Limits are for wimps," they told me. The idea is » We'll do whatever it takes.
After getting out, I worked 72 hours a week (in the commercial nuclear industry) for *years* .. and felt like I was on vacation. Never even broke a sweat. (Made buckets of ca$h, too .. with little time to spend it. Paid ca$h for a Porsche.)
Most people ask about the confinement. Nuke subs are so big (a number I probably shouldn't mention) that you never feel claustrophobic.
A big plus » you work with some sharp hombré's .. so you're never lacking intellectual stimulation (a source of entertainment). Our Captain, for example, was a Rhodes Scholar.
Much to Say
Anyway, this is a topic with which I have much experience, so I could go on-n-on. If you've been Radified very long, you know I've discussed some of my nuclear experiences before, in posts such as .. »
- Life on a Boomer
- Aloha Memories from Hawaii
- Veteran's Day
- Nuclear-grade hazing
- E=mc² Einstein's Big Idea
- 60 Minutes interviews Captain of nuclear sub that ran aground
- Florida, Frances & Control Rods
- Happy Birthday Dogbrother
Heard the Navy has to enlist 7 people for every *one* who makes it to the end of a standard 6-year enlistment .. that between day 1 (of boot camp) and day 2192 (end of 6 years), 6 out of 7 people fall by the way side. Not hard to conceive.
The pace is fast-n-furious (like drinking water thru a firehose). Many can't keep up. Those who have trouble maintaining their GPA are sent to Academic Review Boards, where sympathy plays no part (ruthless). Perform or be gone is their guiding principle.
Attrition is steady & relentless. Friends disappear overnight, one after the other, sent off to "conventional" (non-nuclear) ships.
Two-five & Survive
Regarding the GPA's importance, the phrase "Two-five and survive," became popular .. usually paired with » "Two-eight and skate." Anything above 3.2 means they left you alone (no mandatory study hours .. called "dink hours" .. as in "delinquent").
My GPA hovered around 3.4. (By comparison, my college GPA is a near-perfect 3.9x .. with 3 B's, the rest A's .. notta single C on my transcripts. All my B's were borderline A's.) Dink hours suk (had to sign-in, sign-out).
Each classroom started with 40 students. My particular class had 13 such classrooms (for a total of 520 students). The smartest kids were assigned to section #1. I was assigned to section 6 (the coolest, of course).
I was never at the top of my class, but always in the top 10 (usually the top 5 or 6), which meant they left me alone.
Sections 11, 12 & 13 didn't finish with many students. Sad. These guys struggled. Some had families. They tried hard. Once you fall behind, you're a goner. It's only a matter of time. As time passed, they consolidated the stragglers from these sections into those remaining from section 10.
Tests are a big part of life at NPS. They test you on everything. You get good at taking tests, cuz you do it so often. You quickly learn the "key words and tricky phrases" they want to hear. Those who have trouble taking tests have no hope of surviving.
I often woke dreaming about formulas (most distressing, since we spent all day studying this stuff).
The school in Orlando was shaped like a giant control rod (sort of like the capital letter 'Y').. these are the things that move in and out of the reactor core .. to control reactor power.
[Control rods have the ability to absorb neutrons. As rods go further into the reactor core, more neutrons are absorbed .. thus lowering reactor power. Conversely, when you "pull rods" (out of the reactor core) less neutrons are absorbed, and reactor power increases.]
Like I said, I was enlisted, but *every* officer in the program was personally interviewed by Rickover (longest-serving active-duty military officer in U.S. history). Students always asked our instructors at NPS (who were all officers) to share their experiences of their interviews with the admiral.
Some related stories how Rickover asked them a question, then said, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard," .. and instructed them to go stand in the closet to think about their answer. =D
The guy was a tyrant, who established a gestapo-like system of oversight & enforcement .. but hey, it worked.
Continued in Part II
Today's entry grew larger than I'd expected. So I broke it in half (in two parts), and posted Part II here » U.S. Naval Nuclear Power School |An Inside Look - Part II