Thursday, January 18, 2007

Nuclear Divers

Wall Street Journal (subscription):

Divers are in great demand these days. Power companies need them to maintain many of the world's 442 nuclear reactors. They're also called on to repair aging bridges and water tanks. And oil companies need them to fix offshore platforms damaged by Hurricane Katrina.

That has done little to increase pay for nuclear divers, who start at salaries of about $30,000 a year. Experienced divers certified for specialized work can make close to $100,000. Offshore divers make still more but have to live on a ship for months at a time.

Nuclear reactors range in size, from 35 feet to 70 feet tall, and 14 feet to 20 feet wide, depending on the type of technology. They are enclosed in steel-reinforced concrete structures. During operation, boiling water reactors are partially filled with about 60,000 gallons of water that circulates to cool the fuel and also turns into steam to power the turbine. Pressurized reactors hold 35,000 gallons of water during operations. When the reactor is shut down for refueling and maintenance, the vessel and secondary pools, also called the cavity, are filled with more than 500,000 gallons of water that further cools down the reactor and acts as a guard against radiation.