I have been in the US navy for several years now, and have served on submarines ever since getting out of nuke school. The US Navy uses nuclear reactors to power its submarines and aircraft carriers, and all the people running the propulsion plants go to nuke school. I'm a reactor operator, the the least numerous subtype of nuke, and went submarines right away. I (obviously) won't discuss anything classified, or personally identifiable data, but I'd love for people to know more about my job and life on boats (particularly if they're considering it for themselves). AMA!

My Proof: Was sent to the mods, for obvious reasons.

Edit: After four hours, thank you for all the great questions, and the chance to hear some opinions and find a new webcomic. I'm no longer watching this thread, but I'll get any question you post, and I'll do my best to answer. Take care, reddit!

Comments: 312 • Responses: 83  • Date: 

ThatProFish15 karma

What would happen if a six year old was allowed to run around the reactor control room and allowed to press all the buttons he wanted?

incruente13 karma

Probably nothing. There isn't some button that would just make something explode; the worst that would probably happen would be some flashing lights and maybe a piece of gear or two would get turned off.

ThatProFish9 karma

Oh man. I always thought he would somehow be able to chernobyl the submarine. What's the worst that you can do from the control room then

incruente14 karma

There are so many safeties it's hard to list them all. Given enough time, the worst he could do to the reactor would be shut it off. In the control room? If no one was watching, he might be able to emergency surface the ship, or steer it around.

ThatProFish5 karma

Wow. That's pretty six year old proof.

incruente14 karma

We like to make things as hard to break as possible. Remember, we build our entire world; we make our air, out light, our water, and control the ground we walk on. We like to make things as failsafe as we can.

Random_Hero198914 karma

How painfully innacurate is Crimson Tide?

incruente22 karma

It's sort of a stock joke amongst submariners that the most accurate movie is Down Periscope. One of the reasons it's a stock joke is that it's kind of true. Crimson Tide put a lot of drama into what is, frankly, not a very dramatic or glamorous job. At least, anymore; in WWII, supposedly, things were a bit different, but that's beyond my experience.

Random_Hero19897 karma

What about Das Boot?

I've always been fascinated by subs, probably due to the fact that my country has more functional subs in a shopping mall than in our Navy, Go Canada Go!

incruente11 karma

I don't want to throw a lot of stuff around around WWII boats, because they're so far outside my experience, but they were very tough animals to tame. Imagine a kitchen the size of three phone booths, and feeding fifty or sixty men out of it.

Random_Hero19896 karma

I can only imagine what the washroom was like

incruente11 karma

It's better if you don't. They're not too great even now; imagine 170 guys sharing a total of five showers, and one of them only two guys get to use. Another is only for about a dozen. Everyone else shares the other three.

Edit: sorry, six! One for two guys, two for about a dozen guys each, and the other three for everyone else. This is specific to a 688 class; other boats vary.

BaconOverdose5 karma


incruente6 karma

The CO and XO (commanding and executive officers).

BaconOverdose2 karma


incruente8 karma

It may be more effective, but we maintain separation between the ranks. Rank doth have its little perks.

Donglovernotafighter2 karma

So who makes the whale noises

incruente4 karma

Usually the guy in the movie playing on crews mess.

TinKicker11 karma

Old Navy Nuke here (class 9302). Excellent IAMA! Informative, factual, but 'appropriate' in every way. I was fortunate to spend time on every flavor of nuclear ship except boomers (CVN, CGN and SSN). You fast attack guys got worked to death (at least you did in the 90s). Do you think SSNs should have a blue and gold crew like the boomers? At least for the nukes, anyway?

incruente3 karma

I've always just wanted single crews on every boat; spread out the surplus from the boomers to the rest of the fleet. The current system made sense when they came up with it, but now it just sucks.

spennyiskenny10 karma

Ever had any Seals aboard your sub? What are they like? I imagine not very approachable

incruente20 karma

Only once, and only for a few days. They're very into exercise; they love it. Contrary to what some people believe, they're (usually) very intelligent. They're quite approachable, as long as they're not working; most people I've met in the Navy are pretty friendly, as long as you talk to them respectfully.

spennyiskenny9 karma

Awesome, thanks for doing this AMA I'm a big military buff. How long are you down in a sub at a time? Do you get sick after coming back up after long periods? Are the subs stable or do they rock/sway alot during transit?

incruente6 karma

It can vary from a few days to try something out, to a three month deployment (for boomers) to as long as seven or eight month deployments for a fast attack (usually about six). Fast attacks usually pull in a few times on deployment, to take a break and load food and so forth. When you say get sick, do you mean like seasick? Or like actually ill? As to stable, a submarine has a round cross-section; it has essentially no weighted keel. So it pitches around a lot, particularly when the seas are heavy. It's much better to go deep when the seas are rough.

evorgeloc7 karma

How is the food? Is there much variety? Can you cook for yourself ever? It would drive me crazy to not be able to cook for months on end...

incruente7 karma

The quality depends on the cooks; I've had great cooks and terrible ones. Mostly, it's kind of bland, without a lot of fresh stuff. A lot of guys bring hot sauces to use on everything. No, there's pretty much no cooking for yourself (unless you're a cook).

popdown1 karma

A lot of guys bring hot sauces to use on everything.

This sounds like a horrible idea. How good is the ventilation in subs?

incruente2 karma

Pretty good, but there's no getting rid of boat smell. You just have to live with it; after a while, you stop noticing.

mofo8086 karma

How do you stray from boredom in such a confined space?

incruente23 karma

There is a small library on board (which I ran), and most guys bring laptops, mp3 players, game systems, books, and so forth. There are movies played on crews mess, and some boats even set up LANs for sharing movies and stuff. There is also, as you may guess, a certain amount of...adult material.

That being said, boredom is a real problem. Some guys get into fighting, or heavy exercise, or self-mutilation. I knew one guy who made pictures in his arm by hitting it with a stapler, sticking the staples into his skin.

rj886316 karma

What about Wifi networks?

Is this possible?


incruente10 karma

Some boats set up entertainment networks to exchange movies and stuff. And no, not really. The controls are far too well-designed and maintained to get screwed up by an iPod. Unless you mean picking up wifi from another sub: if you did, you're WAY to close.

rj886313 karma

Yes, the second one.

incruente11 karma

Oh yeah, no, you would probably hit before you picked up the signal; the hull is very thick metal. And even if you didn't, wi-fi range is way, way to close to be to another boat.

mofo8085 karma

See I think that would drive me nuts more than anything. Not being able to get fresh air whenever would kill me.

incruente6 karma

Some people can't hack it. And you can't tell beforehand, usually. You just have to try them out and see.

test_alpha1 karma

What happens to people who can't hack it? Anybody ever righteously flip out?

incruente6 karma

Not that I've seen, really. Everyone gets angry and lashes out sometimes, even in regular life. But really losing your mind is something we try to avoid. I have known quite a few people who got transferred off because they couldn't handle it. Sometimes they go talk to a chaplain or a psychologist who recommends their removal, or sometimes the command takes the initiative. But no one is fine one minute and flailing around like a madman the next; we keep a close eye on each other. It's hard to go quietly and privately insane in such close quarters.

evorgeloc1 karma

How many personal effects can you bring on board? You guys should just have kindles instead of a library.

incruente4 karma

A lot of guys do have kindles. You can bring about as much as you can fit in your rack pan (the size of a single bed, and about three inches deep). Unless you're hot-racking (three guys in two beds); then it's two-thirds what you can fit in a rack pan. Plus whatever you can hide in nooks and crannies.

weissensteinburg1 karma

How does hot-racking work...you take turns spooning?

incruente8 karma

There's actually a written rule against there being more than one person in a rack at any given time. But since only a third of the crew sleep at any given time, in theory, three people could share one rack. But basically, you wake up the guy who's next on watch, he gets out, you get in. He goes on watch, and when it's time for you to relieve him, the guy he relieved wakes you up.

incruente5 karma

Since only a third of the crew is asleep at any given time, it's not a big issue. There's actually a written rule against more than one person in a rack at a time; not to mention there really isn't the space, unless they're both fairly thin.

Torine556 karma


incruente10 karma

Scariest true thing? There was a boat that was close to the surface and a cargo ship slammed into it; that, or the submarine that slammed head-on into an underwater mountain.

I decided on this because I'm above average intelligence but was (was!) below average in applying myself. That led to no college scholarships, and my parents were too poor to pay for my education. So I wentto the the military recruiters, and one test later the Navy offered me big money to become a nuke, and get my degree to boot. So away I went.

test_alpha1 karma

How does something like that happen? A boat with presumably about the most advanced navigation and sensors ever designed, and it can hit a mountain or surface into a cargo ship?

I understand that you might turn off active sonar, but surely you would know where you are well enough to avoid the sea floor, and passive sensors could hear a cargo ship underway.

incruente3 karma

Most such incidents boil down to human error. Too many people ignoring indications, not checking what they're supposed to check, using the wrong book, and not backing each other up can lead to disaster.

masongr6 karma

What will happen if I press the RED button?

incruente13 karma

Which one? We have so many!

masongr3 karma

The one that says "Launch"

incruente20 karma

I wasn't on a boomer (ballistic missile sub), I was on a fast attack. And I'm not a fire control guy (the guys who launch stuff). But I can tell you this; it takes a lot more than one button to launch anything, even cans of trash.

maomao20142 karma

Could you explain the process of launching trash?

That sounds interesting and relatively unclassified.

incruente6 karma

Basically, we have a lot of big squares of steel. We use a machine to roll the squares into metal cans, and then use a hydraulic press to force the trash into it. Then, there's a big pipe that leads to the bottom of the sub, with a massive valve on the bottom and another on the top. You open the top one, drop cans of trash in, and close the top valve. Then you open the bottom valve, and the cans drop out. All this being said, a lot of times, we don't launch trash. We keep it until we get in port. And we never launch plastic anymore; environmental concerns.

UnrelatedInsult5 karma

What is the best part of being in the navy?

incruente7 karma

Job security. It sounds mundane, but my job isn't all that glamorous; it's nine to five (or seven to five). Unless I'm underway, and I also stay at work for 24 hours every third day.

spennyiskenny5 karma

Are you on a sub right now?

incruente6 karma


GETTINbaby5 karma

I kinda didn't get the difference between a Boomer and a fast attack submarine/boat whatever, could you elaborate this real quick ?

Thanks for doing this AMA btw, it was a reeeeally interesting read ! Keep yourself safe mate

incruente3 karma

A boomer is a ballistic missile sub: it can carry 24 ICBMs, intercontinental ballistic missiles, armed with nuclear warheads. It goes out to sea and hides in case we need to launch. A fast attack is smaller and carries no ICBMs; its missions are different. Some of them can launch cruise missiles.

Redditsays5 karma

Is there something you'd love to answer but was never asked?

incruente9 karma

Sometimes people ask me if it's worth it. I would love to answer that, but I can't; I don't even know the answer for myself. I know it's worth it to some people and not to others.

Scharute4 karma

Describe a usual day on the submarine for you.

incruente7 karma

It's eighteen hours long. I get up, eat a meal, and stand watch for six hours. Eat again, clean for an hour. Then, I might watch movie, go to training, run drills, or study. Once I was pretty senior, life got somewhat easier. Another meal if you want, six hours of sleep, and repeat.

MizzleFoShizzle4 karma

What would happen if the nuclear reactor failed? If this is too close to OPSEC and you can't answer I understand. But I know that would be my biggest worry on an underway.

incruente6 karma

I'm not sure what you mean by "failed". You mean just stopped working? We have an emergency diesel generator on board. But there really isn't a way for it to just stop working all of a sudden; it's very well designed and controlled. It's not really possible for it to just run out of fuel or aything.

MizzleFoShizzle2 karma

That is pretty much what I meant. Also, what if it's working and it starts leaking?

incruente4 karma

If it starts leaking, we have a plan (actually, several plans). We have a pre-thought-out plan for just about any emergency you could think of, and we drill on them constantly. Also, the equipment is designed to be very safe and tough. We've never had a serious accident.

reading_steiner4 karma

Well, that's not very exciting at all.

incruente11 karma

Nope. It sure isn't. This job doesn't have a godsmack soundtrack. Think more of a metronome, ticking away, for twenty years.

_Wolfos4 karma

How did you get into the job? Is it something you always dreamed about or did you just apply to the navy and rolled into it?

incruente5 karma

I didn't even know it was a thing until I talked to the recruiter. I took a test and they told me about the program straight away; they love signing nukes, because it looks good for them to find nukes. I scored very high on the ASVAB (armed services vocational aptitude battery), so I was an easy pick. So I guess you could say I just rolled into it.

panaz2 karma

How hard is it to go from college to nuclear route? Do you know how competitive it is? Also what was your asvab?

incruente3 karma

Most guys with complete degrees become officers. I know a lot of enlisted guys who dropped out of college for various reasons. If they think they can train you, you've got a shot. We always need new people.

TheMisterAce4 karma

What if something hits the reactor/submarine hard enough that it ruptures/sinks? Would the water become infected with radiation?

incruente6 karma

We've lost two nuclear vessels at sea; there has been no leakage.

fabricator015 karma

I don't know if you can answer this or not, but is it true that for every Russian boomer there is a fast attack boat with a firing solution on it at all times?

incruente8 karma

That I can't answer. I apologize.

fabricator013 karma

No problem.

fabricator0110 karma

Is it true that if you tie a rope tight from one wall of the boat the the other wall on the surface it will sag in the middle when you are down deep?

incruente9 karma

Yes. The hull compresses under pressure.

TheGeorge3 karma

Who would win in a fist fight, Oppenheimer or Einstein?

incruente7 karma

I would think the big O. He's got a better reach, from the looks of it. And he's less of a pacifist.

bluecamel173 karma

How much do you love/hate Sealab 2021?

incruente5 karma

I love sealab. "And victory...for the proletariat!...........That's you!"

[deleted]3 karma


incruente5 karma

Sometimes people get a little cagey, and it takes a few days to adjust, but you mostly get used to it. Transitioning back can be hard. Coffee helps. as to medical issues, I've never had one, but there really aren't any light cycles to screw you up.

The 18 hour day stems from the fact that we have three shifts of people. Making guys stand 8 hour watches doesn't work as well as 6 hour watches, and upping the crew by 25% isn't really feasible either.

A403 karma

Is the Navy looking at thorium reactors?

incruente7 karma

Not that I know of, but I'm way too low on that totem pole.

evorgeloc3 karma

I've heard that the vast majority of the crew on a nuclear sub is assigned to working on the reactor and propulsion. Is that true? How many other operators are there on a sub? If you can't answer no worries.

incruente5 karma

A bit less than half of the crew is responsible for the reactor and propulsion. Only a fraction of them are rated to run the core: it's a rather rare rate. I'm sorry, but I can;t say how many each vessel has.

TryNstopME0243 karma

Has anybody ever went full on panic mode or insane while you guys were submerged? What would be the procedure in case this happens?

incruente6 karma

Never on my boat, but it has happened. Basically, you tie them up and keep them in their rack with someone watching them until you can send get them transferred off.

ZergPan3 karma

Ever seen K9, how realistic is it(its based on a true story but I doubt all the details are factual)? Whats the standard procedure for a reactor meltdown on the sub?

incruente6 karma

Not all the details are factual. There actually is a blue glow inside a reactor (it's called cherenkov radiation; youtube a pool reactor pulsing some time). The portrayal of massive radiation sickness wasn't far off. One fun bit; the scene where Liam Neeson is angry that they only have chemical suits, not radiation suits, because the depot was out. He says "they might as well wear raincoats!" That's pretty much true even if they did have radiation suits. There really isn't any such thing as an effective shielding material that can be worn. The best you could do is keep material off of you. A human can take an amazingly high does of radiation, but getting contaminated is more of a problem.

As to standard procedure, I can't say. I will say that is has never happened.

Conspirologist3 karma

Question about personal security. Is the crew still sleeping together, or are they finally able to put every member in a single room? As far as I know from the movies, the officers have their private rooms. But have no idea about the crew.

If you have still have to sleep together, how can you not be aftraid that some crazy freak will do something to you while you are sleeping deep because tired at night?

incruente4 karma

The only officers who get their own rooms are the CO and XO. Everyone else, including the junior officers, sleep with at least two other people in the same berthing space, and some rooms have many more.

I'm not really concerned about someone losing it, any more than while I'm awake. You tend to get a good idea for how people cope; someone won't just snap. You can see it coming.

Deepsweg3 karma

Fascinating AMA so far.

Just wanted to say thank you for your hard work, long hours, and service. I've always been impressed with the work of Navy Nukes. I'm attending OCS to go NFO in June.

One more thing, is it true that a hundred men go down in a sub and fifty couples resurface?

incruente5 karma

The truth of that varies, but at least now people don't have to hide it if it happens.

downvotethiscontent3 karma


incruente15 karma

I'm not generally in favor of it, primarily because submariners are incredibly crude people underway. It's not uncommon to see some pretty vulgar stuff, and I think that's an offshoot of living together for literally months on end trapped in a huge pipe; you can't act professionally all the time. You'd snap if you tried. But if they can deal with that, and do the job, welcome aboard. god knows we need more people that can do the job.

Niklasedg2 karma

you mentioned the showers in another comment, wouldn't that be a problem?

incruente6 karma

There are various logistical problems, but we can work them out. For instance, on a 688 class, there is the CO/XO shower, the chief shower, the junior officer shower, and three enlisted showers. Two of the enlisted showers are in one head (bathroom) and one in another. We would just designate that last one females only. Or, you simply put a sign on the head that states which gender is currently in the head, and flip it as you enter and leave. We can work just about anything out.

cp51842 karma

Any good simpsons jokes?

incruente5 karma

There's speculation in the community that Matt Groening was a nuke. Mr. Burns is supposedly a mockery of Admiral Rickover, who pretty much single-handedly built the nuclear navy. We joke about Rickover sometimes; he was a pretty unusual guy. At one point, every officer that wanted to be nuclear had to interview with him personally. Once, his secretary told a prospective offier to go sit in a broom closet. At lunch, he was given an hour to eat. More broom closet sitting, then he was told to go home and come back the next day. At the end of the week, Rickover opened the door and told him he was rejected. The idea was that he didn't want people who blindly obeyed orders. We have that same attitude to this day.

TheElusiveGnome2 karma

Know any good Navy/ submarine jokes?

incruente20 karma

Most of them are vulgar, or only really funny to sailors. But I'll try one.

Tell the marines to secure a building, and they'll storm it and kill everyone inside.

Tell the army to secure a building, and they'll surround it and get ready to shoot.

Tell the navy to secure a building, and they'll post a watch with a log at every door.

Tell the air force to secure a building, and they'll lock the front door and go home.

spennyiskenny2 karma

Do navy subs ever collide with whales? If so, do you ever see/feel it?

incruente12 karma

Not often; I've heard of a glancing blow, once. You would feel it, but there's no way to see it. The only window on board is in the washing machine door (not really, submariner joke. But there are no windows to the sea).

spennyiskenny1 karma

Do you hear anything strange from the outside? This might be a stupid question but how often do you hear sonar pings?

incruente9 karma

Every once in a while a whale or something. The first time I heard a ping, I nearly wet myself (I was very new, and very jumpy. I wasn't even on a submarine; I was on a barge). But a ping only comes from active sonar, which is rarely used. They can be very, very loud; active sonar at close range can kill a man.

[deleted]2 karma


incruente4 karma

There is a noticeable level of noise. After a while, it becomes part of your running thoughts; I notice instantly if something turns off that isn't supposed to. In most places, you can still hear a whisper. Think like your fridge running and being in the same room.

Cold? It depends where you are, in the sea and in the boat. The wrong combination can be unbearably hot. But yes, it can get chilly, and a lot of guys wear sweaters or coats.

urbanmark2 karma

Is it possible to jettison the core in an emergency?

incruente5 karma

No. There wouldn't be much point, really; we can't fix anything if it's gone.

pyr6662 karma

I've heard that the primary limit to how long a nuclear vessel can stay at sea is how long they can feed the crew. is this true?

also, do subs operate alone or is it more common to roll with a fleet/other subs?

incruente4 karma

That is one of the big limits. We make nearly everything else ourselves: air, water, light.

Submarines can operate solo or as part of a battle group. Boomers (ballistic missiles subs) tend to operate alone, since operating them with a battle group would make them easier to find, and we don't want that.

Racecarlock2 karma

Does radiation really glow green or is that something cartoons made up?

incruente2 karma

Radiation itself is invisible. Some radioactive things do glow, and there is a blue light inside a reactor. It's called cherenkov radiation. You can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nb-U7KEKRJo.

rkchni842 karma

Hi i have heard that once started the reactor cannot be shut down immediately like you start and off a diesel engine. The reaction goes on for years and gives on power so once started does the submarine goes on using the power and keeps exploring the ocean like nuclear power plant which goes on producing electricity. When the submarine is stable and not moving where the generated power is used. What is minimum time the reactor will run after starting the reaction. Hope you understood my query.

incruente5 karma

The reactor can be turned off. All reactors, civilian and military, continue to make a little energy in the form of heat, but nowhere near as much as they do while operating. The reactor runs for the exact period we want it to; no less and no more. Being able to start it up and shut it down is very, very important to us.

xsiddy2000x1 karma

What was the scariest moment ever on the submarine for you?

incruente2 karma

Operationally, I can't say. Personally, I once got stuck in between two pipes with my full body weight resting on a pipe fitting the size of a silver dollar in the middle of my belly. I was there for about twenty minutes until they got me free. Or once a guy came at me with a knife, and I had to dodge it; that was unnerving.

bloodhand271 karma

Can you give us a pick-up line with 'nuclear reactor','submarine' and 'operator' in it?

incruente3 karma

Not without sounding like a huge tool.

boblewo1 karma

Are you allowed to say what's the procedure if nuclear materials or anything envolving in the process leak into the ocean or inside the submarine?

incruente1 karma

Sorry, no. But I can say that, as with all of our nuclear procedures, the safety of the public is of the utmost concern; I realize this sounds like just good PR, but we operate at all times with the safety of the public in mind. we sometimes call it "keeping mom safe".

Corrosivemn1 karma

What's the worst/ closest shave you have had?

incruente3 karma

Operationally, I can't say. Personally, I once got stuck in between two pipes with my full body weight resting on a pipe fitting the size of a silver dollar in the middle of my belly. I was there for about twenty minutes until they got me free. Or once a guy came at me with a knife, and I had to dodge it; that was unnerving.

Corrosivemn1 karma

How did you manage to get stuck?

incruente3 karma

I was trying to clean a hard to reach area. Submariners, mostly the leadership, are obsessed with cleaning. You will spend an unbelievable amount of time cleaning.

bryix3 karma

sounds like you'd make one hell of a brewer

incruente3 karma

Another nuke actually introduced me to brewing. I prefer a good hoppy wheat beer, but I like fiddling around a lot.

MowgliIHSV1 karma

Thanks for the AMA. I am currently attending college and am considering OCS for the navy after I graduate. Do you have any advice?

incruente7 karma

A few bits. First, really research your job; don't believe the people in charge. Insist on asking the guys who work where you'll work, the grunts, and talk to several of them. For subs, at least, they really want you, and if they say you can't, tell them you'll walk. Second, do NOT act like you're better or smarter than anyone else, even enlisted; I don't care if you think you are, just don't act like it. Third, read every single thing you ever sign, and ask questions until you understand it BEFORE you sign it. And fourth, never, ever take someone's word for anything; get it in writing or from a book.

MowgliIHSV3 karma

Thank you! Follow up question. What can you expect after you get out with your current job?

incruente2 karma

I could get out and go to a civilian plant to operate, and probably start at six figures if I looked around a bit. That being said, I don't want to; If I wanted money, I would have gotten out a long time ago and done that. As it is, I'll have my retirement and my medical, and I plan on going into a public service field.

Loading----------1 karma

How much do you get paid? Is there a bonus for being a Submariner?

incruente2 karma

Pay depends on rank and time in, mostly (there are pay charts for enlisted ranks, and they don't change much from job to job). There are certain bonuses; there is a nuke bonus, a submarine bonus, and re-enlistment bonuses are pretty good for nukes. It's not unheard of to make an extra $200,000 over the course of a twenty year career just from re-enlistment bonuses.

frenchstuffisfancy1 karma

funniest story that happend on the sub ?

incruente11 karma

Oh, lord. That's a whole other thread. This is a bit NSFW, so forgive me. Long story short, we had a guy who thought it was funny to flash his genitals at people. He ended up getting hydrogen peroxide sprayed in his nether regions. Not a good time.

trollateder1 karma

What is the worst thing that could happen on a nuclear sub?

incruente3 karma

Worst for who? For the people on board, any kind of catastrophe that sinks the boat, like a weapon detonating. Especially in really deep water.

evorgeloc1 karma

How much training do you have to go through before you get on a boat? What can you tell us about the training?

Do you see yourself continuing in the nuke field when you get out of the navy?

incruente2 karma

About eighteen months, during which time I absorbed the bulk of a college degree and qualified to operate a nuclear core, including operating a real core for several months. I took courses in math, materials, heat transfer, fluid flow, electronics, nuclear physics, and so forth.

I don't intend to stay in the field when I get out, but a lot of guys do. Reactor operators in particular are in high demand at commercial sites.

Stripeb491 karma

How often does the sub surface?

incruente3 karma

It varies. In theory, we can stay down pretty much until we get hungry. In practice, it's mostly operational concerns, i.e. is it time to pull in yet.

pentangleit1 karma

Thanks for the AMA - fascinating stuff!

As a member of the crew not necessarily involved in navigation etc, do you have much awareness at any particular time of whereabouts in the world you actually are?

incruente3 karma

I could ask, and probably get a pretty accurate answer, but quite frankly I don't really care. Until we pull in, I just care about how deep we are and how cold the water is.

pentangleit2 karma

Does water temp affect the reactor efficiency then? Or is it a core cooling thing?

incruente3 karma

It's important for various reasons, and most of them are the direct responsibility of those of us in the engine room. We just need to pay attention to it, to make sure everything works smoothly.

giscard781 karma

How aware are you of where you are in the world? I understand most people on the sub just do their job and aren't told they're all up in a specific country's private parts. Obviously everyone is concerned about nearby undersea mountains but do people know they're off the coast of a particular country?

incruente2 karma

Generally, we know more or less where we are, if we bother to check. Personally, I don't care; I mostly just care about how deep we are, how cold the water is, and when we're going to pull in next.

bdavila091 karma

My dad was a nuclear reactor operator way back when in the mid 80s. What do you think has changed in terms of technology and job responsibility as a reactor operator in terms of responsibility and day to day tasks?

incruente1 karma

I've actually qualified on equipment from that era, but we're always working to improve things. Our responsibilities and daily routine are much the same; the foundation of my entire job is still to operate and protect the core. Probably the biggest chance is in how the gear operates, but I can't go into a lot of detail about that. Sorry.

Magmasliver1 karma


My brother just got accepted to the NUPOC program as a chemical engineer. He is going to be on a fast attack sub and he will be in charge of the nuclear reactors. Can you talk about anything for him to expect from the job? He's going to bootcamp in May. Thanks!

incruente3 karma

Tell him a few things for me. First, in boot camp, keep your eyes open and your mouth shut, and never tell anyone you're a nuke. Second, in school, follow the rules...all of them...until he gets his head on straight. Third, never, never, never sign anything unless he understands it completely. Fourth, never be afraid to ask questions until he fully understands something. And last, but definitely not least, learn to work well with people, and that includes growing a thick skin. If you knuckle under to fast attack guys, they'll eat you alive. But if you prove that you can do the job with them, they'll die for you.

tjbalpha471 karma

How many steps does it take to fire one missile? Like every command, button press, etc.

incruente1 karma

I'm not from a boomer, and am not a missile guy, so I don't know. I do know that firing a nuclear missile takes five keys (one from off the boat), at least three officers, and quite a few steps. I learned all that from National Geographic, though; like I said, I've never had any professional interaction with that side of things. Sorry!

Innovativename1 karma

How hard is it to keep the reactor critical? I assume that, given it's a chain reaction, it requires constant tweaking however I don't know if most reactors now are designed to do this automatically. Is it a painstaking task of pressing buttons and flipping switches all day? Also what would happen to the sub if its reactor went subcritical? Would you have some sort of a grace period to get it working again?

incruente1 karma

I can't discuss a lot of details. Because of the nature of reactors, subcriticality isn't necessarily a huge deal; small power fluctuations even themselves out over time. If the reactor turns off, we make sure it's safe before we turn it back on again. Safety is our primary concern at all times.

Innovativename1 karma

So in terms of power generation from nuclear reactors in general (e.g. public reactors and how they actually work), they will still be producing energy even if they're sub-critical right? Or is it more of a make or break kind of thing with them (not asking for specifics on the reactors you work with obviously).

incruente1 karma

All radioactive materials produce a certain amount of heat all the time. Reactors contain a great deal of fuel, so they do produce some heat just sitting there; this is true of all reactors, of all types (excluding fusion reactors).

Wiggles1141 karma

What's the absolute worst scenario you're preparing for?

incruente3 karma

Personally? I think it's best to acknowledge all possible disasters, to prepare mentally. Only when your mind is ready will you act properly when the time comes. I'm ready for if the vessel goes down (as in, permanently. It's supposed to go down when we want it to). But if you mean as a crew, there's is nothing we're not prepared for. Volume after volume after volume of books contain endless procedures and contingency plans. Someone could launch a weapon at us at the exact moment that flooding started and something burst into flames, and we would know what to do. We need to; there isn't a lot of margin for error, and we can't really call for help and expect it to show up fast, like people on land can.

Wiggles1141 karma

Interesting. So a lot of the day-to-day is filled with drills, I would imagine. I'm curious as to what's the worst failure that can happen... with the reactor, I mean?

incruente1 karma

Worst thing would be anything that breaches the core. Everything we do revolves around keeping the core intact. This is going to make me sound a bit loony, but every good operator is prepared to die to protect the core. We have never broken one, or even come close, and we're ready to do whatever it takes to keep it that way.