IDAHO FALLS, Idaho – Ethan Hoopes changed the direction of his life following a friend’s recommendation during an Idaho hunting trip in 2018.
At the time, Hoopes was attending a nearby four-year university and was working a job building cabinets. He needed a change.
Hoopes’ friend Casey Thompson was a radiation control technician (RCT) for the EM program at the Idaho National Laboratory (INL) Site. He suggested Hoopes consider enrolling in the College of Eastern Idaho (CEI) Radiation Protection Program in Idaho Falls. CEI’s program is a year in duration and covers EM’s core exam for radiological safety, which is required for being an RCT at the site.
“I had a basic knowledge of radiation,” said Hoopes, 24. “But once I got accepted in the program and started learning about nuclear energy and radiation, I became very interested in it.”
In addition to receiving classroom instruction, students in the CEI program watch training scenarios and complete detailed tasks while working in a simulated radiological environment. Hoopes noted that EM INL Site cleanup contractor Fluor Idaho’s radiation protection director and engineers spoke with the students, educating them about the INL Site and radiological activities at the site’s facilities.
While enrolled in the program, Hoopes completed a student internship as a junior RCT at the Advanced Mixed Waste Treatment Project (AMWTP) at the INL Site. Completing an internship is a requirement of the CEI program after six months of instruction. Once Hoopes got hands-on experience at the nuclear waste cleanup facility, he was hooked.
“The Fluor Idaho internship was absolutely awesome,” he said. “It allows you to get in the field and start your career.”
Upon graduation from the CEI program about a year ago, Hoopes was hired by Fluor Idaho to work at AMWTP. Of the 220 RCTs on staff at Fluor Idaho, about half are graduates of the CEI program.
“I really like the job,” Hoopes said. “I love how it changes every day. I call it a scavenger hunt. You go out trying to find something you cannot see. It keeps you on your toes.”
Hoopes is trained to use a respirator and will complete additional training to allow him to wear personal protective equipment, known as a “bubble suit,” so he can repair equipment used to open drums of radioactive waste at AMWTP.
“I could see a huge career in this,” Hoopes said of the radiation protection profession. “There are so many opportunities at the INL that it would be pretty easy to stay here for my entire career.”
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