Monthly Archives: June 2017

CNA2017

The Canadian Space Agency’s Nuclear Connection

A competition for two new astronaut spots launched by the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) received over 3,000 applicants from outstanding Canadians looking to be part of the new frontier in space exploration. From a list of thousands, the race to space is getting narrow, just over a dozen candidates remain. The candidates are as different as their backgrounds and include military personnel, doctors and engineers.

Amongst those in the final running to be selected to join the CSA’s elite team is Alex DeLorey, a project manager for the Bruce Power Nuclear Refurbishment and a SNC-Lavalin team member.
DeLorey is hoping to be one of the final two to earn a coveted spot with the CSA.

Courtesy: Alex DeLorey

“The round of seventy-two was very physical, testing what you’d need to do to be successful on the job, including a grip test while wearing a space suit which is pressurized. The pressurized suit makes it harder to close your hands and demonstrates the difficulty of using tools in space. The round of thirty-two was survival testing,” according to DeLorey.

The survival testing included a series of drills that involved everything from simulating a helicopter crashing into ocean water to various emergency situations, such as fires and floods. To prepare for the trials, DeLorey spent time with the Milton fire department running through different scenarios that included re-enacting rescuing a person from a burning building; containing hazardous materials and rappelling down three stories on a rope. The man who looks to David Saint-Jacques as the astronaut he admires most, spent last summer learning to scuba dive, skydive and fly an airplane, all of this even before submitting an application.

“I had done quite a bit of research on the last recruitment campaign and tailored my preparation for it. I still fly at least once a week to keep my skills up and once it warms up I’ll try to get some scuba and skydiving in,” said DeLorey. “I have been going to the gym regularly at 6:00 am every weekday for the past four years and I also swim a few times a week.”

His strict regimen includes studying all things space related and keeping up with his French language training, even though he is already bilingual. Then there’s his day job as a Project Manager on the Bruce Power Refurbishment: A background which he believes has helped him in his outer space quest.

“I think it helped prepare me quite a bit. I’ve been on the reactor face for Wolsong (A nuclear power plant in South Korea) breathing out of a tube. The places and the situations are very stressful and they can be dangerous if you make wrong choices and so it has prepared me in that sense,” according to DeLorey. “Nuclear is a small industry but an international industry and I have experience of working with international teams so it’s given me quite a bit of preparation.”

The biggest challenge for this astronaut contender is time management. On top of the tremendous amount of training that has been required to get him this far, he continues to maintain his full-time job as a member of the SNC-Lavalin team. He also makes sure he can get out into the community and engage with students about the importance of pursuing your dreams and he recently became a dad for the first time. To make it all happen, DeLorey relies on a strong support network and he gives credit to his wife for his successes to date.

DeLorey speaking to students

Recently, the Trump administration signed a bill in support of NASA, support which could see a manned mission to Mars. It’s a mission this Canadian hopes he will be a part of.

“The plans for space missions in the future include sending astronauts beyond the moon for deep space testing and finally further to Mars,” stated DeLorey. “I would most like to be a part of any of those missions and get to be on the call back to Earth to tell everyone that we had made it to the destination and be a part of the excitement that would come from that.”

CNA2017

Nuclear Science and Your Java

Most of us can’t live without our morning cup of java. According to the International Coffee Organization (ICO), almost 9 million bags of coffee are exported globally every month. Our caffeine addiction is rising at a growth rate of just under 2 per cent annually; making our morning pick me up big business.

But a disease known as coffee leaf rust could take the zap out of your coffee cup. Coffee leaf rust or Hemileia Vastatrix is a fungus that attacks the leaves of coffee crops. First documented in the late 1800s, coffee leaf rust can cause enormous economic damage to coffee production.  As has been widely reported, Sri Lanka was forced to give up coffee production thanks to a damaging outbreak of coffee leaf rust in the 1860s.

Credit: Krutar/Shutterstock

In 2013, Guatemala was one in a series of countries to declare a national agriculture emergency following an outbreak of the organism which destroyed about 70 per cent of coffee crops in the area. The impacts of this disease are profound. Over the last four years, countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have lost approximately one billion dollars in revenue.

The coffee leaf rust organism works by attacking the leaves on coffee plants, leaving behind a yellow-orange coloured looking lesion or spot on the bottom of the leaf. These rust-like lesions reduce a plants ability to conduct photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight and water to produce oxygen, sugar and carbon dioxide. Reducing photosynthesis, or a plants ability to feed itself, results in lower coffee yields thanks to smaller berry and vegetative growth. Long term impacts of the infection include death of the shoots and roots of the plants, thereby reducing the amount of coffee production overall.

Nuclear science is fighting back against coffee leaf rust.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), in conjunction with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and other partners are hoping for a nuclear solution. They are attempting to breed plants that are resistant to the deadly fungus. A team of experts gathered in early October with the goal of producing resistant coffee plants through a nuclear technique called plant mutation breeding.

Plant mutation breeding works like this. Small doses of radiation are used to alter the DNA or genetic make-up of a plant, making them more resilient to disease and pests such as coffee leaf rust.

“Plant mutation breeding is a fast way to develop improved crops with new and useful traits,” said Stephan Nielen, FAO/IAEA geneticist in charge of the training. “The method also offers a widely accepted, economical and environmentally sustainable approach to protect yield and ensure adequate quantities of pesticide-free crops.”

The work being done in the labs is critical. Climate change is already taking its toll in coffee producing areas.  More heat and rainfall has equaled larger outbreaks of pests and diseases like coffee leaf rust, threatening the livelihood of an estimated 120 million people, often the world’s poorest, who rely on coffee income. An increase in temperatures and precipitation has provided a perfect breeding ground for this deadly disease. The problem has become so severe that in 2010, countries teamed up to form an initiative coffee and climate, a response to climate change and its impacts on the coffee industry. They are looking to help more than 70,000 farmers respond to climate change.

The work being done in labs with the IAEA will also provide another tool for the coffee industry, providing more genetically diverse, resistant plants, helping the environment and those who rely on it for their livelihood.