Tag Archives: Chalk River

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Nuclear industry eyes more federal support of ‘small modular reactors,’ as advocates push for Ottawa to hit pause

By Jolson Lim
Originally published in The Hill Times, December 3, 2018

The Canadian nuclear industry is looking for more federal government involvement in supporting the development of a new generation of reactors, after Natural Resources Canada put out a “roadmap” report earlier this month, spelling out steps different players in the sector could take.

The small modular reactor (SMR) roadmap was published on Nov. 7, and was co-developed between different public and private sector stakeholders. It recommends that federal, provincial, and territorial governments, along with utilities, industry, and the federally-funded national laboratory support demonstration of the use of SMR technology.

It also proposed: financial risk-sharing between the different players to support early deployment; the modernization of legislative and regulatory requirements to make development economically viable and timely; the development of a “robust knowledge base” for SMR technology; and for commitment to proactively engage with Indigenous communities.

SMRs are typically defined as nuclear reactors generating less than 300 megawatts of energy, and proponents see it as a promising source as the world struggles to fight climate change.

In Canada, backers see SMRs as a way to phase out diesel power for remote and Northern communities. However, to make it economically feasible within a small window of time for it to become a tool in reducing emissions, it would require demonstration soon, and eventually would require a fleet of reactors so manufacturers could benefit from more efficient and financially stable production.

But there is strong opposition to new nuclear energy development based on both environmental and safety concerns.

Nevertheless, any future development would likely have to involve government funding to support demonstration, on top of a regulatory review and placing a stronger emphasis on such technology in climate change plans.

“What would be so important now is for the government to show its policy support,” said John Barrett, president and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association (CNA). “But that kind of holistic policy statement is not available yet.”

Mr. Barrett’s association submitted a letter addressed to Finance Minister Bill Morneau (Toronto Centre, Ont.) following the release of his fall economic update in November.

The letter calls for the extension of clean technology and clean infrastructure funding and support programs, such as the ability to expense of 100 per cent of capital investments and loan guarantees, to nuclear technology in the next budget.

It also asks the federal government to recognize nuclear as part of Canada’s suite of clean energy technologies and to create a funding mechanism for applied research and development of the next generation of reactors.

“Such measures would go a long way in creating the supportive business innovation climate needed in Canada today to encourage clean technology developers and start-ups in the nuclear sector,” it reads. “Only with a significant scale-up of such sources can Canada meet its Paris climate targets.”

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is currently partnering with small-reactor proponents to get a prototype built at one of its sites by 2026 for future demonstration. The company wants to prove the commercial viability of such reactors, and position Canada as a global hub for testing and development.

The company is aiming for it to occur at its Chalk River research facility, which sits about 200 kilometres northwest of Ottawa. CNL manages and operates the two research laboratories in Canada for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the crown corporation that owns such facilities.

Interest in SMRs is particularly strong in New Brunswick, where the local utility, NB Power, has partnered with an American firm to develop a small reactor in the province.

Mr. Barrett said Canada is in a commanding place with the development of SMRs, given its good regulatory and research environment and interest from different players. Globally, it makes the country an attractive place for development.

However, he said more federal focus is needed on nuclear energy.

“Nuclear is one of the tools that is sitting in the box and government hasn’t really pulled it out and taken a good look at what it can do,” said Mr. Barrett, adding it has a lot of export potential as well.

Concerns with SMRs

There are concerns that nuclear’s advantage as a low-carbon energy source is offset by serious safety and other environmental concerns.

Ole Hendrickson, a researcher for the advocacy group Concerned Citizens of Renfrew County and Area—where the Chalk River facility is located—said proponents of nuclear energy ignore other emissions, including various noble gases, iodine, and radioactive waste that has to be expensively and carefully managed. Such waste remains dangerous long after its use, and disposal remains a major concern and question.

“We don’t see small modular reactors as any different,” he said.

Earlier this month, the group appeared on Parliament Hill alongside Green Party leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.) to voice their concern over SMRs ahead of the release of the roadmap report.

Lynn Jones, a member of the citizens’ group, also questioned whether federal government funding is worth it, given there are concerns about its economic viability that has recently seen nuclear power struggle to grow globally.

“They can’t possibly succeed without significant government subsidies, the private sector has backed away from them all over the world,” she said. “They’ve come to Canada to try and get the government to subsidize them.”

Her group recently submitted two petitions to the Auditor General of Canada, with the first voicing concerns that any investment in future nuclear power would tie-up funds that would otherwise go to other proven renewables that could more quickly and effectively reduce carbon emissions. The second petition asks federal ministers to provide a justification for considering nuclear power to be a form of clean energy.

“It would take way too long to develop SMRs, apart from the fact there’s lots of other concerns about them,” she said.

The road ahead

John Stewart, director of policy and research at the CNA—speaking as the project manager of the SMR roadmap—said the report makes recommendations to a wide range of players, including governments, waste management organizations, industry, researchers, and the regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

He said the “logical next step” is for one facilitating player to survey all those players to see what commitments they’re willing to make to further SMRs development.

“You need someone to do all that and elicit offers from the different players, get them to make specific commitments and eventually translate that into sort of national action plan,” he said.

He said he was pleased to see Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi (Edmonton Mill Woods, Alta.) attend the roadmap launch last month, despite not seeing a “lot in the way of signals” for nuclear power from the federal Liberal government.

Mr. Stewart said if the federal government offers a strong signal that SMRs can be a serious energy source, other players will follow up with tangible commitments.

“That would be a positive signal for other players to step up,” he said.

Nuclear energy accounts for almost 15 per cent of all electricity generated in Canada, particularly from two massive power plants in Ontario providing power to the Toronto region.

Mr. Stewart said nuclear power’s outlook has improved, but attitudes toward the severity of climate change haven’t matured fast enough that would see countries move quickly on SMRs.

“It looks better than it has in the past. Good would be going too far,” he said.

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Nuclear Fun Fact: Bert Brockhouse

fun-fact-girl-2

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NRU is the Key to Canadian Nuclear Science and Innovation

The NRU reactor
The National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at Chalk River.

An advanced engineering and manufacturing economy – particularly one that values national autonomy and security – derives good value from having a nuclear research capability. The core of such a capability is a research reactor.

Canada has this capacity in the National Research Universal reactor (NRU), located in Chalk River, Ontario and operated by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories, formerly AECL. But it will lose this capacity when the reactor shuts down as planned by March 31, 2018.

The NRU, a high-capability research reactor, is the core in a Canada-wide nuclear research and development infrastructure. It underpins CANDU reactor technology used in nuclear power plants, and supports many life-enhancing applications in as medicine, crop science, and food safety.

The NRU is a strategic training infrastructure. It develops the human capital Canada needs to maintain its international credibility on nuclear energy, non-proliferation, safety and security policies. This expertise includes having the means to regulate nuclear activities and provide for the safety and security of our citizens.

Innovation involving the NRU is already occurring in a number of key areas, such as advanced reactor fuels – a key selling point for CANDU reactors in countries such as the UK and China; and improved safety margins – which is a national security imperative for Canada both at home and abroad.

Innovation is greatly stimulated where there are crucibles or clusters of research and development, even if small, in a specific geographical area. In the nuclear field there are key R&D clusters around Chalk River Laboratories, the Sylvia Fedoruk Centre for Nuclear Innovation in Saskatoon, and southern Ontario.

Together these, plus research facilities at more than a dozen universities, and major scientific facilities such as British Columbia’s TRIUMF and Saskatchewan’s Canadian Light Source (CLS), make up Canada’s “nuclear eco-system”. In southern Ontario, the cluster includes engineering, manufacturing and construction companies that build and maintain the infrastructure for nuclear power generation as well as nuclear R&D.

But the NRU also has a role, practically as well as symbolically, for the success of Canada’s foreign policy, national security, and global markets action plan.

Canada owns the CANDU reactor technology used by seven countries. We have recognized expertise in all areas of the nuclear fuel cycle, from the mining and milling of uranium to the fabrication of advanced fuels to decommissioning and waste management. We bring high safety and security norms to the world. We have a proliferation-resistant reactor design based on natural uranium, not enriched fuel.

The NRU supports operating power reactors in Canada, particularly in life extension. It provides the special conditions that allow testing, experimentation and problem-solving, essential in dealing with aging reactor components. High radioactive environments are necessary to replicate reactor conditions. The NRU provides these, but not just for Canadian-based CANDU reactors.

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CNA Visits the Canada Science and Technology Museum

By Erin Polka
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

On January 28, 2015, CNA staff had the opportunity to view the nuclear material currently in storage at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.

Like any museum, only a small percentage of their collection is on display at any given time. So we were very pleased when they invited us to take in the entire collection.

Below are some of the museum’s nuclear-related artifacts, which few people have ever seen.

Original electronic tower from the ZEEP nuclear reactor at Chalk River, c. 1945.
Original electronic tower from the ZEEP nuclear reactor at Chalk River, c. 1945.
The triple axis spectrometer (c. 1956) designed and used by Nobel Prize Winner, Betrum Brockhouse.
Triple axis spectrometer (c. 1956) designed and used by Nobel Prize winner, Bertram Brockhouse.
1920s Dental X-ray machine.
1920s dental x-ray machine.
1950s X-ray shoe fitter.
1950s x-ray shoe fitter.
(Front)  ZEEP fuel rod prototype designed by George Klein c. 1945 (Back) The 100,00th CANDU Fuel Bundle presented to Prime Minister Trudeau in 1975.
(Front) ZEEP fuel rod prototype designed by George Klein c. 1945. (Back) The 100,000th CANDU fuel bundle presented to Prime Minister Trudeau in 1975.
The "Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR) Model" on loan to CSTMC from A‎ECL at Chalk River.
The “Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR) model” on loan from CNL at Chalk River.
Guest Blog Nuclear Outreach Nuclear Pride

NA-YGN Chalk River Chapter Hosts International Networking Event

Below is a guest blog from our friends at NA-YGN’s Chalk River Chapter. They recently put on a very successful professional networking event that included delegates from Canadian and American chapters and offered the opportunity to learn more about the activities at Chalk River Labs and network with their peers. Please read on for a fulsome summary.

On November 8th and 9th the North American Young Generation in Nuclear (NA-YGN) Chalk River Chapter and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) hosted 50 delegates from Canadian and American Chapters, originating from several different nuclear sites throughout North America for the inaugural professional networking event: Past, Present and Future in Nuclear.  Overall, the event was a great success and provided delegates with a significant opportunity to learn about the varied research projects currently ongoing at Chalk River and network with peers from other nuclear stations throughout the continent.

Attendees at NA-YGN’s professional networking event

The event kicked off Thursday evening with the Past section, where Joan Miller welcomed the delegates on behalf of AECL as NAYGN’s Executive Sponsor.  Morgan Brown, as the keynote speaker, then gave an entertaining and informative seminar on the history of nuclear science and technology in Canada and, specifically, Chalk River’s role in shaping and development of the Canadian nuclear industry.  The talk touched briefly on the role of the CANDU nuclear reactors in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick and their respective energy distribution grids, and proceeded to lead into the historical reasons why Canada went with a heavy water reactor design.

Delegates were treated to a tour of Chalk River Laboratories.

A tour of Chalk River Laboratories on Friday November 9th was the main focal point of the event – showcasing the Present State of the Nuclear Industry in Canada.  The delegates experienced several aspects of the Laboratories, showcasing the numerous different areas of current nuclear research and development with several industry and academic partners.  Some of the areas showcased included mechanical systems design, nuclear non-proliferation detection equipment, the effects of radiation on biological systems, and the chemical production of hydrogen.  The driving focus behind these tours was to increase the awareness of the important role AECL and Chalk River serves to the Canadian nuclear industry in our partners throughout the industry.

Friday evening served complete the event, with a panel discussion focused on the Future State of the Nuclear Industry in Canada.  Executives from AECL, the Canadian Nuclear Association, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, were in attendance to provide insight into the future role of nuclear technology in supplying baseload electricity, the future of small modular reactors in the Canadian North, as well as the focus of future public outreach activities and what could be done to increase positive public perception of nuclear technology.  The initial series of questions asked to panel members and the ensuing discussions were quite insightful, with an excellent opportunity provided for delegates to ask questions related to future of the industry following.

Executives from AECL, the Canadian Nuclear Association, and the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission participated in a panel on the future role of nuclear.

Overall, the inaugural NAYGN Past, Present and Future of Nuclear event was a great success …

Nuclear Education Nuclear Outreach

Taking the Grocery Store Conversation Online

Last Wednesday, I was invited to speak to a group of Women-in-Nuclear (WiN) members from the Eastern-Ontario chapter at AECL in Chalk River. We got together to “talk nuclear,” but more specifically, how to talk nuclear on social media.

With the WiN Eastern Chapter Executives. L to R: Bev Kidd, Laura Allardyce (me), Solly Karivelil, and Anne Giardini

There is a lot of interest in social media among members of the nuclear industry, among people who are enthusiastic about the work they do, the technology they support, and the communities in which they live and do this impassioned work. There is a lot of pride in Canada’s nuclear industry – pride in our home grown, low-carbon CANDU technology, in the development of nuclear medicine technologies for diagnostic and therapeutic cancer treatments, and in how safe our operations are every day and for the last 50+ years. We want to share our stories with the rest of Canada and the world.

Social media is people having conversations online. It’s the same as meeting your neighbor in the grocery store and chatting about your day. The only difference is, it’s a bigger grocery store and you’re bumping into more neighbors. The stories you tell online are the same ones you would tell your neighbors.

We shouldn’t be afraid to show our pride online, to share interesting information on Facebook, to tweet a link to a good news story on Twitter, or to tell our own story on a blog.

As the keeper of the community (I maintain the TalkNUclear channels on Facebook, Twitter, this blog, etc), I have a lot of discussions about using social media strategically. I think this can sometimes get us confused about what the purpose of social media is, which is this: at the end of the day, social media is about relationships, not transactions. We are not talking to Canadians to get them to buy more nuclear, we’re not selling a product. What we are doing is talking to Canadians about the mutually beneficial relationship we’re engaged in. Our industry produces low-carbon energy, medical technologies, food and materials safety advancements – all of these things that benefits Canadians every day. Our social media strategy is just to talk to Canadians about these incredible benefits, just like we all do when we run into our neighbors at the grocery store.

A good place to start is with us. There are so many ways to “Talk Nuclear”