The Sound of Neutrons

The hills are alive, with the sound of… neutrons?

This March, “The Sound of Neutrons,” an original musical written and directed by Phyllis Heeney will be performed by the Deep River Players at the Childs Auditorium of Mackenzie Community School in Deep River.

Based on real events, the musical centres around a female physicist who was unable to get a job at Chalk River labs in 1945 to work on the ZEEP reactor because she was a woman.

The musical is written and directed by Phyllis Heeney, a retired Canadian Nuclear Laboratories employee. Phyllis took great care to base the story of her musical on the experiences of real women from the Deep River and Chalk River area: Maria, a physics professor from Bratislava who was unable to get a job as a physicist; Nancy, a woman who did get a job as a physicist but was never seen as equal by her male peers; Maraget, the first woman ever hired at Chalk River, whose desk chair was a keg of nails.

The musical celebrates the entry of women into the nuclear workforce and the strides they made for not only other female workers, but for Canada’s science and engineering fields as a whole.

The show runs on March 12 & 13 – takes a pause for March Break – and finishes its run on March 26, 27, and 28. Opening night, March 12, is also the kick-off of the Town of Deep River’s 75th anniversary celebrations. A catered reception will follow the performance on opening night, which will be attended by local area politicians, advocacy organizations, historical societies, and AECL and CNL employees (past and present).

Details regarding the purchase of tickets can be found on the poster above.


Guest column: Is Peterborough the right place to make nuclear fuel?

Head of Canadian Nuclear Association weighs in on BWXT’s request to expand local operations

Portrait of John GormanBy John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Originally published in The Peterborough Examiner on February 24, 2020.

In early March, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will hold public hearings in Toronto and Peterborough about the renewal of BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada’s operating licence.

The CNSC regulates every part of the nuclear industry in Canada, to ensure the safety of employees, the public, and the environment. So, BWXT needs this licence to continue its work. This includes producing natural uranium fuel pellets in its Toronto facility. These are shipped to Peterborough, where BWXT places them in zirconium tubes that it manufactured in its Arnprior facility. The fuel bundles made by companies such as BWXT and Cameco are then used in nuclear reactors, which provide about 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity.

For its licence renewal, BWXT applied to keep operating for another 10 years, but also for the option to manufacture fuel pellets in Peterborough.

This last point has given rise to a lot more opposition from activists, who plan to turn out to the CNSC hearings in force. This is unusual for a fairly innocuous part of the nuclear supply chain, so it drew my attention. Opposition groups have been in the media lately, raising several concerns: that the Peterborough plant might emit uranium dioxide dust, or that contaminated water might be dumped into nearby waters.

However, one objection from the activists stood out: why Peterborough? Why, they said, allow the handling of nuclear materials so close to where people live, work, and play?

First, the CNSC ensures that Canada’s entire nuclear industry is safe — not just the reactors, but the mining, transportation, processing, and eventual disposal too. That’s why the total number of deaths from nuclear operations in Canada since it began in the 1950s is zero.

But BWXT takes safety to a level far higher than what is required by regulation. For example, the CNSC has set a limit for radiation exposure to the public at one millisievert per year — but the estimate for people living near the Peterborough facility was less than one thousandth of that in 2018. When one considers that we all get about 1.8 millisieverts per year naturally from the environment, BWXT’s almost-unmeasurable addition fades into insignificance.

But BWXT still takes any risks seriously. That’s why the Peterborough facility stores any waste water that could be contaminated with uranium in tanks, then filters uranium dioxide out, and sends water samples to an outside lab. The lab tests have to show that the water meets regulatory requirements before BWXT can release it. In Toronto, where BWXT makes fuel pellets, the emissions into the air are about one per cent of the limit CNSC sets, and the release into the water is about 0.3 per cent of the limit. The very small amount of dust created within the facility is dealt with by several layers of filters.

Still, ensuring that BWXT is safe doesn’t fully answer the question: why here?

The answer is: because Peterborough has the skilled workforce that BWXT needs. The Peterborough facility employs about 300 people, including about 120 engineers. The assembly of fuel bundles requires both rigorous training and understanding of safety procedures, but this is not the only work BWXT performs here, as Peterborough is also home to its reactor inspection and maintenance tooling teams.

These jobs are not only skilled, but also stable: BWXT’s operations help to supply Ontario’s nuclear power plants, which are now undergoing a mid-life refurbishment, and are expected to run for decades more. So, if a young engineer enters the nuclear industry now, he or she can expect a solid career. But there’s more: increasing concern about climate change, is making zero-emission nuclear power more attractive than ever. And, with the recent excitement about building new-generation small modular reactors, the nuclear industry could be headed for considerable growth. This could greatly benefit Peterborough and its surrounding communities, where the nuclear industry is responsible for over 3,000 direct and indirect jobs.

So, BWXT should continue operating in Peterborough because that’s where its highly skilled and educated employees are — where they send their kids to school, play hockey on the weekends, and shop after the workday. And they, like anyone else who works in Canada’s nuclear industry, know well that the air and water around their workplace is safe for them and their families.

The CNSC, which is independent of any industry group, will make a decision on the BWXT licence application after the March hearings. I am confident that the CNSC will base its decision on the available facts, and I hope that the hearings will reflect the interests of the Peterborough community as a whole.

CNA2020 Uncategorized


Small modular reactors (SMRs) are to large nuclear plants as desktop personal computers were to room-sized mainframe computers. SMRs have the potential to disrupt our world in ways we cannot imagine. Join this panel presentation as the panellists talk about what the future might hold for this new technology.

Mark Lesinski was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) in 2015. CNL is Canada’s premier nuclear science and technology laboratory, managed by the Canadian National Energy Alliance. Lesinski has a distinguished career in nuclear science, operations, projects and decommissioning. His 38 years of experience spans commercial and government nuclear facilities, including power reactor operations, major retrofit projects, and management of decontamination and decommissioning.

Ken Canavan was appointed Chief Technology Officer of Westinghouse Electric Company in 2018. He leads Westinghouse’s efforts to drive next-generation technology and innovation solutions that align with the company’s global business strategy. Previously Canavan was Director of Engineering for the Electric Power Research Institute. There he was responsible for turning industry needs into compelling research and development plans, which improved the safety and performance of the global nuclear fleet. He has more than 30 years of experience in key engineering and risk management roles.

A visiting lecturer at the University of Manchester, Kirk Atkinson joined the Faculty of Energy Systems and Nuclear Science at Ontario Tech University as an Associate Professor in 2019. An expert on SMRs in the marine context, he served on the Physics Working Group and Science Support Network for the United Kingdom’s Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program. He was also part of the team assessing nuclear power options for future Royal Navy submarines. As naval reactors are the original SMRs, Atkinson is perhaps the only Canadian academic with real-world experience working in a successful program encompassing the design, manufacture, operation and disposal of small pressurized water reactors.

Join the discussion at this panel presentation on Friday morning.

You can find the full CNA2020 program at https://cna.ca/cna2020/program/.



After enjoying a delicious lunch on Thursday, CNA2020 delegates will be treated to not one but two keynote speakers.

Portrait of Laurie SwamiLaurie Swami is the President and CEO of the Nuclear Waste Management Association. Appointed in 2016, she is responsible for implementing Canada’s plan for the long-term management of used nuclear fuel.

Swami previously served as Senior Vice-President of Decommissioning and Nuclear Waste Management at Ontario Power Generation (OPG). She oversaw the operation of OPG’s nuclear waste management facilities. Swami was responsible for strategic projects, such as OPG’s low- and intermediate-level waste deep geologic repository, Pickering Nuclear Generating Station’s Safe Storage project and Post Pickering End of Commercial Operations strategy. She began her career at OPG in 1986.

Portrait of John GormanJohn Gorman is the President and CEO of the Canadian Nuclear Association. Appointed in 2019, he oversees all the organization’s activities, including government affairs, research, communications and industry leadership.

Previously Gorman was the President and CEO of the Canadian Solar Industries Association, the national trade association for Canada’s solar energy industries. Before that, he was the Senior-Vice President of Empower Energies, an innovative, global integrator of energy systems.

Gorman serves as Canada’s Designate to the International Energy Agency and sits on the Executive Council of the Canadian Council on Renewable Energy. He has served as a director on the boards of numerous community and corporate organizations, including one of the nation’s largest electric utilities.

If you’re attending CNA2020, join them for lunch on Thursday, February 27 from 12:00 to 14:00.

To see the full conference schedule, visit https://cna.ca/cna2020/program/.



Don’t miss out as CNA2020 will host a live recording of The Herle Burly political podcast with Jenni Byrne and Scott Reid, hosted by David Herle. The Herle Burly is Canada’s must-listen-to political podcast for insiders, activists and voters who want a deep-dive into the big issues impacting our country. Join us for a commotion of insights, arguments, opinions and a loud laugh or two.

“I’m really looking forward to this. I get to talk politics with Scott and Jenni, and support the nuclear industry’s efforts to decarbonize our society and fight climate change,” Herle tweeted.

He is a Canadian political consultant and principal partner at leading polling and research firm, The Gandalf Group. Herle has been around Liberal politics since the early 1980s in Saskatchewan organizing ridings for provincial leader Ralph Goodale. Since then, he has worked on campaigns with Paul Martin, Kathleen Wynne and many others. For 10 years, he was a regular commentator on CBC’s The National. He is known for strategic thinking, blunt talk, lifelong passions and occasionally saying something he wished he could take back.

“An impossible and endless supply of political powered-opinions. We’re the podcast equivalent of cold fusion,” Reid tweeted. “We’re gonna split atoms, talk politics and have a lot of fun!”

Reid served in a series of senior roles in provincial and federal governments, most notably as Senior Advisor and Director of Communications to Prime Minister Paul Martin from 2003 to 2006. Reid is best known as a political commentator, having regularly contributed to the National Post, Toronto Star, The Globe and Mail and others. He is a past co-anchor of CTV’s National Affairs and was a featured columnist in the Ottawa Citizen from 2012 to 2017. Currently, he serves as an on-air political analyst for CTV News while writing for CBC.ca, iPolitics and Maclean’s.

“Looking forward to Thursday because Scott, David and I will be discussing so many hot takes on Canadian politics that they will power a nuclear reactor!” Byrne said.

Byrne was the Director of Issues Management for Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Deputy Chief of Staff. In 2011 and 2015, she was the Conservative Party National Campaign Manager. With that 2011 campaign, she became the first woman in Canadian history to manage a winning national, majority election campaign. Byrne was a key player on the Doug Ford 2018 campaign, and served as his Principal Secretary in the Premier’s Office and on the Ontario Energy Board. The private-sector consultant recently cofounded the J&M Leadership Network to help companies recruit qualified, talented women to serve on their boards.

NOTE: You must be registered for CNA2020 to attend this live recording. Registration is now closed as the conference is sold out.