Tag Archives: R&D

Nuclear R&D

Canada’s Innovation Puzzle: Is our National Conversation Missing a Piece?

John Stewart – CNA Director of Policy and Research

Canadians have been concerned for decades about their country’s level of research and development activity, which is presumably related to productivity and living standards. However, recent major national studies and policy efforts related to R&D have focused almost exclusively on business performance of R&D. As policy-makers in the US and other major innovator countries recognize, public institutions such as national laboratories are an integral part of national science and technology performance, as they concentrate many diverse researchers together, offer training opportunities for highly qualified personnel in many fields, and can supply R&D facilities and services that may not be offered by private institutions, regardless of incentives. Policy efforts must look at the full ecosystem of public, academic and private institutions to have a complete picture of national science and technology performance.

Access the entire article here (PDF)

This article is featured in the September issue of the Institute for Research on Public Policy (IRPP)’s Policy Options magazine.  This month’s focus is on innovation.

Policy Options > Innovation Issue – September 2011
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CNA Visits AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories PART TWO

In part one of the CNA‘s visit to Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL)’s Chalk River Laboratories (CRL), we learned about the Waste Analysis Facilities and the Waste Management Areas, a history of CRL, Surface Sciences, materials testing and examination in the shielded facilities (a.k.a. hot cells) and the NRU. Part 2, takes us through the afternoon of our visit.

First stop after lunch was ZED-2. ZED stands for Zero Energy Deuterium. The ZED-2 was initially built to test the fuel arrangement of Canada’s first nuclear power plant, the NPD (Nuclear Power Demonstration).  ZED-2 has supported development of the CANDU industry by testing a wide range of fuel bundle designs and fuel arrangements at low power (usually between 5 to 100 watts) under a variety of operating conditions and simulated accident scenarios. We stood on top of the ZED-2 and were able to look through small windows and see fuel rods suspended in the reactor’s aluminum tank (which is surrounded by a graphite reflector and concrete shielding). Very cool! Many fuel materials have been tested and scenarios simulated here which have contributed to our understanding and the safe operation of Canada’s reactors. As a zero energy or “critical facility” it provides a very sensitive, but very safe working environment for physics research. And, this August (22 – 26) and again this winter, the ZED-2 Summer School will hosts physics and engineering students from across the country, allowing them to work side by side with experienced staff inside the reactor.

Zed-2’s graphite reflector
In Zed-2’s operator room

From there we went on to learn more about the work CRL is doing with Oakville-based Tyne-Engineering on a project to further advance AECL’s tritium technology, specifically the Combined Electrolysis and Catalytic Exchange (CECE) process. Together AECL and Tyne are developing equipment which is capable of removing tritium from reactors more efficiently, cost-effectively and with smaller equipment than before. Using the CECE process, downgraded heavy water can be upgraded to reactor grade and tritium in heavy water can be removed to minimize any personnel exposure or environmental releases.  This has important safety applications for the nuclear power industry and beyond.

CNA’s Alex Wolf checking out the tritium technologies lab

At CRL’s Inspection, Monitoring and Dynamics Branch, scientists, engineers and technologists develop and design solutions, products and services for power plant inspection and to address vibration and wear issues. The branch focuses on R&D for nuclear platform, CANDU reactors, the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor, waste management facilities and other nuclear utility stakeholders. The branch’s five main areas of focus: steam generator (SG) inspection, fuel channel inspection, other non-standard non-destructive examination (NDE) technologies, vibration and tribology, and valve packing, lubrication and diagnostics. For example, we learned about the specially designed probes used to inspect steam generator tubing in different types of reactors. AECL has been a leader in developing – and patenting – new inspection technology that is being used around the world, in both nuclear and non-nuclear applications.

CRL’s Inspection, Monitoring and Dynamics

Last stop on our tour was the Biological Research Facility (BRF). The BRF is a unique facility in North America, and one of only a handful of similar labs anywhere in the world. The BRF does animal and cell-based research into the biological effects of radiation. It’s key in proving and improving the standards for radiation safety and worker protection across the nuclear industry. The BRF also does collaborative studies with Health Canada, Defence Research and Development Canada, and private-sector customers. The animals (rodents and fish) are very well taken care of at the BRF. In fact, trained and experienced animal healthcare technologists and a resident veterinarian all provide animal care and procedure support. The Animal Care Committee of Chalk River Laboratories includes a variety of stakeholders who audit the BRF every three years to ensure the facility meets the guidelines of the Canadian Council on Animal Care (CACC).   The important work done in this laboratory is helping answer some very fundamental questions on medical issues and diseases that affect the health of Canadians and others around the world.

CRL’s Biological Research Facility

It is impossible to summarize in two short blog posts everything that we saw and experienced in a day at AECL’s Chalk River Labs. We saw so much and yet it was only the tip of the iceberg. The groundbreaking work done by the several thousand talented and passionate employees – engineers, technicians, scientists, tradespeople, and countless others at CRL – has made, and continues to make, so many contributions to our quality of life in Canada, and around the world. From the development of CANDU technology, to the continued improvement of the safety and efficiency of nuclear technologies, to the NRU which produces the majority of the global supply of medical isotopes and Cobalt-60 – Chalk River Laboratories is 10,000 acres of national treasure. We should all be very proud.

For more information on Atomic Energy of Canada Limited and the Chalk River Laboratories, visit their website.

Thanks to everybody at AECL’s Chalk River Labs for having us!

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CNA Visits AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories

Last month, the CNA was invited to tour the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL)’s Chalk River Laboratories (CRL). If you thought Chalk River was all about the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor, you are mistaken. There is so much going on at Chalk River, it’s really quite incredible.

We began our tour by signing in with security at the CRL outer gate. “Safety first” in the nuclear industry extends to security, which at CRL is impressive to say the least. After checking in and receiving our visitor badges, we were off with our tour facilitators, Pat and Philip from AECL Site and Community Affairs.

First stop on the tour was the Waste Analysis Facility (WAF). Completed in 2008, the WAF is where waste that is believed to be clean (known as “Likely Clean”) is checked before being sent for recycling or disposal. It’s the final safety test before clean waste leaves the AECL site. If contamination is found (less than half of a percent of total material) the item is sent for decontamination or storage on-site. Materials verified as clean are taken off-site by trucks, which also pass through sensitive vehicle monitors to make sure no contamination leaves the site. EVER.  This is also a big advantage as it has allowed AECL to implement new programs to recycle more material, and, in many cases reduces the cost of storage. AECL does waste storage for materials generated on-site but it also serves to safely store and secure radioactive waste from hospital, schools and lab facilities from across the country.

Here we are in front of the Brockhouse Building at AECL’s Chalk River Labs

Next we arrived at the Brockhouse Building for a presentation by Bill Kupferschmidt, the Vice-President of Research and Development, at AECL’s Nuclear Labs. But first, a safety brief: alarms will sound if there is an emergency, you go to the predetermined meeting spot, and there is an easy number to call to report an emergency, any questions? No? Then we’ll begin.

The presentation took us through the history of CRL. It’s the birthplace of Canada’s nuclear technology and has a 60-year nuclear legacy. Today CRL is the “knowledge base” of the Canadian industry. It’s a major producer of medical isotopes and a leader in nuclear environmental stewardship. The nuclear labs are applying science and technology for the benefit of Canadians and the world by way of specialized expertise, facilities and the unique ability to work with radioactive materials. It is truly impressive stuff! The Chalk River Laboratories are home to many facilities that can be found nowhere else in Canada.  These facilities, along with the people that work within them, play a big role in the scientific and industrial communities in Canada.

Our next stop on the tour was the Surface Sciences Lab. This is where expertise in a variety of disciplines – metallurgy, chemistry, physics, microscopy – all comes into play to solve any number of industrial materials challenges, and help make the industry safer and more efficient

AECL’s key areas of expertise include: material identification, characterization and qualification; mechanical failure analysis; corrosion analysis; non-destructive testing and analysis; sample preparation for metallographic and surface analysis; metallographic examination; characterization of radioactive specimens; and process qualifications including decontamination and cleaning.

Surface Sciences Lab

Complementary to the surface analysis capabilities are the remote-handling facilities for examining and testing irradiated materials and equipment. The Shielded Facilities include a reactor bay for receiving and initial processing of materials, shielded flasks for transferring highly radioactive materials, and hot cells!

The hot cells contain state-of-the-art equipment used to conduct post-irradiation examination (PIE) experiments and testing of radioactive materials. Mechanical arms behind shielded walls and windows allow the work to be done safely. The hot cells were this blogger’s favourite part of the tour.

Shielded Facilities

But then, we hadn’t yet arrived at the NRU. National Research Universal (NRU); a landmark achievement in Canadian science and technology. Completed in 1957, the NRU provides a unique facility for scientists across Canada through the National Research Council (NRC) and many others. Professor Bertram Brockhouse won a Nobel Prize in physics for his work at NRX (National Research Experimental, NRU’s predecessor) and NRU on neutron scattering. The technique he pioneered enables scientists today at the NRC Canadian Neutron Beam Centre at NRU to investigate materials with neutrons. In fact, each year over 200 professors, students and industrial researchers use this unique and powerful national resource. We are just “beaming” with pride!

NRU is also where the fundamental knowledge required to produce and evolve Canada’s CANDU fleet emerged AND where much of the world’s life-saving medical isotopes are produced.

Waste analysis, a history of CRL, surface sciences, hot cells, NRU — and all before lunch! In the second half of the tour we visit Zed-2, tritium and hydrogen research technologies, inspection technologies, and end with the Biological Research Facility. Read part two of CNA Visits AECL 2011 tomorrow on the TalkNuclear blog.

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Canadian Nuclear Attitude Survey

One month after the earthquake and tsunami struck northeastern Japan, the Canadian Nuclear Association commissioned a professional, Canada-wide opinion poll to gain insight into what Canadians are thinking about nuclear.

The results are mixed – as was expected after a large event like the Fukushima accident in March 2011. But we did hear about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for our industry. For example, we learned that while Canadians were paying close attention to Fukushima and were concerned about its Canadian implications, Canadian operators and regulators were seen to be taking the issue seriously.

Since the tragedy, the nuclear industry – at home and around the world – has been working to share valuable lessons learned from the tragedy to ensure safety standards and policies reflect current findings. To date we have:

  • Participated  as a nuclear community to review and respond to the situation in Japan. Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) CEO – Tom Mitchell – was appointed by The World Association of Nuclear Operators (WANO) to chair a special 14-member, “Post-Fukushima” commission to review the lessons of this event and develop recommendations on an appropriate industry response;
  • Outlined to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) a series of actions to verify the safety of our nuclear generating stations; and
  • Been in regular communication with nuclear organizations around the world and has launched extensive fact-based communication initiatives to keep Canadians informed and assured about the safety our own nuclear facilities.

In addition, OPG released a preliminary report to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) on lessons learned to date from the Fukushima event. Their overall conclusion is that OPG’s nuclear plant systems are robust enough to withstand significant emergencies. They looked carefully at Japan and identified opportunities where our industry can further improve. For example, they saw that irradiated fuel bays were an issue in Japan. They caught fire. OPG confirmed that its fuel bays would not experience such a failure.

Nevertheless, our industry is  looking at ways to address even the most improbable events – like major flooding and major earthquakes and ensuing emergencies in their aftermath. We will continue to be open and transparent about our safety measures.  We are also broadening the sharing of information and expertise with the rest of the industry worldwide – and continuing to support organizations like WANO, which are also dedicated to this goal. The nuclear energy industry is an international community with a shared body of professional expertise and operating experience. The more members share and communicate, the safer and more efficient our operations become.

Immediately following events in Japan, the Governments of Ontario and Saskatchewan both reiterated their commitments to nuclear energy and research. In fact, the Joint Review Panel for the Darlington New Nuclear Project took place in March and April 2011. The CNA was proud to be a positive intervener at the hearings to remind the Panel about our industry’s strong record of safety, and the many social and economic benefits the project will bring to both Ontario and Canada. During the hearings, more than 120 oral and written submissions were made in support of the project. Most of these came from the local community.

Here are additional highlights from the polling:

Support for nuclear declined post-Fukushima. National support for nuclear energy in general fell from 48% in January 2009, to 43% in August 2009 and March 2010, to 38% in April 2011.

There is strong support for nuclear research and development in all regions (even in Quebec – 55%) and at all income levels.

Opinion continues to be regionally polarized:  support for nuclear energy is 53% in Ontario versus 17% in Quebec.  Ontario support has held up fairly well post-Fukushima. After Ontario, the region most supportive of nuclear energy is Alberta (46% favourable).

  • 63% think Canadian nuclear is “among safest in the world”
  • 60% think it is “available and reliable”
  • 55% think nuclear is “clean” and “brings benefits to all Canadians”
Q: Now I am going to read some statements about nuclear energy. Please tell me if you strongly agree, somewhat agree, somewhat disagree or strongly disagree with the following statements:

Over two-thirds think nuclear plant companies are taking the events in Fukushima seriously

Q: From what you have read, seen or heard, how seriously do you think the companies that operate Canadian nuclear power plants are taking the issue of the safety of nuclear power generation in Canada?

Almost three-quarters agree regulatory agencies take nuclear safety seriously

Q: And from what you have read, seen or heard, how seriously do you think the government agencies that regulate Canadian nuclear power plants are taking the issue of the safety of nuclear power generation in Canada?

Just over half support upgrading and refurbishing existing nuclear plants

Q: Many large power-generating plants in Canada with various fuel sources will have to be replaced over the next 10 to 15 years because they are aging. In Ontario 80% of the plants will have to be replaced. In order to help meet Canada’s future electricity demand, would you strongly support, somewhat support, somewhat oppose or strongly oppose.

Polling was conducted by Innovative Research Group, Inc.

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Happy Canada Day from the Proudly Canadian Nuclear Association!

Image Credit: Nuclear FAQ by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock

On a day of national pride, we here at TalkNuclear are blowing the horn for nuclear!

Take a look at the timeline below for a glimpse into Canada’s history with nuclear technology. It’s an impressive history of innovations that have led to:

  • safe, reliable energy production (15% of Canada’s electricity is nuclear generated,55% in Ontario);
  • a clean-burning power source that emits virtually no greenhouse gasses that cause smog or contribute to global warming;
  • life-saving contributions in health care such as medical isotopes for sterilization and disease diagnosis and treatment;
  • improved food safety thanks to food irradiation which helps prolong the shelf life of food by killing bacteria such as E-Coli;
  • general safety improvements in other industries such as the automobile, aircraft, mining, aluminum and construction which rely on radioactive materials in their daily operations.

A trip down memory lane. Check out this 1953 vintage CBC video looking inside the “colbalt bomb,” which is a nickname for the  cobalt beam therapy unit designed at AECL. It was called “one of the best ways that physicians and scientists have yet found to combat cancer.”

Shout-out to CANDU technology

Click the image for details.

Did you know the global fleet of CANDU and CANDU-derived reactors currently includes 50 reactors. CANDU stands for “CANada Deuterium Uranium.” It’s a Canadian-designed power reactor of PHWR type (Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor) that uses heavy water (deuterium oxide) for moderator and coolant, and natural uranium for fuel.

On behalf of Canada’s nuclear community, Happy Canada Day!

Nuclear News

The Future of AECL – Pending an Official Announcement

The federal government announced its plan to restructure AECL back in 2007. It must be close to fruition since this week the news of the impending sale of AECL’s CANDU division has all but taken over the headlines.

We at the CNA have consistently stated our support for a structure that will advance the nuclear energy industry in Canada and make it more competitive. We’re waiting with baited breath for the details and will update you when they’re revealed.

Here is a snapshot of the headlines. Keep in mind that nothing official has been announced so everything is speculation.

Privatization of AECL will mean higher costs for ratepayers: critics
iPolitics.ca June 28, 2011 (carried in the Toronto Star and elsewhere)

TORONTO – The proposed sale of Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada to a Montreal-based engineering firm will lead to higher costs for ratepayers in Ontario, critics warned Tuesday…

Impending AECL sale puts Ontario, Ottawa on collision course
Globe and Mail, June 28, 2011

Ontario is on a collision course with Ottawa over the Harper government’s impending deal to sell off Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., and get out of the business of subsidizing nuclear reactor sales…

Dwight Duncan on Ottawa’s AECL deal: ‘What are they going to do for Ontario?’
Globe and Mail, June 28, 2011

Ontario Finance Minister Dwight Duncan signalled Tuesday that the province is heading for a showdown with Ottawa over the fate of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd…

AECL sale shouldn’t affect Lepreau: Leonard
CBC, June 29, 2011

The sale of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to SNC-Lavalin should not affect the troubled refurbishment project at the Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station, Energy Minister Craig Leonard said Tuesday…

New Democrats call for audit of AECL selloff
Northumberland View, June 28, 2011

OTTAWA – New Democrats have taken their concerns about the sell-off of Canada’s nuclear crown corporation to a higher power—asking the Auditor General to perform a value-for-money audit before any deal is completed…

Opposition wary of AECL sale
Leader-Post, June 29, 2011

Opposition politicians demanded the government negotiate a fair price for Atomic Energy of Canada Limited Tuesday, as rumours swirled that the Crown corporation soon will be sold to Montreal-based engineering giant SNC-Lavalin…

Feds on verge of selling AECL: Reports
Sudbury Star, June 29, 2011

OTTAWA — The federal government is on the verge of selling Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to Montreal-based SNC-Lavalin, according to media reports…

Lavalin nears deal for CANDU maker
Montreal Gazette, June 29, 2011

Opposition politicians demanded the government negotiate a fair price for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Tuesday, as rumours swirled that the crown corporation soon will be sold to engineering giant SNC-Lavalin…