Canada has a number of research reactors across the country. These reactors, much smaller than the ones used in nuclear power plants, are used to various ends, including scientific research, non-destructive testing and the production of radioactive substances for medical, industrial and scientific uses.
Nuclear research reactors are classified as Class I Nuclear Facilities. The licensees operating these facilities include universities, private corporations, and government agencies. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) regulates all stages of the life of each research reactors in Canada, from the environmental assessment required before construction, to the decommissioning of the facility once operations are ended.
- Chalk River Laboratories
- McMaster Nuclear Reactor
- Operating SLOWPOKES Reactors
- Reactor Core Conversion
- Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Repatriation
- Decommissioned Research Reactors
Chalk River Laboratories
The Chalk River Laboratories (CRL), owned and operated by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) is one of the more complex nuclear sites in the country. It opened its doors in the 1940s. CRL has several nuclear facilities on its site including two operating research reactors, fuel fabrication facilities, hot cells, isotope production, Class II facilities and waste management facilities.
Chalk River Laboratories,
Chalk River, Ontario
The National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at CRL has been a major part of Canadian nuclear research. The NRU produces a large proportion of the world's medical isotopes, which are used for diagnostic purposes. It is also Canada's only major materials and fuel testing reactor used to support and advance the CANDU reactor design. The NRU produces neutrons used by the National Research Council's Neutron Beam Centre to investigate and study a broad variety of industrial and biological materials. The core of the reactor, originally designed to use natural uranium, was converted to use Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) in 1964 and then converted to Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) in 1991.
Also located at CRL, is the ZED-2 research reactor. Marking its 50th anniversary in 2010, the ZED-2 is a very low-power reactor (200 Watts) and has provided AECL with the capability to develop and test fuel bundle designs and fuel arrangements, and to stimulate various incident scenarios. Today, the reactor is still used for detector calibration and experiments in support of CANDU reactors and for the development of next-generation reactor concepts.
McMaster Nuclear Reactor
MNR, Hamilton, Ontario
The McMaster Nuclear Reactor (MNR) is a pool-type reactor, with a core of enriched uranium fuel moderated and cooled by light water. The reactor can operate at powers up to 5 MW. The MNR was converted from highly enriched uranium (HEU) fuel to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel during 2006–2007.
The MNR is the only Canadian medium-flux reactor in a university environment. It supports McMaster University's nuclear engineering program as well as other research programs. MNR's neutrons are used in nuclear physics, biology, chemistry, earth sciences, medicine, neutron radiography and nuclear medicine. Typical applications of neutron radiography at MNR include the testing of turbine blades for aircraft engines and corrosion of aircraft components.
Operating SLOWPOKES Reactors
SLOWPOKE (Safe Low-Power Critical (K) Experiment) reactors are low-energy, pool type nuclear research reactors designed by AECL in the late 1960s. The design was intended to provide a source of neutron for research and teaching institutions. The reactor is installed below ground, in a concrete pool filled with water, at atmospheric pressure. The core of a SLOWPOKE reactor sits in a pool of light-water, which provides cooling and shielding. The reactor core is located at the bottom of a sealed aluminum container vessel, approximately 60 cm in diameter.
Research reactors operating at powers less than 100 kW are generally considered very low risk facilities. A SLOWPOKE reactor operates at 20 KW. After an extended period of operation at full power, a SLOWPOKE reactor dissipates a decay heat of less than 1200 W one second after shutdown. This is comparable to that of a hand held hair dryer.
The design is inherently safe and poses very low risk. SLOWPOKEs have been in operation for over thirty years and have demonstrated throughout these years a record of safe operation.
|École Polytechnique (SLOWPOKE-2)||Montréal, QC|
|Saskatchewan Research Council (SLOWPOKE-2)||Saskatoon, SK|
|University of Alberta (SLOWPOKE-2)||Edmonton, AB|
|Royal Military College of Canada (SLOWPOKE-2)||Kingston, ON|
CNSC Inspector visiting the
Saskatchewan Research Council,
Reactor Core Conversion
Around the world, research reactors have typically used Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) for the fuel cores. Within the last decade some of them have been converted to low-enriched uranium (LEU) fuel, including MNR, NRU and some SLOWPOKES. This conversion to an LEU operation is in line with the United States Department of Energy's Reduced Enrichment for Research Test Reactors Program, aiming to convert all HEU research reactors to LEU fuel in an effort to limit any risk of nuclear proliferation. HEU fuel is still marginally used in some Canadian research reactors mostly for the production of medical isotopes, which is scheduled to cease in 2016.
Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) Repatriation
In April 2010, Canadian Prime Minister Harper and U.S. President Obama committed to returning spent HEU fuel to the United States as part of a broad international effort to consolidate HEU inventories in fewer locations around the world. The commitment promotes non-proliferation by removing existing weapons-grade material from Canada and eliminates a nuclear liability for future generations of Canadians. Once the material is returned to the U.S., it will be downgraded and used in American nuclear power plants to produce energy.
Highly Enriched Uranium (HEU) is produced in the United States and transported to Canada for use in the production of medical isotopes at Atomic Energy of Canada Limited's (AECL) Chalk River Laboratories (CRL). As a result of this agreement, regular shipments of used HEU fuel elements are currently being transported safely back to the United States.
Following the 2010 agreement, Prime Minister Harper committed, in March 2012, to repatriate additional Canadian HEU inventories, including target residue material from medical isotope production in liquid form. AECL is currently assessing options to fulfill Canada's commitment and return these inventories to the United States. Shipments would follow the same stringent transportation and security requirements as the transport of HEU fuel elements.
Decommissioned Research ReactorsCanada has several research reactors that have undergone decommissioning over the years: the NRX, ZEEP, PTR reactors at CRL (Chalk, River, Ontario), SLOWPOKE reactors at Dalhousie University (Halifax, Nova Scotia), University of Toronto, Tunney's Pasture and MDS Nordion in Kanata, and the WR-1 Organic Cooled Reactor (Pinawa, Manitoba). There are also three research reactors that have been partially commissioned: MAPLE-1 and MAPLE-2 at CRL and a SLOWPOKE at Whiteshell.
The NRX reactor at CRL, Canada's first large-scale research reactor, commenced operation in 1947 and played a major role in developing the CANDU reactor. The reactor was used extensively for the testing of fuels and materials, and for nuclear physics research in support of the Canadian nuclear power program. After approximately 250,000 hours of operating time, the NRX reactor was shut down on January 29, 1992. The reactor is currently in safe storage, waiting final decommissioning. Also at CRL, two MAPLE reactors (Multipurpose Applied Physics Lattice Experiment) were partially commissioned. Major problems led AECL to terminate the project in 2008. Both reactors are in safe storage, waiting final decommissioning.
The WR-1 Organic Cooled Reactor located at AECL's Whiteshell facility near Pinawa, Manitoba, began operation in 1965 and operated until 1985. The reactor is currently is safe storage, waiting final decommissioning. Also at Whiteshell, AECL built and partly commissioned a SLOWPOKE reactor, to demonstrate how the technology could be used for district heating.
Dalhousie University's SLOWPOKE-2 Reactor (DUSR) facility, part of Dalhousie's Trace Analysis Research Centre, was decommissioned in March 2011. The reactor is currently is safe storage, waiting final decommissioning.
In addition to these research reactors, Canada has three partially decommissioned prototype power reactors: Gentilly-1, Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) and Douglas Point.