CNA Visits AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories PART TWO

August 10, 2011

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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