The Canadian government has awarded Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) a CAD 8.5 million (USD 6.5 million) contract to refuel the Royal Military College of Canada’s (RMC) Slowpoke-2 research reactor. The three-year project will enable the reactor to operate for another 30 years.
The RMC facility is a low-power self-regulating reactor that produces neutrons for scientific research and is used for the education of undergraduate and postgraduate students, for research and analytical applications, and for training and support of Canadian Armed Forces personnel. It has been in operation since 1985. The reactor is still using its original fuel load.
The contract will see CNL remove the old reactor core, and commission the reactor with a new core that is being fabricated at CNL’s Chalk River Laboratories campus. The used core will be transferred to a licensed nuclear waste management facility.
CNL President and CEO Mark Lesinski said CNL is the only organisation licensed to maintain the facility in Canada, as well as being the original inventor of the Slowpoke reactor design. “In recent years, CNL has successfully delivered projects to conduct both a Slowpoke core conversion, as well as reactor decommissioning and removal,” he said. “We have a skilled team in reactor physics and fuels to support the refuelling and commissioning phases, and all the necessary environmental remediation and radiation protection expertise to ensure the project is conducted safely.”
The reactor core occupies a cylindrical volume about 22 cm in diameter and 22 cm high, housed about 5 m below ground level in the reactor pool. The pool and the reactor are housed in an ordinary classroom-size room with a taller than usual ceiling, according to RMC. It could generate up to 20 kW of power, but is used solely to produce neutrons.
Slowpoke – Safe Low-Power Kritical Experiment – reactor technology was developed by CNL in the late 1960s as a low-power, compact core reactor technology for neutron activation analysis, trace radioisotope production and as a tool for teaching nuclear science and engineering. It is the only reactor in the world considered safe enough to be licensed for unattended operation, CNL said. Eight Slowpoke reactors have been supplied by CNL to universities and research centres across Canada and in Jamaica, three of which are still in operation today.