Darlington Nuclear marks 30 years since first fuel loaded into Unit 2 - Association nucléaire canadienne

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Darlington Nuclear marks 30 years since first fuel loaded into Unit 2

June 18, 2019

On June 18, 1989, the first fuel bundle was loaded into Darlington Nuclear Generating Station’s Unit 2 reactor.

Now, 30 years later, Unit 2 is poised for its next new fuel load as part of its mid-life refurbishment.

Jennifer Noronha, Grant Wetherill and Ken Wilkins with co-workers at the site of the first fuel load, 30 years ago, at Darlington Nuclear Generating Station.

Jennifer Noronha, Grant Wetherill and Ken Wilkins with co-workers at the site of the first fuel load, 30 years ago, at Darlington Nuclear Generating Station.

Darlington Director of Operations and Maintenance, Zar Khansaheb, was there when fuel was loaded for the first time. Newly graduated as an electrical engineer from the University of Waterloo, Khansaheb had just begun his career at what was then Ontario Hydro. Fuel load was just beginning and the Junior Engineer in Training had an opportunity to participate, verifying and signing off on fuel bundle serial numbers, for a few shifts.

“The experience, coming out of university and standing in front of a brand new nuclear reactor, was simply awesome,” Khansaheb recalls. “It gave me respect for the size of the components and the massive amount of energy they would work together to produce.”

Like Khansaheb, Grant Wetherill was new to the nuclear industry when he took part in fuel load. Now a nuclear operator at Darlington, he was part of the first wave of operators-in-training at the new nuclear station. He had studied marine engineering at Georgian College and worked briefly on ships before launching his nuclear career.

“I was so impressed,” he says of his experience working on the inspection bridge. “It was such a contrast to being on a ship – everything was brand new and sparkling clean.”

Ken Wilkins also participated in fuel load in 1989. Now back from retirement and working in Training, Wilkins was an operator-in-training 30 years ago who was put on shift to assist with the work series. He would go on to assist in loading fuel on each of Darlington’s other three reactors as they approached commissioning as well.

“Loading fuel into a nuclear reactor is not something everyone gets a chance to do,” he says. “It was a real experience.”

It was an exciting time, says Jennifer Noronha, who was a commissioning engineer at Darlington working directly on fuel load.

“Thirty years ago, as a young engineer, it was an outstanding experience to be part of the energy and excitement of Darlington commissioning,” says Noronha, who now works at the Nuclear Waste Management Organization. “Congratulations to the whole team working now to extend its life.”

Unit 2 reliably produced power until October 2016, when it was shut down and disconnected from the grid for its planned mid-life overhaul. The work to replace major components, necessary to allow the unit to produce safe, economical power for the next 30 years, approaches completion. Once whole, the reactor will be loaded with new fuel, one of the final steps before it restarts and reconnects to the grid in 2020.