Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

May 2018 Public Meeting

On May 10, 2018, AECL held a public meeting in Pinawa, Manitoba, to discuss the corporation’s governance model – the Government-owned, Contractor-operated model – as well as its plans for the future.

The Chair of AECL’s Board of Directors, Dr. Claude Lajeunesse, and AECL’s President and CEO, Mr. Richard Sexton, discussed AECL’s achievements in nuclear science and technology, including the development of the CANDU reactor technology and its contribution low-carbon energy production in Canada, and the production of medical isotopes benefiting billions of people worldwide. AECL’s plans for the future in pursuing nuclear science and innovation were presented, as well as plans to tackle important environmental priorities by cleaning up contaminated sites, buildings and lands.

The full presentation is available here.

Following the presentation was a question and answer period. Topics covered included:

  • Small modular reactors;
  • Radioactive waste management;
  • The proposal for in situ decommissioning (by immobilizing it in place) of the WR-1 reactor at the Whiteshell site;
  • The proposal to build a near surface disposal facility to allow for low-level radioactive waste to be contained and further protect the environment;
  • Isotope production; and,
  • The growth and revitalization of the Chalk River Laboratories.


Small Modular Reactors: Is AECL committed to bringing the technology to Canada?

On the topic of small modular reactors, AECL representatives discussed the fact that this type of technology is well placed to help the world address challenges related to climate change and clean energy production. For Canada in particular, this could bring benefits to resource extraction industries and remote communities.

AECL is currently working in a collaborative approach whereby government, industry, technology developers, national laboratories, operators and host communities are looking at what it would mean to bring small modular reactors to Canada. AECL specified that Canadian Nuclear Laboratories has launched a process to invite applications that would enable it to engage with technology vendors and help answer outstanding questions. AECL’s role is to ensure value for money for Canada.

The mayor of the Local Government District of Pinawa, Blair Skinner, was in attendance and spoke of the local community’s efforts to attract small modular reactors vendors to their area.


Radioactive waste management: What is AECL doing about intermediate-level waste?

On the topic of radioactive waste management, AECL specified that its current focus is to implement solutions for its low-level radioactive waste given that it represents the highest volume of radioactive waste that it owns and given the need to protect the environment by remediating areas and buildings which have been contaminated with low-level radioactive waste. AECL acknowledged that it would need to find a solution for its intermediate-level waste, and that it would turn its attention to this issue once key waste management projects were underway. It was also specified that AECL’s used fuel (a type of high level waste) would be disposed of in the facility that is being explored by the Nuclear Waste Management Organization.


The WR-1 reactor: Is the decommissioning approach being proposed by CNL safe?

On the topic of CNL’s proposal to decommission the WR-1 reactor in situ (by immobilizing it in place), AECL representatives noted that the proposal is meant to contain contaminants and further protect workers, the public and the environment. It was noted that this method has been used before in the United States and that facilities which have been decommissioned in situ have been performing as planned, meaning that the surrounding environment has not been affected.


The Near Surface Disposal Facility: Will the environment be protected?

On the topic of the proposed near surface disposal facility at the Chalk River Laboratories, AECL representatives reiterated their support for the facility, noting that it would further protect the environment by isolating and containing low-level radioactive waste material which is currently found in contaminated soil and old, outdated buildings. They stated that CNL’s proposed plan is consistent with the standards of the International Atomic Energy Agency, that the technology has been in practice for decades at other nuclear sites around the world, and that this facility is designed to contain the contaminants and withstand both normal and extreme events. It was also noted that the facility will be continuously monitored. That said, AECL noted that only the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission has the authority to grant operating licenses for nuclear activities in Canada and the CNSC would determine whether the proposed facility is safe.


Medical Isotopes: What about Canada’s important isotope mission? Is it over?

On the topic of medical isotope production, it was noted that AECL’s role in the commercial production of radioactive isotopes ended with the permanent shutdown of the NRU reactor in March 2018. That said, supply of medical isotopes globally is sufficient to meet global demand and there has been no impact on Canadian patients.  AECL representatives noted that AECL and CNL in particular have a role to play in the medical application of isotopes going forward, particularly for the treatment of cancer. AECL supports CNL as they collaboratively pioneer new alpha therapies, a type of radiochemical therapy that would target radiation at just the cancer cell, unlike existing treatments that often involve radiation of all cells in the vicinity of a tumor, healthy and cancerous.


Chalk River Revitalization: What exactly are the plans?

Finally, on the topic of the revitalization of the Chalk River Laboratories, AECL representatives reiterated their excitement about the large infrastructure investment being made available by the Government of Canada – $1.2 billion over ten years, which started in 2016. They indicated that the future of the Chalk River Laboratories was bright and that projects were already underway to further leverage the expertise, capabilities and experience of the scientific and technical staff at the Laboratories to advance the Government of Canada’s priorities in the areas of health, energy, safety, security and the environment.