Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

September 2020 Public Meeting

On September 30th, AECL held virtual public meeting to discuss recent accomplishments, discuss AECL’s activities in nuclear science and technology, as well as environmental stewardship, and present plans for the future 

An opening prayer was provided by Connie Mielke, Algonquin Nation Representative for the Algonquins of Greater Golden Lake 

The Chair of AECL’s Board of Directors, Jim Burpee and AECL’s President and CEO, Richard Sexton, discussed how AECL and CNL have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemicand the contributions made to respond to the national response. They discussed AECL’s governance model and role under the Government-owned, Contractor-operated model.  

They presented an update on nuclear science and technology activities, including work on small modular reactors and on targeted alpha therapies, a promising new area of cancer research. They discussed the revitalization of the Chalk River site and highlighted the progress that has been made on the construction of new facilities at the site.   

They also discussed progress made in the area of environmental remediation, including building decommissioning at Chalk River, plans for a highly-engineered near surface disposal facility for the Chalk River siteprogress at the Port Hope Area Initiative and at the Whiteshell site. The Port Granby Project, part of the Port Hope Area Initiative, was highlighted as an example of great progress in environmental remediation, as the project is now nearing completion.  

The full presentation delivered by Mr. Burpee and Mr. Sexton is available here.  

Following the presentation, videos were presented showcasing SuD’Eon, Mayor of Deep River, ON, Blair Skinner, Mayor of Pinawa, MB, and Bob Sanderson, Mayor of the Municipality of Port Hope, ON.  

Presenters then participated in a session of questions and answers. Topics covered included:  

  • Whiteshell site decommissioning  
  • Small Modular Reactors 
  • CANDU reactors 
  • Decommissioning  
  • Research reactor 
  • Human resources management at CNL 
  • Nuclear science and technology 
  • Long-term waste management and disposal 

Whiteshell decommissioning: How do you reconcile the fact that AECL is decommissioning the site with the discussion around building an SMR demonstration there?  

It was explained that there are two aspects of activities noted here, and that the organization does not see them as mutually exclusive. On one end, both AECL and CNL are committed to finalizing the decommissioning and remediation of the Whiteshell site as per plans. The objective is to reduce environmental risks. On the other hand, AECL and CNL are also thinking about the future of the site and are mindful of the economic impact that the ramping down of activities can and will have on the local communities.  

It was noted that the local community around the Whiteshell site is very interested in attracting industry – nuclear or otherwise – to take advantage of the highly-skilled workforce that is there as they transition to the site being decommissioned. AECL is open to proposals at the Whiteshell site that may support this.  

Small Modular Reactors: Has AECL considered expanding its mandate to allow it to partner with other investors or private sector partners to accelerate the selection and development of SMR technologies, particularly with hydrogen production? 

On the topic of Small Modular Reactors (SMRs)AECL and CNL’s approach is based on building partnerships with a variety of organizations that are interested in SMRs and hydrogen production. 

AECL sees tremendous opportunity for CNL and the private industry to partner and work together. Such partnerships is being worked on with Global First Power, which is proposing to build a demonstration SMR at the Chalk River site. In addition, AECL and CNL have been contemplating a Clean Energy Research Park which would provide an opportunity for CNL to make available some of its innovative clean energy technologies, in tandem with SMRs. In this way, AECL and CNL could facilitate the coming together of multiple private-sector entities to demonstrate how the different technologies can work together.  

On the topic of hydrogen, it was noted that CNL is working to scale up its proprietary hydrogen production process for the transportation sector. There are also many others pursuing the future of the hydrogen economy, particularly in the academia and in other government sectors 

CANDU reactors: Has AECL abandoned CANDU reactors or is there still a possibility that some new CANDUs will be built in Canada? 

On the topic of CANDU reactors, it was noted that there is still an interest in the CANDU technology. While AECL is not responsible for building CANDUs, there is a lot of work going on at the Chalk River Laboratories that supports the ongoing operations of CANDU reactors, notably through science and technology activities.  

Decommissioning: Why pursue the in situ decommissioning of the WR-1 and NPD reactors, when a more suitable solution for Canada’s nuclear decommissioning waste is to consolidate it all at a single location? 

On the topic of decommissioning of the WR-1 and NPD reactorsit was explained that CNL is proposing to decommission the reactors in situ because it is a safe way to tackle complex legacy liabilities in a manner that is protective of workers, the public and the environment in the long term. It was noted that it is AECL’s responsibility is to look after the interests of Canada and Canadians, and as such, it believes that in situ decommissioning for those projects (WR-1 and NPD) is appropriate.

In that vein, AECL engaged an independent international team to review CNL’s proposal to ensure that the safety case was sound. The review recognized that the proposed approach and safety case was sound. It was noted however that decisions on the projects would be made by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Canada’s independent nuclear regulator. 

Decommissioning: The decommissioning of Douglas Point is planned to be carried out very soon, with the result of intermediate-level waste being sent to Chalk River. Are sufficient, suitable, waste storage facility available at Chalk River to receive the waste? 

On the topic of Douglas Point, it was noted that CNL submitted a proposal to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to start the removal of non-nuclear portion of the site. The decommissioning of the reactor itself is not planned for many years into the future, and will involve stakeholder and Indigenous engagement, as well as further approvals by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.  

While there are no plans for intermediate-level waste from Douglas Point to be transported to the Chalk River site in near term, it was confirmed that there are capabilities and space at the site for the material to be stored safely and in a manner that is protective of the environment.  

Research reactor: Does AECL have a plan for building a new research reactor (custom made or accelerator based)? 

On the topic of new research reactor, it was noted that this is not something that is currently being planned.  

That said, this does not mean that there is no future for nuclear science and technology at Chalk River. In fact, $1.2 billion is being invested for the revitalization of the Chalk River campus to transform it into a modern, world-class and state-of-the-art nuclear science facility . 

It was acknowledged that the shutdown of the NRU reactor led to the loss of high-flux irradiation capacity in Canada. On a near-term basis, CNL is actively putting in place mitigation measures to be able to access that capability elsewhere in the world so that work that is ongoing in Canada can continue uncompromised. It was noted that AECL, CNL, the academic community and others in the industry are looking at the role a new research reactor could play in the future.  

Research reactor: Does the production of Actinium-225 require the use of a reactor? 

It was noted that there is no need for a reactor to produce Actinium-225. 

Depending on the need, production of Actinium-225 could be done using an accelerator, for example.  

Human resources management at CNL: What is AECL doing about bringing back employees who were laid off by CNL in 2019? 

On the topic of human resources management at CNLit was specified that AECL is not the employer of CNL staff. Questions of this nature would be best directed to CNL directly. 

That said, it was noted that certain adjustments in workforce levels and composition are to be expected for an organization such as CNL.   

Nuclear Science and Technology: Is Chalk River doing work to support CANDU reactors? 

It was noted that yesCNL is doing work to support the ongoing operations of CANDU reactors.  

For example, support for CANDU reactors was one of the activities that was maintained at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic when activities at the Chalk River site were ramped down, given the critical nature of Canada’s nuclear fleet and their ability to keep the lights on in Canada.  

It was noted that the facilities, assets and expertise at Chalk River and within CNL are critical not only for the Government of Canada, but also for the broader nuclear sector, particularly the utilities. 

Long-term waste management and disposal: How does AECL determine how much cash to invest in the Long-term Disposal of Waste Fund? Does the fund include fees charged when commercial waste is accepted for long-term management and if so, how are fees determined? 

It was noted that the cost is determined by a complex set of analyses that consider the type of material and the type of processing it requires. Further analysis is conducted to determine the cost of processing, storage and disposal of the waste. 

Long-term waste management and disposal: Has AECL investigated technical options for disposing of its intermediate level waste and if so, when and were and what type of facility is being considered? 

It was explained that intermediate-level radioactive waste continues to be safely stored and closely monitored at AECL’s sites, as are other types of radioactive waste. In terms of concrete short-term actions, AECL has prioritized activities that will achieve the greatest amount of environmental remediation in the near term and will reduce more immediate risks. This means that short term activities have been focused on low-level radioactive waste and the proposed near surface disposal facility which would enable large-scale remediation of contaminated areas at the Chalk River site. 

In addition, it was noted that activities are underway to identify options for the disposal of intermediate-level radioactive waste, including characterization work that has already led to a better understanding of the exact volumes. AECL also asked CNL to evaluate the various options based on an analysis not only of the technical possibilities, but also of their costs to lead to a decision that is in the best interest of Canada.