Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Chalk River Nuclear ‘Dust Up’ Embroils Canada

Posted by K.E. White on January 17, 2008

Stephen Harper

An argument over shutting down an aging nuclear reactor has put the minority Conservative government of Stephen Harper in am embarrassing position. Canadian Prime Minister Harper now stands accused of bullying the bureaucratic entity that safeguardsLinda Keen Canada’s nuclear power infrastructure.

The fight pitted Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper against Linda Keen, President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The two disagreed over shutting down a nuclear reactor, a debate that carried global consequences—as The Star describes:

The Chalk River reactor, run by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., was shut down on Nov. 18 for routine maintenance, but an inspection by the regulatory staff found that mandatory safety upgrades – connecting vital cooling pumps to an emergency power supply that would work even if the area was hit with an earthquake – had not been done.

That put the reactor in violation of its operating licence (sic) and AECL opted to keep it shut.

The result was a worldwide shortage of radioisotopes used for medical diagnosis and treatment, prompting the government to pass legislation ordering the start-up of the reactor.

As would be expected, Keen was removed and now sits as only a CNSC board member. Michael Binder now serves as CNSC president.

The problem: Harper’s government cannot seem to offer up an objective deficiency in Keen’s performance, besides her contention that the Chalk River reactor did not meet Canadian safety standards.Chalk River Nuclear Facility

The Chalk River facility is a key component of Canada’s nuclear industry, and boasts its own Nobel Prize story:

Chalk River is the site where 1994 Nobel Prize winner, NRC’s Bertram Brockhouse, laid the foundation for the field of neutron scattering. It is also here that one of Canada‘s most productive science facilities is located – the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor.

Unlike most nuclear reactors which were dedicated to energy or military applications, the NRU was designed solely for research and development – which keeps the facility buzzing with activity year round. The neutrons supplied by the NRU reactor can accommodate users from a diverse range of scientific, academic and industrial sectors; making the facility a hotbed for cutting-edge research.

Owned and operated by NRC’s largest spin-off, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, the NRU is a nuclear facility that provides scientists with opportunities to conduct research using neutron beams. Beyond its historical contributions – establishing Canada‘s first operational nuclear facility (1945) and spinning out AECL (1952) – NRC still has a key presence in Chalk River, the NRC Canadian Neutron Beam Centre (NRC-CNBC).

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