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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


Published in the October 2012 issue of the Canadian Nuclear Society Bulletin, Vol.33, No.3.

Arctic Aspirations

by Jeremy Whitlock

Ah, for just one time I would take the Northwest Passage
To find the hand of Franklin reaching for the Beaufort Sea
Tracing one warm line through a land so wide and savage
And make a northwest passage to the sea.

- Stan Rogers, "Northwest Passage"

GREENHITHE, ENGLAND, May 1845: Sir John Franklin's expedition to chart the Northwest Passage around North America sets sail with a crew of 24 officers and 110 men, aboard two ships: the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror. Each craft represents the latest in polar maritime technology: equipped with steam engines, they can make 4 knots (over 7 km/h) under their own power, and a combined steam-heating and distillation system keeps the crew comfortable. In addition, they are shored up with beams and iron plating, and each has a mechanism for withdrawing the iron rudder and screws into the ship for protection.

IQALUIT, NUNAVUT, May 2045: Preparations for the 2046 Winter Olympic Games are well underway in this bustling arctic metropolis. Established as a U.S. air base over a century earlier, Iqaluit later became a main link in the Distant Early Warning (DEW) radar network, and since 1999 has served as the capital of Nunavut. Although limited in growth for decades by energy infrastructure dependent upon seasonal supplies from the south, Iqaluit blossomed in the 2020s with the introduction of nuclear reactors for both heat and electricity supply, capable of running 20 years without refuelling. With a population that just topped 200,000, Iqaluit is now a vast manufacturing and trading centre, exploiting its location as the gateway to the Northwest Passage. It is also a centre for research and innovation, including one of Canada's largest nuclear engineering programs at Nunavut Arctic University (formerly Arctic College), and a vast industrial park dubbed "Nukavut" that designs and manufactures the Small Modular Reactors that have opened up the North to development in the 21st century.

DISKO BAY, GREENLAND, July 1845: The HMS Erebus and HMS Terror take on final provisions, kick out five troublemakers (reducing the total complement to 129), and prepare to sail across Baffin Bay and enter the Northwest Passage. Final letters are written home. It's been 353 years since Europeans first started seeking the Western route to the Orient, and Franklin's expedition is about to begin the process of charting the last few hundred kilometres.

CAMBRIDGE BAY, NUNAVUT, June 2035: On the tenth anniversary of the start-up of its nuclear power station, this northern metropolis on Victoria Island is both a leading cruise-ship destination and a hub of the northern mining industry. The natural beauty and resources of the Arctic are both now fully accessible through this urban centre of over 100,000 residents, and the key to unlocking this region's full potential was abundant energy. With the year-round opening of the Northwest Passage and the introduction of a suite of "micro" nuclear reactors, the gold, diamonds, iron, and other minerals are as big a bonanza here as the land's beauty.

BAFFIN BAY, August 1845: The Franklin expedition is last seen as it awaits a weather window for crossing to Lancaster Sound. Modern technology will enable these bold souls to forge their way around the top of the continent in style: on board are over a thousand books in the ships' libraries, three years' worth of food supply, and even an organ.

NANISIVIK, July 2025: Canada's most northern permanent naval station is now the first Canadian military site to be powered by a dedicated nuclear reactor. The Nanisivik Naval Station is more than just a deep-water port, maintenance facility, and naval yard - it's a key piece of Canada's northern sovereignty strategy.

KING WILLIAM ISLAND, September 2012: Discoveries of more artefacts and human bones from the ill-fated Franklin expedition are found by a team led by Parks Canada; however, the big prize - the wrecks of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror - remain elusive.

OTTAWA, November 2012: One of the themes discussed at a conference held by the Canadian Nuclear Society here on "small reactors" is the potential for nuclear technology to open up the Arctic by providing abundant, long-term, low-emission electricity and heat.

There is a growing sense that the golden age of Canada's north is about to begin.

Discussion welcome.

©2013 Jeremy Whitlock

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