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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


Published in the January 2002 issue of the Canadian Nuclear Society Bulletin, Vol.23, No.1.   Artwork by Lorne Whitlock.

2002: Not Just Another Palindrome

by Jeremy Whitlock

As fate would have it, 2001 will probably not be remembered as the year of Clarke and Kubrick's Space Odyssey, nor for the 50th anniversary of first electricity from nuclear fission (EBR-1, Idaho, December 20, 1951).

Our minds occupied by a greater drama (Act II now underway, wherein we second-guess everything we do, say, and thought we understood), let us find comfort in the familiar: 2002, in the nick of time, comes rife with nuclear nostalgia.

To get the ball rolling on this banner year for topical anniversaries, the following compendium is offered (mostly factual):

1.8 billion years ago  –  Natural reactor at Oklo goes critical for the first time (April 1, 2:18 am). Event witnessed only by anti-nuclear activists dressed as barrels of atomic waste.

500,000 years ago  –  Intelligent life evolves on Earth.

150 years ago  –  Henri Bequerel is born (December 15, 1852). Discoverer of radioactivity.

120 years ago  –  Hans Geiger is born (September 20, 1882). Without him Bequerel's discovery wouldn't have clicked.

100 years ago  –  Rutherford and Soddy observe and characterize nuclear decay (April 1902). Not to be confused with nuclear laboratory decay, observed and characterized eight decades later.

70 years ago  –  Chadwick discovers the neutron (February 17, 1932). Researchers begin systematically activating elements in search of interesting stuff – pinch themselves seven years later for not starting at the other end of the periodic table.

60 years ago  –  C.D. Howe launches Canada's nuclear programme with the stroke of a pen and now-legendary "OK, let's go", creating the NRC's Montreal Lab at McGill University (August 17, 1942).

60 years ago  –  Americans do it first (CP1, Chicago, December 2, 1942).

55 years ago  –  NRX research reactor goes critical for the first time (July 22, 1947, 6:13 am). Physicists too shy for photograph – take picture of blackboard.

50 years ago  –  AECL created (April 1, 1952), declares that the future is bright, and what could possibly go wrong now?

50 years ago  –  NRX accident, worst-to-date on record (December 12, 1952, 3:07 pm). Jimmy Carter makes famous visit as part of American naval assistance in clean-up. American navy embarrassed to learn that Chalk River is not a seaport.

50 years ago  –  U.S. explodes first H-bomb ("Mike", 10.4 MT, Enewetak Atoll, October 31, 1952).

45 years ago  –  World's first civilian nuclear power plant reaches full power for the first time (Shippingport, Pennsylvania, December 23, 1957)

45 years ago  –  Decision to halt work on Canada's first nuclear power plant, NPD, and switch to radical "NPD-2" design: horizontal pressure tubes, on-line refuelling, natural uranium fuel bundles. CANDU is born. (March 27, 1957)

45 years ago  –  NRU research reactor goes critical for first time (November 3, 1957, 6:10 am). Physicists agree to photograph, if they can leave their sandals on.

45 years ago  –  Windscale fire (U.K., October 10, 1957). "Wigner energy" earns prominent spot in future nuclear engineering textbooks.

40 years ago  –  First electricity from nuclear fission in Canada (NPD, Rolphton, Ont., June 4, 1962). Not the first time in the world, but certainly the niftiest. (First criticality: April 11; First full power: June 28)

35 years ago  –  First electricity from a full-scale CANDU plant (Douglas Point, June 7, 1967).

30 years ago  –  NRU calandria replacement: Canada makes core refurbishment look easy (shut down June 5, 1972; returned to service August 2, 1974). Old calandria cleaned up and turned into ashtray.

30 years ago  –  Gentilly-1 reaches full power for first time (May 13, 1972).

25 years ago  –  Gentilly-1 shut down for last time (June 1, 1977).

25 years ago  –  President Carter deems civilian plutonium too dangerous, bans reprocessing in the U.S. (April 7, 1977). No problem with military plutonium.

20 years ago  –  Point Lepreau reaches full power for the first time (December 18, 1982).

20 years ago  –  Wolsong-1 goes critical for first time (November 21, 1982). The Wolsong Dynasty begins.

20 years ago  –  World's first commercial nuclear plant, Shippingport, shuts down for last time (October 1, 1982). Eventually becomes world's first completely decommissioned nuclear power plant.

15 years ago  –  NPD shut down for last time (May 5, 1987). End of an era.

15 years ago  –  Wilfrid Bennett Lewis, "Father of CANDU", passes away (January 10, 1987). End of an era.

15 years ago  –  George Craig Laurence, Canada's first nuclear pioneer, passes away (November 6, 1987). End of an era.

5 years ago  –  Canada's first reactor, ZEEP, torn down to make way for new Maple isotope reactors (September 1997). End of an era.

So here's to 2002, and the start of new eras – of Maples, Pickering restarts, new-generation CANDUs, open electricity markets, Pt. Lepreau refurbishment, neutron holography, and maybe, if we're really lucky, a wee bit of fusion.

Discussion welcome.

©2011 Jeremy Whitlock

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