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The Canadian Nuclear FAQ  

by Dr. Jeremy Whitlock


Published in the June 2010 issue of the Canadian Nuclear Society Bulletin, Vol.31, No.2.

Watt's in a Name

by Jeremy Whitlock

In the Communication Age, perception is everything.

Nothing underscores this more starkly than the recent name-change of Canada's second-oldest magazine, "The Beaver", to the more prosaic "Canada's History Magazine". According to its publisher, Canada's National History Society, the rebranding was necessary since "beaver" has alternate connotations not foreseen 90 years ago when the Hudson Bay Company created the title.

The unintended double-entendre remained a harmless inside joke for many years, until customers started complaining that porn filters on email and search engines were preventing them from connecting with their beloved chronicle of Canada's past.

A century of tradition is one thing, but e-commerce is another: Au revoir, Beaver.

Here in the nuclear industry, we know of such perception woes. How many of us have bemoaned the choice of "critical" as the moniker of a self-sustaining chain reaction? Or the fact that our cores "poison out" occasionally, and use "burnable poison"?

CANDU plants, in particular, are known users of "liquid poison injections" (albeit in safe injection sites).

We "burn" our fissile material: the higher the "burnup" the better. Upon discharge this enormous energy resource is branded as "high-level waste", which we proudly claim can fit into five hockey rinks (which, as every red-blooded Canadian kid knows, are very, very big buildings…)

Our storefront needs work: we claim to have nothing to hide, but close our visitor centres and post armed guards at the gate. Our reactors, ultra-safe machines cocooned behind layers of defensive measures that require no human intervention, apparently require protection by crack paramilitary units from inquisitive families on Sunday drives.

The truth of the matter is that there is plenty about the nuclear industry that is worthy of emulation and cross-fertilization into everyday culture - if only everyday culture had the opportunity to see past the steel and concrete.

After all, "CANDU" is still the coolest tag ever given to a reactor design. It symbolizes the people who own it - the citizens of Canada - in both name and spirit. It also symbolizes the tenacity with which the technology has managed to cling to the marketplace, in the face of gale-force winds of economic and political pressure.

The word deserves a place in the common lexicon:

"CANDU" (noun): success despite enviable brilliance. As in: "Apple's CANDU was confirmed when its net worth surpassed that of Microsoft in May 2010."

Or how about these other useful terms from our own backyard:

"NRU" (adj.): indispensably useful, but generally invisible. As in: "We realized how NRU Mom was when she broke her arm and couldn't make our lunches".

"MAPLE" (verb): to be smothered to death by bureaucracy. As in: "Small independent meat shops are being mapled due to increased regulation in the food processing industry."

"Areva" (noun): rapid growth by absorption of all entities that come into contact. As in: "Google's success was accompanied by an unabashed policy of areva that soon made it one of the biggest corporations in America".

"Greenpeace" (verb): To employ terror tactics in order to achieve one's goals. As in: "The Taliban attempted to influence the election's outcome by greenpeacing the population into staying away from the polls."

"Caldicott" (verb): synonym for "Greenpeace", particularly with respect to medical scares. As in: "In 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', the government faked an epidemic in order to caldicott the locals into evacuating the region around Devils Tower."

"Wind Power" (noun): an ability to achieve huge popularity despite mediocrity. As in: "Teen singing sensation Justin Bieber has amazing wind power."

"Thorium" (noun): a state of sudden renewed fame after decades of low-profile existence. As in: "Betty White achieved a new level of thorium when she hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live in May 2010."

Come to think of it, if "The Beaver" is up for grabs, perhaps the Canadian Nuclear Society's "Bulletin" could consider taking on the name. It would certainly mean more hits on the website.

Discussion welcome.

©2011 Jeremy Whitlock

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