It is not often that someone gets an opportunity to be present at a moment that will be remembered later as a piece of history, but that was how it felt to be in the control room of the NRU reactor on the evening of 2018 March 31st.
As planned, the nuclear research reactor was shut down for the last time that evening, ending a period of more than 60 years throughout which NRU made substantial contributions to the quality of life of people all around the world.
When NRU was constructed and first operated in 1957, there were about 2.9 billion people in the world. Over its operating life it generated medical isotopes that treated or diagnosed over 1 billion people. Canada won just a handful of Nobel prizes in the 20th century, but one came from pioneering work in NRU developing a new branch of physics: Neutron Scattering, developed by Bertram Brockhouse. It is such a profoundly useful technique for researching materials that it is used world-wide today, and the team at NRU has published 1,000s of papers on materials as diverse as cell membranes, jet engines, superconductors and medical implants. Finally, NRU provided the test-bed for the development of nuclear power in Canada: the CANDU reactor. Because of that, Ontario is one of the greenest energy generators in the world, reliant on a mix of affordable nuclear and hydro generation, and was one of the first jurisdictions in the world to eliminate coal power from its electricity grid.
I know of few other science facilities that have made such profound impacts on the world, and I am proud to have worked there.
The shutdown was an emotional moment for all those in the NRU team whose singular focus has been safe, reliable operation of this world-class science facility. The moment of shutdown was captured in this moving short video. A full-length documentary about NRU is due for release in the summer of 2018.