2017-18 is a monumental year in Canadian Science and Technology because the NRU Research Reactor, Canada’s most productive science facility, turns 60 years old, and comes to retirement.
Through its distinguished operating life, NRU created the knowledge that launched and sustained two multi-billion dollar, international industries, opened up a new branch of physics that was recognized with a Nobel Prize, and has touched the lives of hundreds of millions of people.
N.R.U. stands for “National Research Universal”, an apt name for a facility that has made such substantial contributions to physics, chemistry, biology and engineering, including major impacts on cancer treatment and climate change.
- Medical isotopes from NRU have been used in well over half a billion patient treatments in 80 countries.
- Research and knowledge gained from NRU launched Canada’s nuclear power industry, which generates a sixth of the country’s electricity without greenhouse gas.
- Bert Brockhouse, in NRU, pioneered the technique of neutron spectroscopy, such a powerful tool for understanding materials it was recognized with a Nobel Prize in physics.
Throughout my 20+ years at Canada’s national nuclear laboratory at Chalk River, Ontario, I had roles which related to NRU in different ways. First I wrote sections of the safety analysis report which forms the basis of safe reactor operation, then I worked in scientific communications with the team who use the neutron spectrometers for materials research. Later I became NRU’s interface with the federal nuclear regulator. From 2014 to 2018 though, I had the privilege of leading the Nuclear Operations and Radiation Protection teams as we operated NRU through its final years. I feel lucky to have been a part of such an inspiring facility.
UPDATE: NRU shut down for the last time on Saturday evening 2018 March 31st. It’s final months of operation were characterized by consistent, safe, reliable operation. The facility and the team ran across the finish line with pride. A short video captures the emotion in the room, that evening.