News Local

AECL marks 60 years

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

CHALK RIVER - The birthplace of Canada's nuclear industry welcomed back the community Saturday to celebrate six decades as a crown corporation.

For the first time in 12 years, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited opened the doors of Chalk River Laboratories to the public presenting an opportunity for area resident to not only celebrate its storied past but gain insight into its future.

Despite overcast skies and the occasional rain shower, over 2,000 people attended the open house which presented an exhibition of 50 displays and lectures by professionals in the nuclear energy field.

Joined by dignitaries, Dr. Robert Walker, president and chief executive officer of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, formally thanked residents for supporting Renfrew County's second largest employer noting that the work they are engaged in here matters to Canadians.

"We've had a strong and deep history in nuclear technology in this country and this has been the birthplace," said Dr. Walker. "It continues. That was the past and we're building into the future."

While Chalk River Laboratories was forged out of necessity to develop the atomic bomb during the closing days of the Second World War, AECL was formally established as a crown corporation in 1952. This year marks the 40th anniversary of the Nuclear Power Demonstration, the nation's inaugural nuclear powered reactor, generating electricity to the provincial grid for the first time. AECL also commemorates the CANDU reactor at Pickering going online thus producing more electricity than any nuclear power station in the world at that time.

Planning for the open house began six months ago. Prior to the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, access to the facility through public tours was a regular thing.

"With the world post Sept. 11 we had to take a different security position," explained Dr. Walker. "We are comfortable with how to manage that security so it was time we told the story again."

After a brief orientation, visitors were permitted access to Controlled Area 1 where they were conducted on tours of laboratories and facilities managed by several departments including the mechanical equipment development, monitoring and dynamics, fluid sealing technologies and the machine shop.

AECL has engaged in more work than just producing medical isotopes through its National Research Universal reactor. Dr. Walker said it is developing peaceful and innovative applications from nuclear technology through its expertise in physics, metallurgy, chemistry, biology and engineering.

"The reality is we are doing a lot of things that matter to Canadians," he said.

One of the area's the corporation is focusing on is supporting nuclear non-proliferation and counterterrorism by providing innovation to prevent and detect illegal transport of nuclear materials.

Michael O'Kane, manager of applied physics, said they are working with the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Border Agency to developed unique measurement devices for radiation detection. Through a partnership with Carleton University, they hope to come up with a device that will detect fissile materials, which terrorists may try to smuggle into the country to construct a radioactive "dirty bomb." He said the biggest challenge to come up with a concept that can scan shipping containers entering Canada's various ports.

"The ultimate goal is to scan a cargo container in 30 seconds to see if there is any suspicious material," said Mr. O'Kane.

Sean Chase is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist

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