Atomic Energy of Canada Limited

Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) is a Crown Corporation owned by the federal government of Canada. The company, established in 1952, reports to the Canadian Parliament through the Minister of Natural Resources Canada.

AECL develops, markets, sells and builds CANDU® power reactors and MAPLE research reactors, and provides engineering and other technical services to nuclear utilities. Since 1952, AECL has been the leading force helping Canada to reach and maintain its first-ranked position in nuclear power development. The company’s mandate is to develop and grow the CANDU business, thereby contributing to the Canadian economy and generating thousands of well-paid jobs for Canadians, and maintaining nuclear power as an energy option for Canada.

Wolsong nuclear power station in South Korea.  The first two CANDU 6 units are in-service and the other two units will be completed and in operation by 1999.

AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories (CRL), created under the auspices of the National Research Council, was Canada’s first venture into a major high-techno logy initiative. Early in the post-war period, a group of scientists and engineers at CRL brought into operation ZEEP, the first nuclear reactor to function beyond the borders of the United States. The success of the small reactor gave an impetus to the Canadian nuclear program which ultimately led to the development of the CANDU reactor system. The first large Canadian research reactor, NRX, was brought into operation at CRL in 1947. In 1957 a second research reactor, NRU, was operating at CRL and supplying vital research and engineering information essential for the development of full-scale CANDU power reactors. In 1959, the Canadian government authorized the construction of a full-scale CANDU prototype, the 200-megawatt generating station at Douglas Point on Lake Huron. The CANDU technological advantages and the successful performance of the early designs led to the construction of the Pickering, Bruce, and Darlington nuclear stations in Ontario and the single unit CANDU 6 reactors in New Brunswick and Québec.

The CANDU reactor has three features that distinguish it from its two major competitors, the PWR (pressurized water reactors) and the BWR (boiling water reactors). These features are:

• the use of natural uranium as fuel, as opposed to fuel enriched in the fissionable isotope of uranium, 235U;
• the use of pressure tubes rather than a large pressure vessel to hold the fuel; and
• the use of heavy water, rather than ordinary or light water, as coolant and moderator.
The pressure tube design gives the CANDU reactor a unique advantage: the ability to refuel the reactor without shutting it down. On power refuelling is a major contributor to the economic competiveness of a natural uranium reactor. Fuel flexibility is yet another marked advantage of the CANDU reactor.

In addition to the development of CANDU technology for Canada, AECL has successfully pursued international markets for the CANDU power reactor system. AECL’s CANDU power reactors are helping countries to generate clean and safe electricity. There are more CANDU 6 units under construction in the world today than any other reactor design. This reinforces the continuing reputation of the CANDU 6 as a world-class performer. South Korea’s first CANDU 6 (Wolsong 1) is a consistent world leading reactor for performance and efficiency. By 1999, South Korea will have four CANDU reactors in service. Argentina’s CANDU 6 (Embalse) has been a reliable and consistent producer of electricity since it went in service in 1984. Romania put into service its first CANDU 6 in 1996 and will have its second CANDU 6 in service in 2000. China will have two CANDU 6 reactors in service by 2003.

The economic benefits flowing to Canada from the development and sale of CANDU reactors have been, and continue to be, significant. The benefits include:

• 25,000-30,000 direct jobs in the Canadian nuclear industry
• 10,000 additional indirect jobs in supplies and services
• A large number of these jobs are well-paid engineering and scientific positions
• Over 150 Canadian companies benefit directly or as sub-contractors to the major corporations
• Approximately $700 million is generated each year in federal and sales tax by the nuclear industry
• Approximately $1 billion per year in foreign exchange benefits is achieved by not importing fuel for electricity generation
• A host of industrial spin-offs (e.g., robotics, telecommunications, engineering consulting, software and electronics, etc.) has resulted from the research, product development and engineering associated with the CANDU reactor.
There are also significant environmental benefits associated with nuclear power. Nuclear electricity generation does not produce greenhouse gases which contribute to global warming, or gases which cause acid rain. The radioactive wastes produced in a nuclear power plant are for the most part retained within the plant and the small amount that is released is strictly controlled within a fraction of the regulatory-allowed limit. All radioactive wastes are safely managed at the reactor sites in accordance with the regulations set by federal regulatory agencies.

Although the CANDU power system is AECL’s best-known product, the company has a wide range of research and development programs. AECL provides nuclear engineering services to Canadian utilities and overseas customers and is regarded as a world leader in nuclear waste management research. AECL also markets the MAPLE research reactor and a wide range of nuclear products and services to customers at home and abroad in both nuclear and non-nuclear industries.

AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories, 200 km. north of Ottawa, have world-class expertise in physics, metal-lurgy, chemistry, biology and engineering. The site also provides most of the world’s supply of medical isotopes used in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other illnesses. AECL’s engineering, sales and marketing work is led from its Sheridan Park facility in Mississauga, Ontario.