I have had the privilege to spend my scientific career so far at what was arguably one of, if not the most, successful and highest-impact science infrastructure investments Canada has made – the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor.
March 31 was a very sad day as I personally witnessed the final shutdown of NRU, collecting data until the very end alongside a fantastic group of colleagues.
Not all of the exceptional team I call my friends could be physically there at NRU, but some were still busy collecting data and witnessing the historic event remotely over the Internet – incredible dedication and camaraderie.
NRU was the third in a series of firsts for Canada following the ZEEP and NRX reactors at Chalk River.
When it first became operational it was the highest flux/highest power research reactor in the world. Indeed, even at shutdown it was reported to be the oldest running research reactor in the world.
It is extraordinary that at 60 years of age, NRU continued to be competitive internationally and have an impact on science, engineering, health, safety and society.
NRU produced medical isotopes that have saved tens of millions of lives, advanced nuclear physics, advanced reactor physics, provided neutrons for materials research spanning many scientific disciplines and gave birth to the CANDU power reactor industry.
As if that is not enough, NRU is tied to two Nobel prizes in Physics.
The decision to permanently close the NRU was made by the previous federal government and not reversed by the current government. NRU did not have to be shut down at this time – it was a decision of government.
For over two decades Canadian and international experts of government-struck panels have advised successive governments that NRU should be replaced before shutdown to continue to enable without interruption the engineering and science contributions essential to any advanced country, and now it is lost and no replacement is planned.
NRU and what we have achieved here is nothing but a source of pride as an outstanding example for what Canada is capable of doing, punching well above its weight class.
As much as the facility is by itself a significant loss to Canada, what is perhaps more important is all the top-drawer talent that may be lost with it.
The level of expertise and international recognition NRU fostered for Canada takes decades to develop.
Consider this. Canada proclaims to be a Tier 1 nuclear country; as of March 31, we have one operating research reactor over 1 megawatt, while according to the International Atomic Energy Agency research reactor database, for 1 MW or higher research reactors: USA, 22; Japan, 4; France, 3; Argentina, 3; India, 3; Germany, 2; Netherlands, 2; Australia, 1; Morocco, 1; Russia, 13; China, 11; Kazakhstan, 3; and Jordan, 1.