The safety upgrade program at the heart of Canada's recent isotope crisis has now been completed. Two coolant pumps are now fully connected to a new emergency power supply.
The National Reseach Universal reactor was shut down late last year because owner Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) had not arranged back-up power for cooling pumps to the satisfaction of regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The regulator decided that AECL was outside its operating licence for the facility and exercised its power to keep the reactor closed. This situation continued until medical isotope supplies began to run low and the CNSC was sensationally overruled by government with an emergency bill.
Regulators had said in 2007 that NRU's power supply system should be upgraded in case a severe earthquake disabled the grid power that normally supplies its eight coolant pumps, as well as the battery backup for four of them. This meant the installation of a new back-up power supply system and its connection to two specific coolant pump motors, just one of which could satisfy nuclear safety requirements.
During the time NRU was forced to shut down, AECL quickly undertook work to connect one of the motor starters and restarted the machine in the interim configuration on 16 December 2007 with government - if not CNSC - approval. The company has now completed work to connect the other motor starter, which it carried out from 27 January to 1 February. The reactor resumed operation on 2 February.
AECL's senior vice president and chief nuclear officer, Brian McGee, said: "We are proud of NRU's 50-year track record for safe and reliable operation and confident with the completion of this work, NRU is safer now than it has ever been."