CNL completes Slowpoke refuelling

05 October 2021

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) has completed a three-year project to refuel a Slowpoke-2 nuclear reactor used by the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) for professional development and academic research. The project will enable the reactor, which first came online in 1985, to operate for another 30 years.

CNL’s reactor physics and fuels teams carried out the refuelling and commissioning phases, with the support of its environmental remediation, engineering and radiation protection teams (Image: CNL)

The Slowpoke - from Safe Low-Power 'Kritical' Experiment - reactor is a low-power, compact core reactor technology that was designed by CNL in the 1960s for neutron activation analysis, trace radioisotope production and as a tool for teaching nuclear science and engineering.

Canada's national nuclear laboratory said it was uniquely positioned to carry out the work, having the necessary expertise in engineering, manufacturing, fuel development, physics, radiation protection, and certainly nuclear security. "Having recently completed both decommissioning and refuelling activities for Slowpoke reactors in other jurisdictions, we were able to draw on that experience to safely complete this project for our customer," CNL President and CEO Joe McBrearty said.

The project involved removing the old reactor core, with its original fuel load, commissioning the reactor with a newly fabricated core manufactured at CNL's Chalk River Laboratories campus, and transferring the used core to a licensed nuclear waste management facility. Planning for the work began in 2019, and on-site field work was completed over a four-week period earlier this summer, CNL said.

Materials gathered from the used reactor core will undergo further examination by CNL, to help research supporting the continued safe operation of Canada's nuclear fleet.

The reactor's fuel is unique, requiring a skilled team and sophisticated quality assurance programme for its manufacture, explained Ali Siddiqui, acting head of CNL's Advanced Reactors Directorate. "While a Slowpoke's principal role is that of a research reactor, CNL's capabilities in prototype fuel development, fuel qualification and fabrication used in this project, are also in demand by small modular reactor developers as the next generation of clean nuclear technology advances here in Canada," he said.

The RMC's reactor is used to produce neutrons for professional development and academic research, including nuclear and radiological forensic expertise, and rapid response capabilities for environmental and nuclear emergencies, primarily by the Canadian Department of National Defence and Canadian Armed Forces. In total, three of the eight Slowpokes supplied by CNL to universities and research centres are still in operation: two in Canada (the RMC reactor and a unit at the École Polytechnique de Montréal) and one in Jamaica, at the University of the West Indies' Mona Campus.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News