Nuclear power in Canada

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As of October 2012, about 15% of Canada's electricity is produced by nuclear power.[1] Nearly all of this is produced in Ontario, except for one reactor in New Brunswick.

Canada has reactors for commercial power generation, for research and to produce radioactive isotopes for nuclear medicine. Canadian reactor designs (the Pressurized Heavy Water Reactor) have been exported to Argentina, South Korea, India, Pakistan, China, and Romania.


The nuclear industry (as distinct from the uranium industry) in Canada dates back to 1942 when a joint British-Canadian laboratory, the Montreal Laboratory, was set up in Montreal, Quebec, under the administration of the National Research Council of Canada, to develop a design for a heavy-water nuclear reactor. This reactor was called National Research Experimental and would be the most powerful research reactor in the world when completed. In the meantime, in 1944, approval was given to proceed with the construction of the smaller ZEEP (Zero Energy Experimental Pile) test reactor at Chalk River, Ontario and on September 5, 1945 at 3:45 p.m., the 10 Watt ZEEP successfully achieved the first self-sustained nuclear reaction outside the United States.[2]

In 1946, the Montreal Laboratory was closed, and the work continued at the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories. Building partly on the experimental data obtained from ZEEP, the National Research Experimental (NRX)—a natural uranium, heavy water moderated research reactor—started up on July 22, 1947. It operated for 43 years, producing radioisotopes, undertaking fuels and materials development work for CANDU reactors, and providing neutrons for physics experiments. It was eventually joined in 1957 by the larger 200 megawatt (MW) National Research Universal reactor (NRU).

In 1952, the Canadian government formed AECL, a Crown corporation with the mandate to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy. A partnership was formed between AECL, Ontario Hydro and Canadian General Electric to build Canada's first nuclear power plant, called NPD for Nuclear Power Demonstration. The 20 MWe NPD started operation in 1962 and successfully demonstrated the unique concepts of on-power refuelling using natural uranium fuel, and heavy water moderator and coolant. These features formed the basis of a fleet of CANDU power reactors (CANDU is an acronym for CANada Deuterium Uranium) built and operated in Canada and elsewhere. Starting in 1966, AECL led the construction of 23 commercial CANDU reactors in Ontario, Quebec, and New Brunswick, including 8 reactor units at the Pickering site, 8 reactor units at the Bruce site, 4 at the Darlington site, 2 at Gentilly in Quebec, and 1 at Point Lepreau in New Brunswick.

In the late 1960s (1967–1970), Canada also developed an experimental miniature nuclear reactor named SLOWPOKE (acronym for Safe Low-Power Kritical Experiment). The first prototype was built at Chalk River and many SLOWPOKEs were subsequently built, mainly for research. Many SLOWPOKEs are still in use in Canada; there is one running at École Polytechnique de Montréal, for instance.

Following the 2011 Japanese nuclear accidents, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) ordered all reactor operators to revisit their safety plans and report on potential improvements by the end of April 2011.[3]

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) later conducted a review of the CNSC's response to the March 2011 events at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station, and concluded that the CNSC's response was "prompt, robust and comprehensive, and is a good practice that should be used by other regulatory bodies".[4]


In 2012, environmental assessments were currently underway next to Ontario Power Generation's Darlington Nuclear Generating Station for the proposed construction of a new nuclear power plant. On August 17, 2012, Ontario Power Generation received a License to Prepare Site from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for the Darlington OPG Nuclear Power Plant Project. The CNSC's Joint Review Panel (JRP) decided that OPG meets the relevant requirements in Canada's Nuclear Safety and Control Act, that OPG is qualified to carry out the activities that will be permitted under the licence, and that the health and safety of people and the environment will be protected.[5]

The two reactor designs being considered for this project are the Enhanced Candu 6 and the Westinghouse AP1000.[6]

In December 2011, Bruce Power abandoned plans to build a nuclear power plant in northern Alberta. The company had proposed building up to four nuclear reactors that could produce 4,000 megawatts of electricity at a site 30 kilometres north of Peace River.[7][8]

Thorium Power Canada also has an application for condition approval to build a demonstration reactor in Chile, which has been submitted to the Chilean Government. The proposed 10 MW thorium reactor, which would be located in Copiapó, Chile, consists of a core and reactor manufactured by DBI Operating Company in California. The balance of plant, including all buildings and required infrastructure, is planned to be constructed on site. Estimations have been given which suggest that the TPC Thorium Reactor could provide enough power to produce 20 million litres per day at the desalination plant. This is the equivalent amount that would power 3500 homes.[9]

Current power reactors[edit]

Nuclear plants in Canada (view)
Location dot red.svg Active plants
Location dot purple.svg Closed plants


Ontario Power Generation Pickering A

  • UNIT 1 – 515 MW CANDU
  • UNIT 2 – 515 MW CANDU (Currently out of service)
  • UNIT 3 – 515 MW CANDU (Currently out of service)
  • UNIT 4 – 515 MW CANDU

Ontario Power Generation Pickering B

Ontario Power Generation Darlington

Bruce Power Bruce A

Bruce Power Bruce B

New Brunswick[edit]

NB Power Point Lepreau Nuclear Generating Station

  • UNIT 1 – 660 MW CANDU-6

Decommissioned reactors[edit]



Hydro-Québec Gentilly Nuclear Generating Station

  • UNIT 1 – 275 MW CANDU-BWR (Shutdown in 1979)
  • UNIT 2 – 675 MW CANDU-6 (shutdown in 2012)[10]

Research reactors[edit]

Notable accidents[edit]

Chalk River, 1952 and 1958[edit]

"A power surge and partial loss of coolant led to significant damage to the NRX reactor core December 12, 1952. It was the world's first major nuclear reactor disaster, and it resulted in 4.5 tonnes of radioactive water collecting in the cellar of the building. The future US president Jimmy Carter participated in the cleanup.[13]

24 May 1958, a fuel rupture in the reactor led to a fire and complete contamination of the NRU building. The military was called in both times to aid in the cleanup".[14]

Pickering, 1974 and 1983[edit]

"The most serious nuclear accidents in Canada happened at the Pickering facility east of Toronto, in 1974 and in 1983. In each case, pressure tubes — which hold fuel rods — ruptured. Some coolant escaped, but was recovered before it left the plant, and there was no release of radioactive material from the containment building".[14]

Pickering nuclear Reactor 2. December 10, 1994[edit]

"The most serious nuclear accident in Canada" wrote The Standing Senate Committee on Energy, the Environment and Natural Resources in 2001. "On December 10, 1994, a pipe break at Pickering reactor 2 resulted in a major loss of coolant accident and a spill of 185 tonnes of heavy water. The Emergency Core Cooling System was used to prevent a meltdown."[15]

Darlington, 2009[edit]

In 2009, more than 200,000 litres of water containing trace amounts of tritium and hydrazine spilled into Lake Ontario after workers accidentally filled the wrong tank with tritiated water. The level of the isotope in the lake was not enough to pose harm to residents.[14][16]

Point Lepreau, 2011[edit]

On December 13, 2011, there was a radioactive spill at New Brunswick's Point Lepreau nuclear generating station. Up to six litres of heavy water splashed to the floor, forcing an evacuation of the reactor building and halt of operations. Then, on December 14, NB Power issued a news release, admitting there had been another type of spill three weeks earlier.[17]

Public opinion[edit]

According to a 2012 poll by Innovative Research Group, on behalf of the Canadian Nuclear Association, 37% of Canadians are in favour of nuclear power, while 53% oppose it. Both of these figures represent a drop from 2011 (38% and 56% respectively), and the population that neither supports nor opposes or did not know their opinion has grown to 9%. Support ranges from a high of 54% in Ontario to a low of 12% in Quebec. Other notable demographic details include men being generally more supportive of nuclear power than women, and older populations being slightly more supportive than younger populations. There was not a significant change in opposition to nuclear power in Canada following the March 2011 events at Japan's Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station (from 54% to 56%), and the issue was followed at least somewhat closely by 70% of Canadians polled.[18]

Anti-nuclear movement[edit]

Canada has an active anti-nuclear movement, which includes major campaigning organisations like Greenpeace and the Sierra Club. Over 300 public interest groups across Canada have endorsed the mandate of the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout (CNP). Some environmental organisations such as Energy Probe, the Pembina Institute and the Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility (CCNR) are reported to have developed considerable expertise on nuclear power and energy issues. There is also a long-standing tradition of indigenous opposition to uranium mining.[19][20]

The province of British Columbia firmly maintains a strict no-nuclear policy. The Crown corporation, BC Hydro, upholds this principle by "rejecting consideration of nuclear power in implementing B.C.'s clean energy strategy." [21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Statistics Canada (January 2013), Table 127-0002 Electric power generation, by class of electricity producer, Ottawa: Statistics Canada, pp. 10–11 
  2. ^ Canada Science and Technology Museum, ZEEP — Canada’s First Nuclear Reactor, Ottawa: Canada Science and Technology Museum 
  3. ^ Sarah Boesveld (March 21, 2011). %5b%5bCategory:All articles with dead external links%5d%5d%5b%5bCategory:Articles with dead external links from March 2012%5d%5d[%5b%5bWikipedia:Link rot|dead link%5d%5d] "Nuclear commission orders Canadian reactors to review safety plans" Check |url= value (help). National Post. 
  4. ^ Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (March 5, 2012). "IAEA report confirms the effectiveness of Canada's nuclear regulatory framework". Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. 
  5. ^ Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (August 17, 2012). "CNSC Issues a Site Preparation Licence for OPG Darlington Nuclear Power Plant Projectl". Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. 
  6. ^ John Spears (April 26, 2012). "Ontario zeroes in on two nuclear reactor designs". Toronto Star. 
  7. ^ Nicki Thomas and Elise Stolte (December 13, 2011). "Bruce Power withdraws nuclear plant proposal". Edmonton Journal. 
  8. ^ "Bruce Power dropping Alberta nuclear plant proposal" CBC news. Dec 12, 2011.
  9. ^
  10. ^ CBC News (3 October 2012). "Quebec nuclear reactor shutdown will cost $1.8 billion". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 4 October 2012. 
  11. ^ manitobas-forgotten-nuclear-accident
  12. ^ Map titled "Canada's Nuclear Reactors and Uranium mines"
  13. ^ "The American Experience: Meltdown at Three Mile Island". PBS. Retrieved 2007-06-29. 
  14. ^ a b c "A closer look at Canada's nuclear plants". CBC News. Jan 9, 2012. 
  16. ^ "Nuclear plant spills tritium into lake". 2011-04-12. Retrieved 2012-03-27. 
  17. ^ Bobbi-Jean MacKinnon (Jan 9, 2012). "Nuclear commission says Point Lepreau leaks 'unsettling'". CBC News. 
  18. ^ Innovative Research Group (July 9, 2012). "2012 Public Opinion Research: National Nuclear Attitude Survey" (PDF). Canadian Nuclear Association. 
  19. ^ Lutz Mez, Mycle Schneider and Steve Thomas (Eds.) (2009). International Perspectives of Energy Policy and the Role of Nuclear Power, Multi-Science Publishing Co. Ltd, p. 257.
  20. ^ Lutz Mez, Mycle Schneider and Steve Thomas (Eds.) (2009). International Perspectives of Energy Policy and the Role of Nuclear Power, Multi-Science Publishing Co. Ltd, p. 279.
  21. ^

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]