Letter from the Editor: Reactors With a Can-Do Attitude
One of the highest compliments that you can pay to a submariner is to describe him as someone with a “can-do” attitude. This implies that he will cheerfully find a way to overcome any obstacle.
Perhaps that is one reason that I have always admired the name, CANDU®, that was chosen for the Canadian heavy water reactor. Officially, the name is short for Canadian Deuterium Uranium, but I like to think that the name was coined by a proud group of Canadians who decided to seek a way to negate the American attempt to monopolize the development of nuclear energy.
Canada’s scientists and engineers became involved in nuclear science and engineering in 1899 when Ernest Rutherford conducted some of his early investigations into radioactivity while teaching at McGill University.
As partners with the Americans and the British, the Canadians made valuable contributions of technology and material to the Manhattan Project, especially in the early years. However, as the project progressed, General Groves imposed security measures that dramatically reduced their participation and access.
In 1946, the U. S. Congress attempted to impose an American monopoly on nuclear technology with the passage of the Atomic Energy Act, which made it a crime for U.S. scientists and engineers to exchange technical information with their former colleagues.
Even after the passage of the Atomic Energy Act of 1954, which eliminated some of the more stringent provisions of the 1946 Act, the American government’s attitude toward nuclear technologies was one of trying to control the future of the atom and its commercial applications.
One of the main methods for imposing control was to place contractural restrictions on the use of enriched uranium. Until the mid 1970s the only source in the world for this material for civilian use was the United States government.
The Canadians had a strong base of nuclear technology and an understanding of the value of this new enterprise. They were unwilling to depend on the United States government for a necessary material for an important technology program, especially since it had already proved itself to be an unreliable partner.
Canada decided that it would be prudent to develop a reactor design that could operate on natural uranium. This decision was consciously aimed at making the Canadian nuclear industry independent of American political decision making.
The CANDU reactor program is a success story. Though the number of operating CANDU type reactors is far less than the number of operating light water reactors based on American designs, there are currently 9 CANDUs under construction with active negotiations for more in China, Indonesia and Romania. This current activity is nearly equal to that of all other types of reactors combined.
This issue is dedicated to the thousands of dedicated men and women who made CANDU their motto as well as their reactor.