Cyberwanderer’s Blog

June 12, 2009

MAPLE reactor, End of AECL and Sad Day for Science in Canada

Filed under: Canada,Politics — cyberwanderer @ 6:43 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Harper’s determination to sell AECL at all cost has repercussion beyond medical isotope crisis.  It will also be a huge step backwards for Science. The NRU reactor at AECL is an old reactor about 50 years old. Not only was it at the leading edge during its time, it has also serve to provide the world with the much needed medical isotopes to treat cancer patients. But other less known contribution of the NRU reactors includes neutron beam research which was instrumental in finding out the cause of the space shuttle Challenger’s crash. With NRU out of service and close to its end of life, if not already there, it will be a big loss not only for the medical industry but also for the scientific community in general. Mulroney mess up when he gave away the profit AECL get from isotope by selling it out to private firm. The ill-fated Maple reactor that AECL was forced to develop with private firms were inundated with problems that the scientist and engineers at AECL have to troubleshoot. It was a problematic design unlike those of CANDU, the other AECL design working very well in various parts of the world. The Maple failure, not totally AECL’s fault, is unfortunately being used by Harper’s supporter to claim AECL is dysfunctional and need to be sold.  In fact, Harper’s spokesperson Kory Teneycke came out to claim AECL is a sinkhole and government spend $30 billion on it (h/t Impolitical). He neglected to mention the more than half a decade century (edited June 16) legacy of AECL and the important contributions it has made to science, a subject the MSM has little interest in. Part of the $30 billion can largely be blamed on Mulroney for selling off the revenue division (medical isotope) and embroiling AECL in building an ill-conceived Maple design.

The end of AECL, as it get swallowed by its U.S. or French competitor, is a clear sign of Harper’s lack of appreciation for the importance of research and technology. This is very troubling considering we are living in a time where we can’t afford to slack off in the competitive world market.

The latest news about MAPLE raise serious doubt about the surprise and sudden withdrawal and discontinuation of the Maple reactor by the government. MDS Nordion is claiming it has produced the much needed medical isotopes. (h/t Liberal Arts and Minds, Runesmith’s Canadian Content and The Galloping Beaver). But I don’t have enough facts for that news yet to make a judgment. Lots of money have been wasted on that reactor. So when I heard it’s being discontinued, I thought maybe the scientist and engineer know it’s going to cost even more and might be unworkable. It is not far fetched that it has produced isotope during testing. It just did not get approval from CNSC to start full operation. But if the reason is politically motivated and influenced by desire to sell off AECL, then some heads must roll. But I am reserving my judgment on that until more facts surfaces.

But I can shed some light on one of MAPLE’s problem that caused CNSC to hold off it’s approval. MAPLE was suppose to have a negative power coefficient. But during testing it operates with a tiny bit of positive coefficient. A good explanation about the power coefficient can be found in this nuclear science forum.

In rough terms, a reactor with a negative coefficient will gradually slow to
a stop if safety systems fail and there is no one at the controls.
A reactor with a positive coefficient would instead run faster and hotter
until it reaches the point of a meltdown.

Chernobyl is a positive void coefficient reactor, and along with  some really bad management and no containment like those seen in U.S. and Canadian reactors, had lead to an unmitigated disaster that still make people nervous about nuclear power up to this day. CANDU is negative coefficient and is a safe reactor. CANDU is a serious contender in world stage outside the established nuclear country like U.S., Britain and France. Another fallacy being spread by Harper is AECL is not competitive. It is their competitor in U.S. and France (Areva) who will be the happiest to see AECL disappear or taken over by them. It makes me really mad when Harper’s government claim that whoever buy AECL are free to discard the CANDU. That sounds more like a takeover than an equal “strategic” partnership.

Update June 14, 2009: Just want to clarify my post above. The existing CANDU has a small positive void coefficient that is easily controlled. It is the new Advance CANDU that has negative void coefficient (thanks to Greg comment for pointing that out). Chernobyl reactor have a very high positive void coefficient. But positive void coefficient is not the only measures of reactor safety.

Check out my other blog about AECL and Maple Reactor since Linda Keen’s Firing. (just search for AECL and Linda Keen).



  1. Did I not read that the Maples could make isotopes and it is a lie that AECL and the government is telling us, that they are no good ?

    Comment by Cari — June 12, 2009 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

    • Yes, that’s the latest coming out of Parliament. That MAPLE did produce isotope. I won’t be surprise since MAPLE is in very late stage of development. They just can’t get the license to operate until they demonstrate negative power coefficient as explained in my blog above. It came as a surprise to me that Harper pulled the plug on MAPLE but at that time I thought it was a scientific or engineering based decision. But this latest controversy is putting a big question mark on the whole thing. So only scientist and engineers can tell us for sure whether that is achievable and it won’t take billions to fix. I lay the blame on Mulroney for another case of hasty privatization of an AECL division and getting AECL to sign a contract that is very lopsided that got them stuck with building the problem plague design now famously known as MAPLE.

      Comment by cyberwanderer — June 12, 2009 @ 11:03 pm | Reply

  2. Present CANDUS DO run with a positive void coefficient. That is one of the reasons that the older CANDU designes could never be sold to a US company. The new Advanced CANDU design has a negative void coefficient. We use the positive void coefficient as one of the early triggers for our shut down systems in presently running CANDUs.

    Comment by Greg — June 13, 2009 @ 8:21 am | Reply

    • Thanks for pointing that out.

      Comment by cyberwanderer — June 13, 2009 @ 8:09 pm | Reply

  3. If the US officially claim that the key reason for not buying old CANDU because of its positive reactivity coefficient, it is a sign of real or deliberate ignorance. The PWR reactor kinetics can be simulated like a point, what happened in small area reflects on the outcome of the whole reactor. CANDU is much larger geometry, positive coefficient can happen in one area but zonal control, SD mechanism can offset the resulting tilt in flux or SD the reactor, even further the third barrier (Emergency Cooling Injection, or ECI) ensure the reactor temperature is controlled.
    May be the US (commercial)nuclear industry is honestly ignorant or looking the other way when it comes to CANDU.

    Comment by Sami — June 16, 2009 @ 12:14 pm | Reply

  4. […] helping Harper’s men in their continuous attempt to discredit Canada’s nuclear industry. Harper’s spokesman and his supporter have been doing their rounds in the media trying to discredit AECL even using the isotope crisis […]

    Pingback by Globe and Mail Misrepresented Facts – CNSC « Cyberwanderer’s Blog — July 8, 2009 @ 9:02 pm | Reply

  5. I am curious to know more about the codes AECL used for the design, and why the theory failed to predict the positive coefficient?

    Comment by M Belal — August 5, 2009 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

  6. i wouldis like to receive more about this matter. Thanks for your discussion

    Comment by M Belal — August 5, 2009 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

  7. […] it comes to Nuclear and specifically the AECL it’s just another Harper fiasco. Although as Cyberwonderer points out, the whole thing may be an inherited debacle. Mulroney mess [sic] up when he gave away […]

    Pingback by Nuclear renaissance or relapse? « Enviralment — August 13, 2009 @ 12:41 pm | Reply

  8. > Harper’s men in their continuous attempt to discredit Canada’s nuclear industry

    Harper? I wouldn’t put it past him, but the little dictator doesn’t need any help. AECL’s doing a really good job of discrediting themselves all on their own.

    How’s MAPLE doing? ACR? Oh what, they’re both way over budget, years behind schedule, faced unseen technical problems and have been withdrawn from competition because they are less advanced than the competition and have absolutely no hope of sales?


    Keep up the good work guys!


    Comment by Maury Markowitz — September 1, 2009 @ 3:56 pm | Reply

    • MAPLE was an ill conceived plan forced on AECL by Mulroney to privatize and hand over isotope business to a private firm. As for the over budget issues in Canada, this usually involve other firms and not the sole responsibility of AECL. Whereas AECL’s project overseas in China, Korea and other part of the world is on time and on budget. China was very satisfied with AECL that they have recently been signing several contracts. China is expected to be a huge market for new nuclear built and AECL have good reputation there. Of course, once it is privatized, all of the profit would just go to the U.S., French firm or whoever Harper decide to dispose AECL to.

      There’s no doubt that Canada can do better when it comes to project planning. U.S. and other countries are ahead of us in this. But constantly divesting our science and technology assets and research funding won’t help us beat our competitions worldwide.

      Comment by cyberwanderer — September 2, 2009 @ 8:58 pm | Reply

  9. The MAPLE reactor was not ill conceived at all. There is currently a MAPLE based reactor running brilliantly in South Korea. Its run by the Korean Nuclear Agency (KAERI), look it up. Even Wikipedia has it in there!

    This proves beyond any doubt that there is no fundamental design flaw with the reactors, only a fundamental flaw in politics in this country.

    Avro Aero?

    Comment by Nuclear Dude — December 18, 2009 @ 10:37 pm | Reply

  10. fyi, nuclear dude, the avro arrow cancellation could easily been avoided by our DND refraining from doing what they usually do before and during systems procurement; inventing new requirements or adding “christmas wish lists” upon designs that are already adequate to their designed tasks.
    this is how we end up with hyper maintenance jack-of-all-trades/master-of-none navy crafts like the F18 (and the F35,which thankfully harper cancelled)) rather than producing under license hi/lo pairs of the far cheaper and simpler purpose built airframes like the F20 tigershark and the A10 thunderbolt, together which would have cost far less than each F18 while yielding vastly superior scramble/interceptor air-to-air cover (F20) and ground attack close air support for our troops(A10).
    (i need point out that much of the F18’s selection occurred during trudeau’s administration as much as under mulrooney’s.)
    the avro arrow needed to be “accepted as designed” by our airforce and contracted for production immediately as high volume/no option airframes to be modified during later maintenance refit/upgrades as technology improved.
    had the LIBERALS did that BEFORE an election, the arrow’s initial acquistion costs wouldn’t have become so bloated.
    we had very little chance at selling arrows(to subsidize our costs of future upgrades) to other nato countries if we weren’t buying any ourselves.
    btw, before folks angrily respond by defending the F18 with endorsements made by CF military, i’ll say that a starved dog long will find even garbage delicious.
    our military cannot publically admit to being issued overpriced crap-like the the jammamatic 7.62 FN Squad Automatic Weapon that idiots in DND stuck a bipod and 30 round mags on and called it “a light machine gun” or the even crappier Aramalite’s M16a2 system that the designer himself regretted and vastly upstaged with his AR18/ Stoner weapon system.
    this nonsense continued with the Coromant (EH101) – a massive stand alone submarine hunter/destroyer ,when lighter torpedo armed/general purpose marine chopper like the seahawk (sikorsky’s replacement for the old seaking) flown from destroyer ships would easliy suffice.
    after this fiasco ,they went way overbudget again by insisting on heavily modifying the bird they should have choosen at the start-the seahawk (under a clever new name), all at the claimed “requirements of transport canada”-who’s in the business in national defense?
    Renaming slightly altered stuff with escalated price tags or insisting on purchase contracts that include long term maintance on equipment considered EXPENDABLE is smoke and mirrors perpetrated between top brass, suppliers and government officials under the ignorant eyes of elected fools who couldn’t tell the difference between a bullet and a suppository.
    the tax payer and the grunt both pay for this chicanery.

    Comment by barry — March 13, 2014 @ 3:14 pm | Reply

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