University of Saskatchewan vice-president of finance and resources Richard Florizone has spearheaded a proposal to build a nuclear research reactor at the U of S, which would enable the university to become a national leader in material science research. He has been working on the project for over a year and says the reactor could be built within the decade, at an estimated cost of between $500 and $750 million.
Although the project is still in the initial stages of development, the proposed Canadian Neuron Source (CNS) reactor has gained widespread support from the provincial government of Saskatchewan and, recently, the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering (CNIS). “It was really an easy choice,” Dominic Ryan, CINS president, told the Canadian University Press. “There’s nobody else who’s actively offering to build anything. Saskatchewan’s the only game in town, and it’s a very good game.”
There are currently six Canadian universities, including the University of Alberta and McMaster University, that operate research reactors to produce neutrons for a variety of areas of research, such as radioisotope production and neutron activation analysis, depending on the facility.
However, what makes the facility at the U of S an exciting proposal is that it would be the first reactor to be commissioned in decades to conduct neutron scattering research in Canada. For those of us who are not nuclear physicists, neutron scattering research, or neutron beam research as it is sometimes called, is used by scientists to study large materials at the atomic level. It can be used to analyze the inner workings of everything from the turbine of an airplane to a cell membrane inside the human body in a nondestructive way.
Currently, Canadian neutron scattering research is conducted at the National Research Universal (NRU) centre located in Chalk River, Ont., making it invaluable to Canadian neutron researchers. However, the NRU is over 50 years old, and will likely be shut down as early as 2016. “For the neutron scattering community, that’s a real problem, because it takes 7 – 10 years to build a new reactor from a standing start,” Ryan told On Campus.
Unlike the NRU facility, which is used for several types of neutron research and is a major producer of medical isotopes, the proposed CNS would specialize in neutron beam research. The U of S is also currently home to the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, which uses x-ray beams to examine the property of materials. If the CNS were built, the U of S would be the only university in North America to have both a synchrotron and a nuclear reactor at its fingertips.
Florizone explained that these two types of technologies are very compatible when studying the properties of matter. “When you want to study the properties of matter, x-rays let you see the electrons around an atom, and neutrons help you see the nucleus inside the atom,” he said. “Between those two, you really get a complete view . . . of the atoms that make up materials.”
The original proposal for the CNS to the provincial government sought to make it a centre for medical isotope production. This was to counteract a growing shortage of medical isotopes, which are used in the treatment of certain cancers and for detailed medical imaging of the human body. While the federal government has since decided to pursue the development of non-reactor based technologies to cater to the increasing demand for these isotopes, Florizone said the CNS “could provide more than enough isotope supply for Canada . . . I think its something we remain open to.”
Organizers of the project still have a long way to go before the U of S will see it fully operational, as it still in first stage of approval. The university is currently discussing funding for for the second stage of the poject, that would include feasibility studies, with the provincial and federal governments.