2002 November 28
To the Editor,
The Legion Magazine
I enjoyed Laura Byrne Paquet's brief history of the National Research Council ("A Reputation for Innovation", November/December 2002). One of the NRC’s greatest contributions, not mentioned in the article, was its pioneering role in the development of nuclear energy.
Shortly after the outbreak of WWII, Dr. George Laurence performed some of the world's first fission experiments at the NRC's Sussex Drive laboratories.
From 1942 to 1946 the NRC administered the "Montreal Laboratory" at the University of Montreal: an enclave of British, Canadian, and dispossessed European scientists participating in the Anglo-American atomic bomb effort. (Canada, uniquely, withdrew from this effort after the war.)
The Montreal Lab spawned Chalk River Laboratories, west of Ottawa, where the world’s first reactor outside the U.S. started up in September 1945. Two years later Chalk River, still under the NRC, boasted the world's most powerful (and hence useful) research reactor, NRX, which ran for the next 45 years.
While NRX was a valuable science and engineering tool, it also pioneered the production of medical radioisotopes for treating disease. Radioactive cobalt from NRX powered the world's first cancer therapy machine in London, Ont. in December 1951. Today Canada leads the world in radioisotope technology.
In 1952, with an even more powerful research reactor, NRU, under construction, the NRC handed over Chalk River to a new crown corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which went on to develop the CANDU reactor.
Today the NRC maintains a research group at Chalk River (the “Neutron Program for Materials Research”, NPMR), and is repeating history as it leads an effort to build an advanced reactor (CNF) that will serve Canadian industry and science well into the new millennium.