Canada's Nuclear History

AECL Achievements: a Half-Century Tradition

1945   The ZEEP research reactor is completed at Chalk River, Ontario 
        and sustains the first controlled nuclear chain reaction outside the 
        United States

1947   The National Research Experimental (NRX) reactor starts up at Chalk 
        River -- the most powerful research reactor in the world

1952   The Canadian Government forms the Crown corporation Atomic Energy 
        of Canada Limited, or AECL, from precursor organizations dating 
        back to the early 1940s

1954   AECL, Ontario Hydro, and Canadian General Electric (now G.E. 
        Canada Inc.) form a partnership to build Canada's first nuclear 
        power plant, Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD)

1957   The National Research Universal (NRU) reactor starts up, and today
        is still considered one of the world's finest for its versatility 
        and high neutron flux

1960   Work begins on a 200 MWe CANDU prototype at Douglas Point, Ontario

1962   The Province of Ontario receives nuclear-generated electricity for 
        the first time from the NPD station

1965   The Douglas Point station starts up

1973   The Pickering Nuclear Generating Station in Ontario is completed, 
        producing more electricity than any nuclear power station in the 
        world at that time

1974   AECL makes its first international sale to Argentina -- a single-
        unit CANDU 6 reactor, derived from the multi-unit Pickering station

1977   Pickering Unit 3 achieves the highest capacity factor in the world

1981   Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau visits Wolsong during construction 
        of Unit 1

1982   AECL begins construction on an Underground Research Laboratory for 
        investigation of long-term disposal of nuclear fuel waste

1983   Four CANDU 6s in Argentina (1 unit), Canada (2 units), Republic of 
        Korea (1 unit) start commercial operation and CANDU wins seven of 
        the top 10 places for lifetime performance among the world's 

1987   CANDU wins one of the ten Canadian awards for the top engineering 
        achievements of the past century

1990   The Republic of Korea orders Wolsong Unit 2

1992   The Republic of Korea signs for two more reactors, Wolsong Units 
        3 and 4

1994   Bertram Brockhouse is awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his
        discoveries using neutron scattering at the NRU reactor.

1994   Pickering Unit 7 sets a world record for continuous operation 
        (894 days) without a shutdown

1995   The HANARO research reactor, with a core based on MAPLE technology, 
        starts up in the Republic of Korea

1996   Cernavoda Unit 1 attains criticality in Romania on April 16 -- 
        the first CANDU in Europe

The ZEEP Heritage:

Foundation of Canadian nuclear science and technology

Above, the ZEEP building at Chalk River Laboratories near Chalk River, Ontario, as it appeared around the time of the first startup in 1945.

The celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the first Canadian nuclear chain reaction, and the first outside the United States, on 1995 September 5, commemorated a history of achievement in the peaceful applications of the power of the atom. AECL is justifiably proud of its contributions to worldwide nuclear science and technology as well as the direct and indirect benefits to humanity.

A joint British-Canadian laboratory was set up in 1942 in Montreal, P.Q., under the administration of the National Research Council to conceive a reactor design and its associated operating and safety features. In 1944, approval was given to proceed with the construction of the ZEEP (Zero Energy Experimental Pile) reactor at Chalk River, Ontario. Dr. Lew Kowarski led the team of physicists and engineers that designed ZEEP and put it into service.

On 1945 September 5, at 3:45 p.m., ZEEP successfully achieved the first atomic fission in Canada as well as the first self-sustained nuclear reaction outside the United States. ZEEP enabled researchers to gather crucial information about core behaviour and lattice design that paved the way for further nuclear research and the evolution of the CANDU power reactor.

The Montreal Laboratory closed in 1946, but the work continued at Chalk River. With the benefit of experimental data obtained from ZEEP, the
NRX (National Research Experimental) -- a natural-uranium, heavy-water-moderated research reactor -- started up on 1947 July 22. Following this achievement was the startup of the much larger NRU (National Research Universal) -- a natural-uranium, heavy-water-moderated and -cooled research reactor -- on 1957 November 3.

AECL today maintains a comprehensive R&D program that supports the CANDU (CANada Deuterium Uranium) reactor design and its product development. Together with partners in the Canadian nuclear industry and private-sector companies in other countries, AECL has not only designed, engineered, and supplied components but also managed the building and servicing of CANDU units in North America, South America, Europe, and Asia. The collaborative effort has allowed the CANDU reactor to consistently place in the top ten for operating lifetime capacity among 439 power reactors in the world.

At left, interior view of ZEEP taken during the 1950s, showing researchers atop the reactor loading an experimental fuel rod. Experiments were conducted on fuel for early CANDU designs, including NPD and Douglas Point. [198 K GIF]


©1997 Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). CANDU® is a registered trademark of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL). Revised 1997 June 6