Transforming Canadian Nuclear Laboratories

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Atkins is a key member of the Canadian National Energy Alliance (CNEA), a four company consortium which also includes Fluor, CH2M Hill, and SNC Lavalin. The CNEA consortium is responsible for the management of the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) - the country's premier nuclear science and technology laboratory - with sites across Canada in Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba.

In 2012, the Canadian government (which until that point owned the sites) decided to transform the Canadian Nuclear Laboratories from an Owner/Operator model to a Government Owned Contractor Operated (GoCo) concept in a similar fashion to how the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority (NDA) appointed contractors to transform the clean-up and waste management program in the United Kingdom.

CNEA won an international competition in 2015 for CNL, which represents the entire Government of Canada nuclear estate, with the 10-year contract worth around C$7 billion.

Atkins is honored to be part of the team assisting Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), a federal Crown corporation responsible for the long-term, contractual arrangement with CNEA for the management and operation of Canadian Nuclear Laboratories.

Chalk River

The main Canadian Nuclear Laboratories site is located at Chalk River, Ontario, about 180km north of Ottawa. The Chalk River site is the home of the remaining operating nuclear reactor, nuclear operations to support medical isotope production, a diverse science and technology group, and an organization focused on environmental remediation and decommissioning.

Governance for the contract is executed through the CNEA Board of Directors, while operational oversight is provided by the CNL Board of Directors which is chaired by Mark Morant, president of Atkins’ Energy Americas business.

Atkins and its partners has seconded employees in key executive and management positions at CNL. The Atkins team deployed on contract include six employees working at Chalk River and at a reactor decommissioning site north west of Chalk River called Nuclear Production Demonstrator (NPD). Patrick Daly, senior VP decommissioning projects in Atkins' Energy Americas business, is the project manager for the NPD site which is one of two sites that CNEA is contracted to decommission and close.

The NPD site, located about 20 miles up the Ottawa River from Chalk River, is the location of Canada’s first nuclear electrical production reactor which operated from 1962 to 1987. For 25 years the 20MW site served as an important training facility for future reactor engineers and operators. Now in the process of decommissioning, Atkins’ team is also leading this closure project. The site is scheduled to be closed and fully decommissioned by 2020 and it will be the first nuclear facility to be fully decommissioned in Canada. There are four Atkins employees working on this team including Patrick Daly, Todd Butz, Brain Wood, and Joel Zarret.

As part of the CNEA team, Atkins employees Jim Buckley and Andy Drom are senior managers within the Decommissioning and Waste Management Organization focused on legacy nuclear waste management including the design, build, and licensing of Canada’s first low level nuclear disposal facility. The facility project called Near Surface Disposal Facility (NSDF) will allow for the accelerated decommissioning of many older structures and waste storage facilities located at Chalk River once it is completed, and was a critical part of the winning strategy that Atkins staff developed for CNEA. Once implemented, the NSDF will significantly and safely reduce Canada’s legacy nuclear waste liabilities whilst also protecting the environment. A formal Environmental Assessment has started and is part of the licensing process needed to obtain approval for construction and operation.

Other Atkins personnel include Ken Powers who is supporting the CNL Engineering Manager part time as a mentor and advisor. Ken brings many years of nuclear operational and decommissioning experience both in the UK and USA to Chalk River.

Whiteshell Laboratories, Manitoba

Supporting CNL in Manitoba at the Whiteshell Laboratory closure project is Atkins employee Miles Smith, who is senior nuclear waste operations manager for the entire site, with the objective of closing the site and disposing all waste streams by 2025. The Whiteshell Laboratories, a former research centre for the Canadian nuclear industry, has been closed since 2010, and the decommissioning of the WR-1 reactor is soon to get underway.

After 28 years, CNL team gets a look inside the NPD vault

Reprinted with permission of CNL Corporate Communications

In 1988, Wayne Gretzky was traded from Edmonton to Los Angeles; the Winter Olympics were held in Calgary; and, Prime Minister Mulroney got re-elected with a majority largely on a free trade mandate. In the Ottawa Valley, just down the road from Rolphton, the Nuclear Power Demonstration (NPD) site was being closed after almost 30 years of safe and successful operation. In this same year a reading was taken with a radiation monitor located through a plug hole in the NPD reactor vault. This was the last recorded reading taken in that location, and 1988 would be the last year anyone would look down into the vault.

For almost 30 years, areas of the NPD reactor vault have been sealed off behind walls of nine foot thick heavy concrete and re-bar, with a vault liner made of carbon steel. Based off of those last recordings in 1988 and a selection of historical photos, experts have only surmised what the conditions might be like behind those walls. Until now…

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Today the NPD site is on an accelerated decommissioning schedule that includes the in-situ decommissioning of the reactor. To accomplish decommissioning through this approach, extensive characterization of the site -including the reactor vault itself -will be completed.

As an early step in characterization of the vault, the NPD Closure Project team engaged CNL’s Mechanical Equipment Development (MED) group to help brainstorm solutions and develop remote tooling to get the information the project requires.

The team needed to figure out a way to core through nine feet of heavy concrete, avoid the many obstructions, and continue through the vault liner and the dousing tank. When the coring area was chosen, precision drilling was necessary to avoid an active drain line (0.7 inches away), vertical rebar, and the vertical section of the dousing tank nine feet below. For characterisation purposes, the project was tasked with retrieving coupons of the vault liner and the dousing tank along with seven separate concrete core samples. The team also had to develop inspection instruments that could be inserted down the cored hole and complete the preliminary characterization tasks required inside the vault.

A six-inch diameter hole was produced in the concrete slab separating the NPD Fuelling Machine Room and the Reactor Vault Room using an off-the-shelf drill that cut through to the vault, creating seven individual cores for inspection. Using a CNL-modified bit, the MED team retrieved the two metal coupons necessary for characterization. Throughout the coring, water was used to cool the bit, prevent sparking, and keep down dust. Reducing the amount of contaminated water was paramount, so the team developed a system that conserved the amount of water used by reusing it and allowing contaminants to settle.

After the core was successfully drilled, the inspection process began; this required more unique tooling. The characterisation and inspection equipment included a camera, a 3D probe (mapping system), a dose rate meter, and a spectrometer. Everything but the spectrometer was affixed to an aluminium tube that was lowered in the hole and took readings at several points (the spectrometer was delivered separately).

The radiation and contamination levels encountered throughout the work were much lower than expected.

The measured fixed radiation and loose contamination on the first six cores was practically zero. The background radiation level in the fuelling machine room was approximately 0.25 mrem/hr. Only the bottom end of the last core section (seventh core) had a radiation level that was slightly higher than the background. The measured dose rate within the reactor vault, just less than 13 ft away from the front of the reactor face, was 80 to 90 mrem/hr, and didn’t seem to change much with vertical positioning. After all the work was completed, a shielding plug was placed over the hole.

The overall project was led by Robby Baidwan with support from the NPD Closure Team. Mitch King was the Technical Lead for Coring Operations, Paul Rochefort the Technical Lead for Inspection and Andrew McVeigh the Health Physicist. Like Gretzky said after winning the Stanley Cup, it was an entire team effort. The NPD Closure team and technical leads want to recognize and thank the many team members involved in this effort.

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Patrick Daly
Senior VP decommissioning projects

Email: patrick.daly@atkinsglobal.com 

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