Speaker: Fred Boyd
AECB (ret/d)
Topic: The Birth of the Nuclear Industry
Location: J.L. Gray Centre
Deep River, Ont.
Date: Thursday, January 30, 2003 (8:00 pm)

Summary published in North Renfrew Times, February 5, 2003:

The Birth of the Nuclear Industry

by Jeremy Whitlock

It was a time for reminiscences on Thursday, January 30, as about 80 people listened to Fred Boyd recall “The Birth of the Nuclear Industry” at the J.L. Gray Centre.

Or perhaps it was “60 Years in 30 Minutes”, as Fred otherwise labelled his presentation -- but it certainly wasn’t the “Rambling Reminiscences of a Retarded Retiree”, his other alternative.

The occasion was co-hosted by the PEO Algonquin Chapter, and the CNS Chalk River Branch.

Fred Boyd is known to many as the Editor of the CNS Bulletin, a fixture at industry gatherings, and a well-respected commentator on the state of things nuclear.

To others he is an industry elder who co-authored an early seminal treatise on reactor safety with the late Don Hurst.

Prior to that, Fred cut his teeth on the engineering teams of the first cobalt therapy machine (marking its 50th anniversary in December 2001), and the NPD CANDU prototype (40 years old in June 2002).

After joining the fledgling Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) in 1960, Fred devoted the bulk of his career to nuclear safety.

He has the utmost respect for Canada's patriarch of nuclear safety, former AECB president George Laurence, whose full contribution, he feels, is seldom recognized by the industry.

Fred Boyd began his talk with a whirlwind tour of the industry’s last five decades, painted with a “growing tree” metaphor.

The seed was planted in the 40s; the 50s and 60s saw early and rapid growth; the 70s witnessed a spreading of the branches; the 80s brought the first signs of illness; the 90s required some pruning and sacrifice, but the new millennium shows early indications of stabilization.

The second part of Fred’s presentation featured significant vignettes from the early years, starting with his mentor George Laurence.

Between 1940 and 1942, Laurence, with summer assistance by Queens University professor B.W. Sargent, assembled one of the world’s first graphite-uranium criticality experiments in his NRC Sussex Drive lab.

Laurence worked largely in secrecy, on his own time, and with little awareness of similar pioneering experiments in England and the U.S.

Years later, Laurence’s wife Frieda would recount how he used to come home in the evenings coated with black dust “like a coal man”, while wartime secrecy prevented him from giving away the true reason for his appearance.

Laurence’s achievements played a part in the establishment the famed “Montreal Laboratory” in 1942 - an enclave of British, Canadian, and dispossessed European scientists contributing to the Anglo-U.S. atomic bomb effort.

The Montreal Lab achieved quite a lot, Fred notes, despite counter-productive leadership and deteriorating relations with the U.S.

Eventually the early design of NRX emerged, and Chalk River was chosen (beating out Nobel, Ontario) as the site for its construction.

Fred touched on a number of other important chapters from Canada’s nuclear history, including the realization of radiation cancer therapy by two competing teams under Roy Errington at Eldorado, and Harold Johns at the University of Saskatchewan (Errington’s team won the race).

Fred shared a number of amusing personal anecdotes from this endeavour -- a time of cowboy engineering and remarkable achievement, familiar to many of similar vintage in his audience.

He stressed the importance of the 1952 NRX accident in jettisoning Canada to the forefront of nuclear safety philosophy and engineering, led by deeply affected thinkers like Lewis, Hurst, Siddal, and Laurence.

Other influential leaders included “Daddy” Keys, C.J. Mackenzie, Bill Bennett, and the “last great president of AECL”, J.L. Gray.

A common denominator is the early years was the “can-do” spirit of fully-empowered, miniscule teams that worked miracles in remarkably short periods of time:

The NRX was cleaned, fixed, improved, and returned to service within 14 months of its 1952 accident;

The entire design of the NPD core was re-engineered and brought on-line over a five-year period.

Fred Boyd concluded with a positive look at AECL’s Qinshan project in China, recently completing the first of two CANDU reactors within budget and a month ahead of schedule.

To Fred this bodes well for the industry in the future, and successes like this should be broadcast from coast to coast.