Speaker: David Torgerson
Senior VP, Technology, AECL
Topic: R&D at AECL: The Next 10 Years
Location: J.L. Gray Centre
Deep River, Ont.
Date: Thursday, January 31, 2002 (8:00 pm)

Summary published in North Renfrew Times, February 6, 2002:

Speaker sees "Second Golden Era" for AECL Research

by Jeremy Whitlock

A rosy picture was painted of AECL's future on Thursday evening, January 31, for a capacity crowd at the J.L. Gray Centre.

The Canadian Nuclear Society presented David Torgerson, Senior VP of Technology for AECL, speaking on "R&D at AECL: The Next Ten Years".

Dr. Torgerson is a fellow of the Canadian Nuclear Society and the Chemical Institute of Canada, and a recipient of the Canadian Nuclear Association's W.B. Lewis Medal. He joined AECL as a nuclear chemist in 1976, eventually holding management positions in reactor chemistry, reactor safety, fuel waste management, reactor development, and overall CANDU R&D.

In addition to CANDU technology and services, Dr. Torgerson is currently responsible for AECL's own nuclear facilities, plus its waste management and decommissioning activities.

Dr. Torgerson began on Thursday evening by describing the environment in which future energy technologies will compete. The close coupling of electricity and wealth will lead to increasing global electricity use, with a concomitant increase in greenhouse-gas production. The Kyoto agreement, even if fully implemented, can only delay the doubling of greenhouse-gas production by a decade or so.

Enter hydrogen fuel cells and nuclear power: an environmentally friendly pairing of technology with long-term resource stability. Dr. Torgerson claims that fifteen large CANDU reactors could supply enough hydrogen to fuel all of the automobiles in Canada, without the emission of greenhouse gases.

Alternatively, nuclear power is uniquely suited to the energy needs of mining Canada's Athabasca Oil Sands, which contain more oil than Saudi Arabia. Ninety per cent of this oil is unreachable by conventional means, but most of it can be extracted using steam supplied by a stable, low-cost, clean, abundant power source like a CANDU reactor.

Dr. Torgerson then explained, with infectious enthusiasm, how AECL is poised to thrive in this future environment. He took the audience on a short tour of some of AECL's most promising new technologies:

  • CIRCE, an advanced wet-proofed catalyst technology for economically making heavy water -- now operating successfully at a prototype plant in Hamilton, Ont.

  • CANFLEX, an evolutionary CANDU fuel design that enables more efficient use of uranium resources, enabling advanced fuel cycles while letting older CANDU reactors operate more efficiently.

  • SmartCANDU, a total plant monitoring system that lets engineers predict future plant trends and avoid costly problems.

  • Pressure-tube diagnostics, painting a complete picture of the conditions inside CANDU fuel channels (e.g. defect, sagging, embrittlement)

  • DUPIC, a fuel cycle that allows CANDU reactors to "burn" the spent fuel from American-style PWR reactors.

  • Passive safety features, including pump-free moderator cooling circuits and emergency cooling system, and passive removal of hydrogen from inside containment buildings.

  • Advanced CANDU designs, including not just the high-priority "Next Generation CANDU" design, but other evolutionary steps that converge on a grand "CANDU X" design serving as 25-year goal for the technology's continuing development.

    Most people have now heard of the new NG CANDU product, which maintains the best of current CANDU characteristics while optimizing others -- such as fuel enrichment, core size, and the use of light-water coolant. This technology puts Canada at the forefront of the advanced reactor market that will see fruition in five to six years.

It is obvious that Dr. Torgerson has the utmost respect for the competence and vision found in AECL's scientists and engineers. He strongly feels we are approaching a sharp rise in R&D activity, not seen since the golden era of the 50's and 60's. The most valuable resource then is the same as today: the people behind the technology.