Friday, July 6, 2007

Goodbye AECL

The old fishing dock welcomes another worthy soul into retirement. This somewhat speculative headline has appeared: AECL Off to Scrapyard. (Poetic licence invoked). As someone who has worked with these guys all his natural working life, I take it upon myself to give them a nice roasted sendoff.

AECL is one of my main inspirations for The Claptrap Society. As a pure government organization, they arose exploiting a technological niche which private industry was not addressing (like NASA), namely the Canadian requirement for a nuclear reactor that did not use a speck of enriched uranium.

We all know Canada as the supplier of bomb material for the US, but that uranium had to be enriched in the States, and they didn't give any of that valuable stuff back to us! In the 50's, they developed nuclear power reactors that were just big steel cans where they popped in 4% enriched fuel, and let it boil. Absolute simplicity! We couldn't do that.

AECL eventually developed the Rube Goldberg machine of reactors: the CANDU reactor. This had to have a huge core, and a zillion pressure tubes in which the wimpy fuel was loaded. It's a plumbers nightmare of feeder tubes, and other piping and valves. As well, the fuel wasn't worth much, so it needed continuous fueling with a giant machine that makes the rest of the reactor look cool. (It's all very safe, blah, blah).

The need for AECL to join me on the dock comes from basic physics, in that this giant mess of a thing doesn't scale. They kept jacking up the internal flow rate on the pressure tubes, to finally arrive at the 1000 MW per reactor Darlington design, but they hit chaotic non-linearities. Darlington almost didn't start because of vibration problems, and they are still a problem (Did I say that out loud?).

Needless to say, AECL was a fine opportunist, and the new design goes to 2% enriched fuel, which resets the scaling a bit. This is now quite close to the 'other' reactors that use 4%, but it is no longer very unique.

AECL has had its day, and should retire quietly (like me!). They shouldn't really whine that they are a giant job creation project. That went out with the Soviet Union. Much like the beloved Arrow white elephant, and the big collapse of Nortel, the true talent is released to form the next Google, or something.

1 comment:

Monado said...

Speaking of going fishing, I moved my post about "steambath Toronto" over to my personal blog just about the time you were making a comment on it. So I read it in the notifying e-mail, but it's disappeared. Feel free to re-post.