Nuclear Science Week is an international seven-day celebration of all things nuclear science. If you’re at all curious, it’s an ideal time to look at and understand how this important and growing branch of science impacts our lives in the ways it supports clean energy, healthcare, innovation, technology, and even space exploration. For Eclipse, Nuclear Science Week is an opportunity to highlight and share the work that the team in our nuclear division has done and continues to do in order to provide revolutionary solutions to our customers and to advance this fascinating branch of science, particularly in the area of nuclear energy.
Start with the Basics
Before we look at the work of the Eclipse Nuclear team, it may be helpful to take a moment to talk about what nuclear science is. A basic (and maybe oversimplified) explanation is that it is the study of atoms. Atoms are tiny units that make up all matter in our universe. In fact, everything in our world, including ourselves, is made up of atoms. At the core of every atom is a nucleus, and the energy in the nucleus that holds the nucleus together contains a huge amount of power. That power can be used to create electricity, but it must first be released from the atom. This happens when the nuclei of atoms are split into several parts, a process known as fission.
What happens at a Nuclear Power Plant
The place where atoms are split and energy is created is inside a nuclear power plant’s reactor. Here, atoms in uranium pellets are split and some of their mass is turned into energy. The other parts of the split atom, in turn, split other atoms over and over again. This is called a chain reaction, which reproduces the splitting in many more uranium nuclei. This chain reaction is where we get the term “nuclear reactor.” The reactor controls the speed of the chain reaction. Heat released in the process boils the water making the steam that turns the turbine, which drives the generator that produces electricity, and that electricity is sent through cables into our homes.
The Upside and the Downside
Nuclear energy’s greatest attribute is that it provides us with clean, pollution-free power, with no greenhouse emissions. This translates into a healthier planet for all living things, as opposed to more conventional forms of power, such as gas, coal and biofuel create carbon dioxide, which cause damage to our natural world, including global warming, sea level rise, increased extreme weather, and altered rainfall patterns. Nuclear power, on the other hand, provides us with inexpensive electricity and frees us from being dependent on oil. Most, if not all, the pollution is contained in the used nuclear fuel.
Along with all the plusses, comes a challenge: reactors produce radioactive waste, such as used uranium pellets. These are extremely toxic and stay radioactive for thousands of years. That’s why governments regulate how these materials are disposed of in order to avoid contamination.
When you think about it, though, all forms of power produce waste. With conventional forms, the waste is pumped into the atmosphere. Nuclear energy is one of the only industries that takes full ownership of their waste. They plan to store nuclear waste below ground, where it does not create greenhouse gases, and therefore does not contribute to climate change. Bottom line, nuclear power is a proven, tested and safe form of energy.
Eclipse’s Expertise in Nuclear
As one of only 200 companies approved to supply products and services to the Canadian nuclear industry, Eclipse has earned a solid reputation in the industry. Its team of engineers and technical experts understand the regulatory, safety and operational requirements of high-risk nuclear environments. From heavy tooling and equipment to custom automation systems that refurbish nuclear reactors, we support the work of decontamination, decommissioning and reactor life extension.
The list of projects undertaken by the Eclipse nuclear team is long and impressive. Highlights include CANDU® fuel bundle manufacturing, decommissioning equipment, reactor inspection and maintenance, reactor life extension, and waste management. Eclipse has provided solutions for hot cell design and manufacturing, automated volume reduction, field technical support, reactor component assembly and installation systems, and remotely operated waste extraction.
For example, a few years ago, Eclipse embarked on a one-of-a-kind challenge; to design, build, and commission a remotely operated machine to process nuclear waste at Whitesell Laboratories in Pinawa, Manitoba. Once the job is complete, the former research site will be returned to the First Nations in Manitoba. The challenge was to produce a machine that can do it all – extract, size, reduce, process, sort and segregate nuclear waste from seven underground bunkers. When that was accomplished, Eclipse added to the project a testing and training facility, which will allow Eclipse to perform full acceptance testing on representative waste storage bunkers. Now, several swimming-pool-sized test sites will verify machine performance before actual radioactive waste is processed in Manitoba.
Towards a Cleaner, Greener Future
According to the World Nuclear Association, the world’s 445 reactors are saving 2.5 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide emissions every year. Closer to home, Canada’s new federal emissions reduction plan has a goal of slashing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 40 percent by 2030.
As much as 40 percent of industrial emissions comes from burning fossil fuels to produce this heat, and it is difficult to get this heat from electricity. According to a Wall Street Journal article, electricity produced by 19 nuclear reactors accounts for 15 percent of Canada’s energy supply, and in Ontario, nuclear power is the top source of electricity at 60 percent.
Canada has an abundant supply of uranium and talent to supply all the power we need, and nuclear power does not require as much land as hydroelectric, wind or solar power. The future looks bright for Canada to produce more nuclear power and fight climate change. With an impressive track record in the industry, Eclipse is proud of our contributions to nuclear power and our part in clearing the air for everyone.