McMaster University is a student-centered, research-intensive university that consistently ranks among the world’s Top 100 schools. McMaster has maintained active research programs in nuclear science and engineering for more than 65 years, and has firmly established itself as a global leader in nuclear research, development, and commercialization. Building on that strength and recognizing the importance and complexity of nuclear research and training, we have recently hired an Assistant Vice-President Research (Nuclear) to ensure we maximize our potential and further explore the untapped opportunities in which McMaster can play a leadership role both nationally and internationally.
At McMaster, our interest in Small Modular Reactors (SMRs) stems from our fundamental mission: the discovery, communication, and preservation of knowledge. Our faculty have expertise in a broad range of SMR-related research, including actinoid chemistry, advanced fuel cycles, waste management, nuclear engineering, nuclear safety, reactor physics, thermal hydraulics, materials science, radio-analytical chemistry, detector physics, and radiation biology, and are making essential contributions to the advancement of SMR technology.
McMaster is committed to serving the greater social and economic needs of our community. By collaborating with public and private stakeholders to translate research results into deployable outcomes and technologies, we strive to meet the complex challenges facing our society. SMR technologies have real potential to tangibly improve the quality of life of millions of people around the world by providing safe and affordable low-carbon energy, particularly to remote areas. Consequently, McMaster has a strong interest not only in solving the technical challenges associated with SMR deployment, but also in evaluating the economic viability and social acceptance issues that need to be resolved before Canada’s SMR vision can be realized.
With this larger vision in mind, McMaster is seeking to partner with the federal government, other leading Canadian academic institutions, and key stakeholders to conduct an SMR Deployment Feasibility Study. In consultation with community, business and government stakeholders, including local Indigenous communities and municipal councils, the study will evaluate the possibility of McMaster hosting an SMR on- or off-campus, recognizing that desired power output, space requirements and other factors will ultimately determine a preferred site. Our location in Canada’s industrial heartland, proximity to global steel manufacturers and related industries, and our on-going R&D partnerships with potential SMR owner-operators, position us perfectly to lead this initiative. We have the advantage of being home to nuclear experts across the disciplines and a strong CNSC-compliant regulatory program, while still experiencing challenges typical of other prospective SMR host communities: a diversity of viewpoints among our community members, and varying levels of public acceptance of nuclear energy technology.
We envision the Deployment Feasibility Study engaging students and faculty members from across all disciplines. As a case study in Problem-Based Learning, a pedagogical method pioneered at McMaster, students will take a holistic, inquiry-based approach to identify an optimal SMR deployment plan. Guided by faculty members, the McMaster community will explore which SMR technology is most appropriate for their unique environment; safety, security and environmental impacts of site selection; economic and technical aspects of selling excess electricity to the grid; social impacts on the campus as a whole; and public acceptance of nuclear energy technologies.
The Study will build on ongoing McMaster research programs in SMR technology validation, nuclear safety, waste reduction, nuclear security and site monitoring, and integrated energy systems for urban environments. In parallel, McMaster researchers will tackle some of the biggest questions around SMRs: what is the business case for SMRs? How does it change in different settings? What are the trade-offs for SMRs compared to other clean energy technologies? And what are the implications of SMRs for rate-payers in both host communities, and neighbouring areas?
As Canada looks beyond siting isolated demonstration units, the logistical challenges of fleet fabrication and deployment must also be considered. McMaster is well-positioned to address these issues as well: the newly established Next Generation Manufacturing Supercluster, headquartered at the McMaster Innovation Park, helps Canadian companies navigate the shift to advanced manufacturing; the McMaster Manufacturing Research Institute (MMRI) has been a strategic partner to industry for over 20 years, working with manufacturers to develop new tooling and processes. MMRI’s expertise in implementing techniques and processes that maximize productivity and quality while reducing cost will be central to the long-term economic viability of SMRs. At the same time, researchers at the McMaster Institute for Transportation & Logistics can provide insights on literal pathways to deployment, modelling transportation modes, goods movement, and export routes for SMR components – including Dangerous Goods – manufactured in Ontario.
The benefits of the Deployment Feasibility Study to Team Canada will be significant. As Canada’s most research-intensive university, McMaster has demonstrated competence in managing large, multi-disciplinary research projects; as an academic institution, McMaster brings an objective, unbiased approach to examining key barriers to SMR deployment, including economic viability, public awareness, and social acceptance. The Study would provide Team Canada with real-world knowledge, including diverse voices in SMR decision-making, and understanding and addressing the concerns of community members. Moreover, by Canada’s 2030 goal for SMR deployment, McMaster will have graduated 10 classes of young leaders, citizens, and decision-makers – all of whom will have been socialized to the notion of nuclear power as the clean energy backbone of their community.
A successful Deployment Feasibility Study led by McMaster University would also have broader impacts in the community. A holistic study of the real-world challenges inherent to SMR deployment authored with the academic integrity and objectivity that McMaster University is known for would have a significant impact on energy decision makers in the wider Hamilton community, and across southern Ontario.
McMaster’s vision of a Deployment Feasibility Study aligns well with the Statement of Principles set forth in Canada’s SMR Roadmap. Our researchers are actively engaged in developing several different SMR designs with industry partners, using McMaster’s unique, world-class nuclear research facilities to conduct experiments that are necessary to advance these technologies to the marketplace. McMaster is leading Canada’s participation in ventures such as the OECD’s Nuclear Energy Agency NEST program, making SMRs a focal point of the international nuclear community. The University’s Integrated Building Energy Harvesting Systems research tool is a living laboratory that explores how different energy sources can be combined to create community energy portfolios; at McMaster’s research and innovation park, faculty are working with industry partners on a nuclear waste reduction initiative, using approaches that will likely transfer to many SMR waste products. More information on the extensive SMR-related research and training activities currently in progress at McMaster is included in the next section.
McMaster is committed to the principles of equity, diversity, and inclusion, and consistently ranks as one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers. Our student body is 54% female, and 15% of our students are drawn from 16 different countries around the world. McMaster’s unique Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Scholars program offers Indigenous students from universities across Canada the opportunity to participate in an intensive 8-week research experience to foster their interest in post-graduate studies. All faculty members at McMaster – including those in nuclear science and engineering – are encouraged to host scholars in this program. If Canada wishes to achieve a diverse nuclear workforce by 2030, we must engage talented young people from across our multicultural university campuses now, so that they can work together to create a Brighter World.
INTERNATIONAL PARTNERSHIPS AND MARKETS
International lab-to-lab collaboration
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 29
McMaster University is leading Canada’s participation in the OECD Nuclear Energy Agency’s Global Forum on Nuclear Education, Skills, and Technology (NEST). Canada’s NEST proposal takes a holistic approach to SMR technology, including aspects of technology development, regulation, societal issues, spent fuel management, and economics. Participants (“NEST fellows”) conduct collaborative research through a series of Case Studies with both global reach and local Canadian focus.
Expansion of existing research & training networks by including young professionals from Canada (McMaster, Saskatchewan, Regina), Swiss (1) and US (3) universities, two national nuclear research laboratories (Belgium, France), and the European Union’s SAMOSAFER Consortium. The NEST network will also interface with a larger Canadian “CREATE” training network on SMRs, which includes Canada’s national nuclear laboratory, CNL. NEST will attract international talent to Canada through community building activities.
CAPACITY, ENGAGEMENT, AND PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
Training programs and education curriculum
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 27, 48
McMaster is working with other UNENE members to revise undergraduate and post-graduate course offerings to include a wider range of nuclear energy technologies.
McMaster is leading a pan-Canadian Small Modular Advanced Reactor Training (SMART) Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program that emphasizes mobility and skills training. SMART students (BSc, MSc, PhD, PDF) are drawn from across Canada, and get hands-on experience at key Canadian nuclear research facilities (CNL, McMaster, Ontario Tech, Queens, Royal Military College, UNB, Waterloo).
McMaster faculty are actively conducting SMR-focused research, often in partnership with SMR technology developers. These collaborations provide students with hands-on, practical experience in early and mid-stage research and development programs, while leveraging the expertise and research infrastructure at Canadian universities to build new experimental facilities for technology verification and validation. Current SMR research areas include safety code development, remote safeguards and site monitoring, fuel safety analysis, fuel cycle economics, and fuel disposal chemistry. Recently funded projects will leverage existing infrastructure to enable the design of subcritical test facilities, using neutron sources available on campus to study the behaviour of SMR components in a realistic environment.
Graduates will gain the skills and knowledge that will prepare them to work in a nuclear energy sector that has expanded beyond CANDU and PWR/BWR technologies.
From 2019-2025, 96 students will gain professional skills training and research experience in fields that span the life-cycle of SMRs (Safety & Risk, Design & Analysis, Materials & Experiments, Fuel-cycles & Decommissioning). Participants will develop multi-disciplinary perspectives on SMRs through SMART activities, and by interfacing with CaNRisk, a McMaster-led CREATE program focused on seismic risk as it relates to nuclear energy infrastructure.
These projects will produce a young, highly skilled nuclear energy workforce that has experience with all phases of SMR technology development. Involving young Canadian scientists in the design, validation, and utilization of new research facilities will enable them to participate in key experiments that are essential to advancing SMR technologies toward regulatory approval and deployment. This work will strengthen Canada’s nuclear work force by creating a generation of creative problem solvers, while anchoring Intellectual Property development related to SMRs here in Canada.
CAPACITY, ENGAGEMENT, AND PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
Diversity of next-generation nuclear talent
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 49
Diversity was selected as a foundational driver of the McMaster-led SMART CREATE program.
Faculty working in SMR-related fields are encouraged to participate in McMaster’s Indigenous Undergraduate Summer Research Scholars program.
McMaster offers for-credit workshops on nuclear science for students in its limited enrollment Integrated Science and Arts & Science undergraduate programs.
McMaster’s interdisciplinary Radiation Sciences graduate program (launched 2015) takes a holistic, interdisciplinary, approach to radiation science and technology, and has a gender-balanced student population.
The proportion of women recruited to the SMART program will align with university norms in similar areas.
Placements will be available for Indigenous students who wish to be involved in SMR technology, or in researching social and economic aspects of SMRs.
Students enrolled in elite, gender-balanced programs are exposed to the diverse areas of nuclear science and technology, including SMRs.
Canada can draw from this diverse pool of highly skilled young professionals to solve interdisciplinary problems at the intersection of health, radiation safety, site monitoring, and regulatory affairs.
CAPACITY, ENGAGEMENT, AND PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
Dissemination of nuclear energy information to non-nuclear audiences
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 50
McMaster’s Reactor Tour Program attracts more than 2000 visitors (high school students, professional groups, general public) every year.
McMaster’s new Virtual Reactor Tour features 3D underwater views of the reactor core and interviews with several staff members.
Community members are invited to tour McMaster’s various nuclear research facilities during Doors Open Hamilton, an annual community event.
Classroom program: McMaster staff visit local STEM-focused summer camps (and elementary/middle school classrooms. This initiative has been expanded to include McMaster’s annual Take Our Kids to Work Day for Grade 9 students.
McMaster is a founding member of the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council (CNIC) and participates actively in panel discussions, creating informational documents, and science policy meetings. With the Nuclear Innovation Institute and CNIC, McMaster is working on a public communications project around medical isotopes.
McMaster is introducing a nuclear-themed course into its Learning for 55+ series, which are designed for community members with no background in science or engineering.
The public learns about the diverse applications of nuclear technology by visiting the only nuclear facility in Canada that is open to the public.
Canadians who cannot travel to campus can still experience a nuclear facility and learn about how it is used to improve human health and well-being.
Residents of Greater Hamilton get hands-on experience with nuclear science, using Geiger counters to detect radiation, and learning about uses of nuclear energy.
Children learn about nuclear energy and other applications of nuclear science including medical isotopes through an interactive presentation and structured activity centre.
The public, as well as Canadian policy makers, will gain a greater understanding of the importance of medical isotopes in healthcare, and the role of the nuclear energy and nuclear research sectors in producing medical isotope drugs and products.
Participants aged 55+ will learn about nuclear energy, radiation safety, and medical isotope science through this 3-part interactive seminar mini-series (launching 2020-21).