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Queen’s University at Kingston

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Overview

The global drive for low-carbon energy sources, combined with a growing worldwide energy consumption, is a challenge to which nuclear energy, in combination with renewables such as wind and solar, provides a realistic, sustainable solution. Canada has an opportunity to position itself at the forefront of advanced nuclear reactor designs, given substantial investment in the development of small nuclear modular reactors (SMRs).  Queen’s University is committed to the principles outlined in Canada’s SMR Roadmap.

Universities, including Queen’s University, have an important role to play in SMR development, including:

  • Education of engineering and science professionals who will enable actual delivery of SMR systems 
  • Capacity building through graduate student research – Queen’s University has a long history of graduate students advancing into the nuclear industry
  • Asking and answering research questions that will enable first-of-kind systems to be safely and successfully delivered. As this sort of research largely takes place at the low-end of the Technology Readiness Level (TRL) scale, Queen’s research will serve to complement the work being carried out by vendors and at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories and other national labs
  • Maintaining links with the international nuclear academic research community, ensuring that Canadian research is informed, appropriately collaborative, and relevant

Queen’s is home to the leading Canadian academic research effort on core nuclear materials funded in part by UNENE, NSERC, NWMO and CFI.  Infrastructure includes a world-leading accelerator facility that can be used to introduce irradiation damage in materials, hence simulating the aging of materials inside SMRs.  The research effort includes 5 full time and 1 adjunct faculty, with expertise in irradiation damage, corrosion, materials characterisation, and modelling.  Perhaps the key technological barrier to successful SMR deployment is materials aging issues, the precise topic of the Queen’s effort.

Queen’s University also has a deep commitment to respectful, equitable and inclusive research activities, and has built up a research capacity – in terms of both staff and faculty hiring – to engage in research activities that privilege Indigenous ways of knowing and doing.  We hope to collaborate with others to advance the SMR Roadmap with Indigenous engagement in mind.

 

ACTIONS

CAPACITY, ENGAGEMENT & PUBLIC CONFIDENCE:
Training programs and education curriculum
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
QU01

Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 48

ACTION

Queen’s is engaged actively in preparing the next generation of nuclear talent. Queen’s is a participant in the University Network of Excellence in Nuclear Engineering (UNENE) MEng joint-university program, in which courses span most of the specific science and engineering used in nuclear power.

The University Network of Excellence in Nuclear Engineering (UNENE) is a Canadian based alliance of universities, nuclear power utilities, research and regulatory agencies for the support and development of nuclear education, research and development capacity.

Queen’s is also one of six members in a NSERC Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) project, focused on preparing students to work with SMR technology. Graduate students funded through this program receive additional training, experience beyond that offered to other graduate students, including taking part in hands-on learning modules at other institutions / labs / companies

Members of Queen’s community are able to contribute to nuclear standards development through the Canadian Standards Association. While at present this is focussed on the development of standards for CANDU plants, this will also expand to cover SMRs.

EXPECTED RESULTS

These initiatives will ensure that the future nuclear workforce has the skills, abilities, and resources needed for industry to meet the demands of a new, emerging SMR subsector in Canada from initial design to end-of-life.

University researchers with relevant subject matter expertise can provide credible independent reviews and comments.

CAPACITY, ENGAGEMENT & PUBLIC CONFIDENCE:
Diversity of next-generation nuclear talent
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
QU02

Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 49

ACTION

A major part of the initiatives referenced in the above section (Training Programs and education curriculum) include efforts to address EDI. With respect to Gender Diversity, women represent ~22% of the energy sector workforce as a whole; higher in renewables, lower in nuclear. This creates a barrier to recruitment, and results in a lack of women mentors / role models. Approximately 1/3 of students within the Queen’s nuclear group are women. To date, all of our women graduates have either been hired by the nuclear industry or continued with further postgraduate training.

Activities at Queen’s include:

  • Training in cultural/gender barriers;
  • Actively recruiting women undergrads to the field;
  • Increasing stipends to women graduate students;
  • Stepping-up efforts to ensure the Queen’s nuclear research team is a supportive and inclusive research environment for all; and
  • Collaboration between students & women industry leaders

EXPECTED RESULTS

These initiatives will support the creation of a highly-skilled, diverse community of SMR-aware technical professionals – ensuring access to relevant programs is improved for students from underrepresented groups. By removing barriers, Queen’s can play its part in building an inclusive and representative nuclear sector.

CAPACITY, ENGAGEMENT, AND PUBLIC CONFIDENCE
Dissemination of nuclear energy information to non-nuclear audiences
STATUS: IN PROGRESS
QU03

Responds to SMR Roadmap recommendation(s): 50

ACTION

In 2017, Queen’s – in collaboration with Natural Resources Canada – hosted a symposium, titled Envisioning a Competitive Low-Carbon Energy Future: The Role of Nuclear and Renewables. This workshop brought together more than 60 participants from academia, industry, government and community leaders for a critical dialogue on the role of nuclear and renewables in Canada’s energy futures.

Key findings of the symposium included the potential for mass expansion of nuclear as a source of renewable energy – supported by changing nuclear technologies (such as SMR’s). These advances could pose challenges in coordination, planning, regulation and implementation, and will require public-sector leadership to move forward.

The symposium report served as the inspiration for Queen’s symposium – titled Supporting Canada’s Energy Transition: Bridging the Gap between Fundamental Research, Industry, and Policy – at the 2018 Canadian Science Policy Conference.

EXPECTED RESULTS

Since the release of the symposium report, Queen’s has worked to communicate its findings broadly, as well as to position Queen’s as a partner in further consultations and symposia.

In engaging with government stakeholders, Queen’s continues to communicate the report’s findings as they relate to areas of research expertise.

At the core of past and on-going engagements on the topic is a commitment to ensuring the audience takes away a better understanding of nuclear technology, its risks/rewards, and the opportunities it presents to improve the health, safety, and well-being of Canadians, while meeting our growing energy demands.