Vice-President, Science, Technology, & Commercial Oversight, AECL
Atomic Energy of Canada Limited continues to drive nuclear innovation, over 70 years after its formation.
At the dawn of the atomic age, the Canadian government created a new crown corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), with a mandate to develop peaceful uses of nuclear energy.
“AECL was created by an Act of Parliament in 1952,” says Amy Gottschling, Vice-President of Science, Technology, and Commercial Oversight at AECL. “Its mandate was to define, direct, and build the nuclear industry for Canada. It was a driver and a technology push, building on that domestic security framework that was so needed at the time.” From demonstrating the first initial fission reactions to building the first demonstration nuclear power plant to ultimately designing the CANDU reactors, which remain in operation in Canada and internationally, AECL effectively established Canada’s nuclear industry.
An evolving mission
Today, AECL still plays a vital leadership role in the nuclear sector, and owns Canada’s largest nuclear science and technology laboratory. Its role has evolved, though. AECL continues to own the Intellectual Property of the CANDU reactors that it developed and deployed in Canada and abroad over decades, and which was licensed to AtkinsRéalis (formerly SNC-Lavalin) in 2011. In 2015, AECL contracted out the operations and management of its facilities and assets to a private company — in effect, AECL became leaner and more efficient in fulfilling its mandates.
“We moved to a government-owned, contractor-operated model, which was really to drive efficiency and value for Canada,” says Gottschling. The site management and operations of the national nuclear lab at Chalk River Laboratories, which remains an internationally recognized nuclear science and technology campus, have been contracted out to Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL). And from thousands of employees initially, AECL now has a team of 45 highly qualified employees that oversee the contract and implement AECL’s strategic direction, vision, and mission.
If our role used to be to define and direct the nuclear industry writ large, we now feel our role is more to enable, nurture, facilitate, advise, guide, and support Canada’s nuclear sector by using the expertise we have from our legacy of nuclear in any way we can.
One of AECL’s core missions today is to protect the environment and care for the land by fulfilling the Government of Canada’s obligations for AECL’s legacy radioactive waste and decommissioned sites. It also has a mandate to enable nuclear science and technology, and to innovate and advance nuclear technologies that benefit and improve the lives of Canadians. Finally, revitalizing Chalk River Laboratories is a top priority for AECL.
Harnessing the power of nuclear innovation
“If our role used to be to define and direct the nuclear industry writ large, we now feel our role is more to enable, nurture, facilitate, advise, guide, and support Canada’s nuclear sector by using the expertise we have from our legacy of nuclear in any way we can,” says Gottschling.
AECL’s current strategic plan includes three core pillars: investing in its capabilities and environmental duties, driving the future of nuclear in Canada, and facilitating nuclear innovation to the benefit of the public good. Here’s an idea of what that looks like: AECL is using its nuclear expertise at CNL to help enable and advance the small modular reactor (SMR) community, it heavily enables the existing fleet of CANDU reactors in Canada, it supports the hydrogen infrastructure in Canada, it’s driving the fusion ecosystem in Canada, it fosters cooperation and enhances collaboration between stakeholders to drive innovation, and it’s a leader in life-saving medical isotope production and distribution.
Ongoing engagement with Indigenous communities and stakeholders is fundamental to delivering AECL’s mandate. “We’re committed to building collaborative relationships based on the recognition of rights, on a foundation of respect, truth, cooperation, trust, and partnership,” says Gottschling. Building relationships that benefit its local communities is also very important to AECL — as seen through, for example, its relationship with Deep River, Ont. Deep River was the residential community of AECL employees located at Chalk River, and is now a thriving, fully incorporated town. “The families who live in Deep River and the surrounding Chalk River community are part of the fabric of who we are and what we stand for, so it’s important for us to nurture those relationships,” says Gottschling.
To learn more about how AECL is driving nuclear opportunity for Canada, visit aecl.ca.