Neutron quest: Canadian Chemical News

Highlights from “Neutron Quest” in the March 2018 edition of Canadian Chemical News:

Canada is quietly marking a scientific and technological milestone this spring with the final shutdown of the National Research Universal (NRU), a nuclear research reactor located on Ottawa River near the small town of Chalk River, about three hours’ drive west of the national capital. With that, the country is severing one of the world’s most durable links to the 20 century’s enthusiasm for nuclear energy, as well as a scientific tool that will be challenging to replace.

Among the most prominent innovations [at NRU] was the technique of neutron scattering, a powerful new addition to our scientific tool kit, employing beams of these uncharged particles from the core of the reactor to probe the molecular structures and dynamics of any kind of material.

The NRU reactor quickly became the centrepiece of a community that includes some 800 people in dozens of Canadian universities and government departments as well as foreign institutions in 22 other countries. At the heart of this community is the Canadian Neutron Beam Centre (CNBC), the venerable “hub” of local scientific and technical expertise that developed the neutron beam lines — the intricate laboratory equipment that surrounds the reactor — and facilitates the research conducted there.

“Neutrons are a scarce resource and I’d like us to exploit them,” says Bruce Gaulin, who heads up the Brockhouse Institute for Materials Research at McMaster University. “The irony is that Canada was a heroic player in founding the field and now we’re going to be in this situation where we could be on the sidelines completely. We’re definitely not going to be in a leadership position, but it could be worse than that. It could be that we don’t have anywhere to go.”

[In 2015]  a coalition of interested parties formed the Canadian Neutron Initiative (CNI), to establish a new, university-led framework for stewardship of Canada’s capacity for materials research with neutron beams, building on existing national and international resources. With executive leadership from the University of Saskatchewan, McMaster University, CINS, and the Canadian Nuclear Association, the CNI’s efforts accelerated in 2017 to include several forays to Ottawa for meetings with different branches of government, culminating with testimony before the finance committee’s pre-budget consultation.

The CNI has suggested a federal funding package of $24 million over the next three years and $19 million annually from 2021 to 2029. In contrast, it has been costing around $100 a year to keep the NRU reactor running, a sizeable amount that was part of the rationale for retiring the reactor. For Gaulin, those numbers make CNI look like a bargain. 

“This is on the order of $20M a year, so it’s a fifth of what they’re already paying,” he insists. “It’s not a crazy proposal; it’s not a luxury. We need this.”

[Thad Harroun, President of the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering] remains optimistic.

“The door’s not closed,” he says. “We just need to continue the work and continue the dialogue. The CNI is a great solution; I hope that will be acknowledged soon.”

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R$: Scientists disappointed with federal budget’s silence on neutrons

Highlights from “Scientists disappointed with federal Budget’s silence on nuclear research funding request” in the March 28, 2018 edition of Research Money:

Researchers dependent upon the aging nuclear reactor operated by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) are disappointed that there was no response in the latest federal Budget to their request for modest funding to facilitate access to different sources of neutron beams.

Members of the Canadian Neutron Initiative (CNI) have been advocating for increased access to foreign facilities and upgrades to a small reactor at McMaster Univ. They were hoping the science-heavy Budget would support their research while a more permanent solution to the closure of the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor is explored. Operated by CNL, the 60-year-old reactor is being decommissioned at the end of March.

In response to Budget 2018, CNI members tell RE$EARCH MONEY they have entered into discussions with federal departments and agencies that received new funding in the Budget to see if there’s any money that can be allocated to help realize CNI’s funding objectives.

“In the budget, there’s a big emphasis on boosting science funding, but there are may ways to target that money; infrastructure, individual grants and fellowships, new chairs, industrial partnerships, and the like … Of course, we were happy to see the boost to the tri-councils. But on the infrastructure side, we also really need a new coordinated program to connect Canadians with alternative neutron beam labs, here and abroad. We’ve really been cut off from this important tool,” says Dr Thad Harroun, president of the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering, member of the CNI working group and associate professor at Brock Univ.

[John Root, Director of the Canadian Neutron Beam Centre] adds: “The plan right now is that we will wrap up the Canadian Neutron Beam Centre in the coming year. That is a team of about 20 professional and technical people that enable hundreds of users to access the facility effectively … We also have to decide what to do with our equipment. We have six neutron spectrometers and a number of (other) equipment that have a total replacement value of $30 million and those are assets that belong to the crown … so we have to decide whether and how to redeploy those — whether that could be a resource for building a partnership with an alternate neutron source, or maybe that we end up just folding it all. That has yet to be thought out and that’s one of the jobs for this year.”

Get the full article (copyright Research Money, pdf file used with permission)

Office of the Minister of Science meets with researchers who use neutron beams

The Office of the Minister of Science received a delegation of Canadian researchers in support of the Canadian Neutron Initiative on Thursday last week (Feb 08, 2018). Delegates emphasized how irreplaceable neutron beams are to their fields of research.
Continue reading Office of the Minister of Science meets with researchers who use neutron beams

Parliamentary Committee Asks the Government to implement the Canadian Neutron Initiative

The House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance (FINA) has recommended the Government of Canada to “implement the Canadian Neutron Initiative, upgrade and fully utilize the McMaster nuclear reactor, and facilitate international nuclear research partnerships,” in its December 8, 2017 report, Continue reading Parliamentary Committee Asks the Government to implement the Canadian Neutron Initiative

Canadian scientists visit the European Spallation Source

Canadian scientists talk opportunities for cooperation with the European Spallation Source.

“We put together a delegation of scientists that represent a wide range of priority science research areas for Canada, including energy, health, advanced manufacturing, and quantum materials,” says Harroun. Continue reading Canadian scientists visit the European Spallation Source