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‘It was very unique’: Saskatoon’s SLOWPOKE-2 research reactor shutting down after 37 years

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When most people hear the words nuclear reactor, they think of gigantic facilities with massive cooling towers.

But for decades, unnoticed by many people, a tiny nuclear reactor has been chugging away at the Saskatchewan Research Council’s (SRC) headquarters in Saskatoon.

Now, after running since 1981. the shoebox-sized reactor is finally being shut down by the council.

“It’s certainly given us full service, great value and for us, it is time for us to move on,” said Joe Muldoon, vice-president of the SRC’s Environment Division.

The SLOWPOKE reactor (Safe LOW Power Kritical Experiment) was designed by Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) in the 1970s. Only a handful were built across the country, and Saskatoon’s reactor was the only one not operated by a university.

“It was very unique, very forward-thinking on SRC’s behalf in terms of having this equipment available then,” said Muldoon. 

While occasionally used for academic research, the reactor was mainly used by companies testing drilling core samples to test how much uranium they contained.

“With uranium mining on the one side and then to have a research reactor on the other side, I think it certainly brought great value to the province,” he said. 

The SLOWPOKE-2 reactor has been running at the Saskatchewan Research Council since 1981. (Saskatchewan Research Council/Submitted)

Muldoon called the tiny reactor “ultrasafe” and said it was designed to immediately shut down if it ever heated up.

He said there had never been a safety incident over the reactor’s 37-year history.

The SRC made the decision to shut the reactor down after it was found other lab equipment could perform the same duties. Reactors at Toronto, Dalhousie and the University of Alberta have already been decommissioned.

The decommissioning process began in December 2017 and is being closely monitored by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

It’s expected to cost about $6.5 million to fully decommission the facility, which is being paid for by a trust set up by the SRC over the last decade.

The facility should be completely disposed of by next year.

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More groups join in support of women in STEM program at Carleton

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OTTAWA — Major companies and government partners are lending their support to Carleton University’s newly established Women in Engineering and Information Technology Program.

The list of supporters includes Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon.

The latest to announce their support for the program also include BlackBerry QNX, CIRA (Canadian Internet Registration Authority), Ericsson, Nokia, Solace, Trend Micro, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, CGI, Gastops, Leonardo DRS, Lockheed Martin Canada, Amdocs and Ross.

The program is officially set to launch this September.

It is being led by Carleton’s Faculty of Engineering and Design with the goal of establishing meaningful partnerships in support of women in STEM.  

The program will host events for women students to build relationships with industry and government partners, create mentorship opportunities, as well as establish a special fund to support allies at Carleton in meeting equity, diversity and inclusion goals.

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VR tech to revolutionize commercial driver training

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Serious Labs seems to have found a way from tragedy to triumph? The Edmonton-based firm designs and manufactures virtual reality simulators to standardize training programs for operators of heavy equipment such as aerial lifts, cranes, forklifts, and commercial trucks. These simulators enable operators to acquire and practice operational skills for the job safety and efficiency in a risk-free virtual environment so they can work more safely and efficiently.

The 2018 Humboldt bus catastrophe sent shock waves across the industry. The tragedy highlighted the need for standardized commercial driver training and testing. It also contributed to the acceleration of the federal government implementing a Mandatory Entry-Level Training (MELT) program for Class 1 & 2 drivers currently being adopted across Canada. MELT is a much more rigorous standard that promotes safety and in-depth practice for new drivers.

Enter Serious Labs. By proposing to harness the power of virtual reality (VR), Serious Labs has earned considerable funding to develop a VR commercial truck driving simulator.

The Government of Alberta has awarded $1 million, and Emissions Reduction Alberta (ERA) is contributing an additional $2 million for the simulator development. Commercial deployment is estimated to begin in 2024, with the simulator to be made available across Canada and the United States, and with the Alberta Motor Transport Association (AMTA) helping to provide simulator tests to certify that driver trainees have attained the appropriate standard. West Tech Report recently took the opportunity to chat with Serious Labs CEO, Jim Colvin, about the environmental and labour benefits of VR Driver Training, as well as the unique way that Colvin went from angel investor to CEO of the company.

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Next-Gen Tech Company Pops on New Cover Detection Test

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While the world comes out of the initial stages of the pandemic, COVID-19 will be continue to be a threat for some time to come. Companies, such as Zen Graphene, are working on ways to detect the virus and its variants and are on the forefronts of technology.

Nanotechnology firm ZEN Graphene Solutions Ltd. (TSX-Venture:ZEN) (OTCPK:ZENYF), is working to develop technology to help detect the COVID-19 virus and its variants. The firm signed an exclusive agreement with McMaster University to be the global commercializing partner for a newly developed aptamer-based, SARS-CoV-2 rapid detection technology.

This patent-pending technology uses clinical samples from patients and was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. The test is considered extremely accurate, scalable, saliva-based, affordable, and provides results in under 10 minutes.

Shares were trading up over 5% to $3.07 in early afternoon trade.

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