• Q1:   What does the name SLOWPOKE stand for?

    A1:   The acronym “SLOWPOKE” stands for the words Safe LOW  Power (K)Critical Experiment, an experiment to sustain a chain fission reaction with the minimum amount of uranium fuel.

  • Q2:   What is the reactor used for?

    A2:   The reactor is permitted to operate by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, the National regulator for all things nuclear. The reactor and its associated laboratory are used in support of the teaching and the research at RMC. The reactor is used mainly for practical and applied purposes such as quality control of materials. The reactor is an analytical tool much as is a gas chromatograph or an X-ray machine. The reactor can analyze for elements in a material with very high precision, and can also take pictures such as those of an aircraft flight section.

  • Q3:   Does RMC use the SLOWPOKE-2 reactor to produce medical isotopes?

    A3:   No. It can produce small quantities of medical radioisotopes, but, presently, this is not carried out with the RMC SLOWPOKE-2 because the unit costs for such a production are too high to compete with the existing market.

  • Q4:   Where is RMC’s reactor located?

    A4:   The SLOWPOKE-2 reactor is located on the grounds of the RMC in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

  • Q5:   Who designed the reactor?  

    A5:   The SLOWPOKE-1 and SLOWPOKE-2 reactors were designed by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) in the early 1970’s when AECL existed as a Canadian Crown Corporation.  In late 2014 Canadian Nuclear Laboratories was created to run the former AECL laboratories.

  • Q6:   How much power does the SLOWPOKE-2 reactor produce?

    A6:   Any critical fission reactor produces neutrons (research) and heat (power).  Although the SLOWPOKE-2 reactor could generate a power of 20 kW, enough to light up 200 100-watt light bulbs, it could not produce enough power to heat a building.  The SLOWPOKE-2 reactor is a research reactor built for its production of neutrons.

  • Q7:   How does a SLOWPOKE-2 reactor compare to a CANDU power reactor?

    A7:   The SLOWPOKE-2 reactor is NOT a power reactor.  CANDU reactors run in size to around 2200 MW thermal or 650 MW electrical and more, which is a very large number compared to the 20 kW thermal of a SLOWPOKE-2 reactor.

  • Q8:   How big is the reactor?

    A8:   The reactor core occupies a cylindrical volume for which the diameter is about 22 cm and the height is also about 22 cm.  The reactor core is approximately 5 meters below ground level in the reactor pool. The pool and the reactor are housed in an ordinary classroom-size room with a taller than usual ceiling.

  • Q9:   How safe is the reactor?

    A9:   The reactor power is self-limiting because of its design and the constraints put on its operational capacity.  “Self-limiting power” in this case means that as the temperature of the reactor rises, the power falls.  The SLOWPOKE-2 reactor is thus inherently safe.  Safety of the reactor and the people around the reactor is taken very seriously.  Safety is of utmost importance to the Commandant and to RMC.

  • Q10:   What is the fuel in the reactor?

    A10:   The reactor uses uranium-235 as its fuel.

  • Q11:   How often is the fuel in the reactor changed?

    A11:   The reactor at RMC still is using its original fuel that was installed fresh in 1985.  Changing the fuel bundle in a SLOWPOKE, if it occurs, happens anywhere from 20 to 30 years of using of one bundle of fuel.

  • Q12:   Does the reactor generate waste?

    A12:   Eventually the fuel bundle or core in the SLOWPOKE-2 reactor will have to be returned to a CNSC-approved disposal site for radioactive material. 

  • Q13:    How does the Facility dispose of the irradiated samples it produces?

    A13:   The samples received by the Facility for analysis are activated only to the extent needed for research.  Consequently it is usually short-lived radioisotopes that are produced.  Within a year the majority of samples have decayed away to stable isotopes and can be disposed of appropriately.  Samples with longer-lived radioisotopes may have to be sent to a CNSC-approved disposal site for radioactive material.

  • Q14:   Are there similar reactors in Canada?

    A14:   Yes.  Including the SLOWPOKE-2 reactor at RMC there are a total of four  SLOWPOKE-2 reactors in Canada (2015).

  • Q15:   Who oversees the reactor?

    A15:   The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission grants RMC an operating licence to allow the reactor to be used at RMC.  The CNSC carries out at least one annual inspection with a follow-up action item list for the RMC Facility.

  • Q16:   What kind of training is needed in order to be able to run the reactor?

    A16:   A CNSC-certified Reactor Operator at RMC must have at least a bachelor’s degree in science and/or engineering or equivalent extensive experience.  Then there is an academic course and a hands-on training course with exams that must be taken and passed at 95 % result or higher.

  • Q17:   Are tours of the reactor facility given?

    A17:   Yes.  Arrangements need to be made in advance. Also, picture identification with valid documentation such as a driver’s licence or a current student ID card would be needed.

  • Q18:   What procedures are in place if there were a fire at the Facility or an unexpected release of radioactivity?

    A18:   There are emergency procedures for fire, floods, earthquakes, and radioactive incidents.  Basically, the RMC Military Police would cordon off the RMC peninsula until the situation returned to normal.  At the least, the Radiation Safety Officer would be continually taking radiation measurements.  The Kingston Fire Department also has some radiation survey meters and personnel trained to use them.

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