Prof's Nuclear Reactor Research Gets Funding Boost

August 01, 2013 - News Release

A University of Guelph chemist conducting pioneering experiments on water chemistry in current and future nuclear reactors has received $255,600 in new support from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) and the University Network of Excellence in Nuclear Engineering (UNENE).

The funding will allow Peter Tremaine to complete a novel, multi-phase study to help extend the lifetimes of Canada’s aging but essential heavy-water nuclear reactors.

“Peter's work is helping us address global energy problems,” said Kevin Hall, vice-president (research). “He is a global leader in the field, and his research group is one of only a few in the world with the expertise and equipment for this work."

The three-year grant was allocated under NSERC’s Collaborative Research and Development Grants program, which supports university and private-sector partnerships expected to yield industrial and/or economic benefits to Canada.

Hall said financial and scientific benefits will come from joint research involving academics and the Canadian nuclear industry. “It also supports the larger University goal of using collaborative research to help improve people’s lives and the environment.”

Tremaine, formerly dean of the College of Physical and Engineering Science, has spent more than a decade studying chemistry under extremes of heat and pressure such as those in Canada’s pressurized heavy water “CANDU” nuclear reactors.

His work has helped in refurbishing nuclear reactors in Ontario and elsewhere. He’s also investigating ideas for building the next generation of reactors.

For this last phase of his heavy water study, Tremaine will continue his partnership with the University Network of Excellence in Nuclear Engineering. Learning more about the chemistry of corrosion reactions in heavy water under high temperatures and pressures will help lengthen the lifetimes of Canadian reactors, most of which were built in the 1970s and '80s.

“CANDU reactors were originally built for 30 years, and then refurbished and redesigned to try to extend those lifetimes by another 20 to 30 years,” Tremaine said.

CANDU nuclear reactors were designed to use heavy water in a closed loop to transfer heat from the reactor core to a steam generator, Tremaine said. “There is a need to optimize the chemistry in order to preserve the tubes in the reactors which transport the water. We want to extend the lifespan by preventing corrosion.”

This latest NSERC partnership grant brings Tremaine’s government and industry support to more than $550,000 a year for basic research targeted at green energy and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.

He says global warming concerns make it important to look for energy alternatives to burning fossil fuels. "Nuclear power is a major carbon-free sustainable energy source, and it's impossible to envision a solution to greenhouse gas emissions that does not include nuclear energy."

Tremaine is also interested in designing next-generation nuclear reactors. One design would generate high-pressure "supercritical" water at up to 600 oC, about twice as hot as steam made in conventional facilities. Besides being more energy-efficient and safer, these supercritical water-cooled reactors would generate hydrogen for use in such things as fuel cells envisioned for future generations of automobiles.

His research team is also studying novel chemicals for capturing and storing carbon dioxide produced by fossil power stations, with funding from NSERC and the French government, aimed at developing cost-effective ways to reduce carbon emissions. The research is part of U of G’s research thrust to address global environmental and energy issues that affect quality of life in Canada and abroad.

Prof. Peter Tremaine
Department of Chemistry
519 824-4120, Ext. 56076/53811

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or; or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982, or

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