Nuclear Regulation: By the Decade (1956–1965)

Beginnings: AECB adopts regulatory role over nuclear research at Chalk River Laboratories

Part 2 of a series on 70 years of nuclear safety in Canada

Where do you see the CNSC in 70 years?

“So long as there is Canada and organized government, there will be nuclear regulation. Canadians can count on the CNSC being here in 70 years, keeping them and workers safe, the environment protected and Canada’s international obligations respected. We’ll be standing on guard for thee!” – Jason Cameron, Vice President, Regulatory Affairs Branch

Chalk River’s ZEEP reactor

Chalk River’s ZEEP reactor, one of the earliest nuclear facilities to be regulated by AECB, c. 1953

When the Atomic Energy Control Board (AECB) was first created in 1946, one of its primary operational functions was to control research activities surrounding atomic energy in Canada. In the late 1940s, the only significant nuclear research was being conducted at Chalk River Laboratories. The AECB assumed formal regulatory control of this project in 1946.

In the 1950s, it became apparent that a new organizational structure was required to regulate these research activities, as the sale of plutonium by Chalk River became more and more commercialized.

In 1952, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) was formed as a Crown corporation to assume responsibility of the Chalk River project and others like it. AECL’s mandate was to further the peaceful development and research of the Canadian nuclear industry, while the AECB became responsible for the regulatory control of the industry.

“AECL engaged in world class research and development, engineering, design, and marketing of nuclear energy applications.” (Control Magazine)

“In addition to supervising the activities of Canada’s major nuclear research project at Chalk River, the AECB at an early date in its history applied to the Government for funds which it could use to promote nuclear research outside the Chalk River project… these funds would provide a means for the Board to assist in the establishment of other centres of excellence in Canada mainly by developing or encouraging the growth of nuclear research in Canadian universities.” (A History of the Atomic Energy Control Board)


Atomic energy research activities being conducted at Chalk River Laboratories’ Isotope Separation Laboratory, c. 1948

Here’s a summary of some of AECL’s major projects that the AECB regulated in the 1950s and 60s:

  • Throughout the 1950s the NRX reactor at Chalk River was used by many researchers in the pioneering fields of neutron condensed matter physics. Among these researchers was Dr. Bertram Brockhouse, who shared the 1994 Nobel Prize in Physics for his work in developing neutron scattering techniques.
  • In 1954 AECL partnered with the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario to build Canada’s first nuclear power reactor at Rolphton, ON, which is 30 km upstream from Chalk River. This reactor, developed by AECL, was the prototype for CANDU reactor technology. Known as Nuclear Power Demonstration, the reactor went critical on June 4, 1962 to demonstrate the CANDU concept, generating about 20 MWe.
  • In 1963, AECL established the Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment (now Whiteshell Laboratories) in Pinawa, MB, where an organically moderated and cooled reactor was built.

Based on information from A History of the Atomic Energy Control Board by Gordon H.E. Sims, Ottawa, July 1980, and Control Magazine, INFO-0125/Rev2.