CANDU Reactors Worldwide

Canada’s nuclear industry has grown from its wartime infancy to the point where it is now a $6.6 billion/year industry employing more than 30,000 workers in 150 companies Canada-wide. Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) is a global technology company employing over 5,000 highly skilled workers. CNL is the designer and developer of the CANadian Deuterium Uranium (CANDU) reactor. This reactor has a unique design using natural (or lightly enriched) uranium as the fuel and heavy water (instead of light water) as a moderator. CANDU reactors are now in seven countries and provide approximately 15% of Canada’s electricity. With the world’s richest uranium mines in Saskatchewan, Canada is one of the world’s largest exporters of uranium. As a leader and pioneer in nuclear research Canada is also the world’s largest exporter of medical isotopes. A brief history of Canada’s nuclear power generation follows.

CANDU Reactors Around the World
Type of Reactor
Net Capacity (MWe)
CANDU and CANDU-drived
2 + 16
277 + 3,480
South Korea

Even before President Eisenhower’s famous “Atoms for Peace” speech and the formation of the IAEA, Canadian scientists were working to develop the peaceful potential of nuclear energy. In 1950 George Laurence, then at Chalk River Laboratories, began advocating a Canadian power reactor based upon natural uranium fuel and heavy water – both areas of domestic expertise. August of 1951 saw the formal publication of An Atomic Power Proposal, by Dr. Wilfrid B. Lewis of Chalk River Laboratories. The following year saw the establishment of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL, now CNL), an organization with nuclear power development as a major pillar of its mandate. In 1954 the “Nuclear Power Group” was established at Chalk River Laboratories. Representatives from electric utilities, engineering companies, and manufacturers joined with the scientists at AECL to forge the fundamental design of a prototype heavy-water-moderated, natural-uranium-fueled power reactor that could compete with coal-fired plants.

By 1956 the Nuclear Power Group at AECL was already working on the preliminary design for a commercial prototype. In 1957 the Group submitted its proposal for a horizontal pressure-tube design that set the course for Canada’s unique line of CANDU reactors for years to come. In 1958 a new engineering arm of AECL, the Nuclear Power Plant Division (NPPD), was established in Toronto for the design of the commercial plant. Federal Cabinet approval to build a nuclear power reactor at Douglas Point, Ontario was received in June 1959, and 2,300 acres on Lake Huron’s shoreline were acquired for the project.

A number of “first-of-a-kind” issues delayed the construction of Douglas Point, however start-up was finally achieved on November 15, 1966. First generation of electricity came in January 1967, and full commercial operation was declared on September 26, 1968 with Douglas Point contributing 220 MW to the Ontario grid for the next 16 years.

Douglas Point symbolized not only the coming of age of Canada’s nuclear power program, but also the entry of Canada into the global power reactor market. The remarkable boldness of the time resulted in three international reactor orders even before Douglas Point was complete: two duplicates of Douglas Point to be built in India and one in Pakistan.

Douglas Point
Douglas Point.

Today there are 34 heavy water moderated CANDU reactors worldwide (3 are currently under going refurbishment- 2 in Ontario, 1 in New Brunswick, another 2 are being placed into safe storage in Ontario), with several others based upon the design. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) has been successful in selling the CANDU reactor design internationally in a competitive market that positions the Canadian product against other reactor designs from industrial giants such as General Electric and Hitachi, Westinghouse, and AREVA. AECL has been building reactors almost continuously for the past 30 years and in addition to the initial exports to India and Pakistan, has designed, built and delivered CANDU reactors to customers in Argentina, China, Romania, and South Korea.