“Game changing” subcritical nuclear project being developed at Oshawa’s Ontario Tech


Published February 23, 2023 at 11:55 am

Ontario Tech University is planning on being pen pals with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission for a little while after applying for a license for its ground-breaking Subcritical Assembly Project.

The new equipment at the school would enhance its high-tech nuclear laboratory facilities, provide unique experiential learning opportunities and support leading nuclear energy research for students in Canada’s only nuclear engineering program, said Dr. Hossam Kishawy, Dean, Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

The distinct design features of a subcritical assembly offer an ideal enhancement to the university’s top-level nuclear engineering teaching and training infrastructure within its controlled and secure environment, he added.

“Ontario Tech students are involved in cutting-edge technology developments and research projects across many different fields (and) the addition of this equipment would be a timely game-changer for our students and provide Ontario Tech with a unique-in-Canada tool for clean energy research and teaching,” Kishawy said. “Students in our Energy, Nuclear Engineering, and Radiation Science programs would gain increased experiential learning opportunities and be even further equipped for career readiness in their chosen fields.”

The proposed Subcritical Assembly Project would also support important applied research by the university’s nuclear engineering experts to help develop nuclear technologies and strategies to protect the environment and combat climate change.

A subcritical assembly is based on the same nuclear science principles as critical nuclear reactors but remains in a subcritical state, relying on an external source of neutrons to sustain the nuclear fission chain reaction. Kishawy pointed out that the proposed subcritical assembly “cannot produce power” and anticipates “no adverse effects to the surrounding community or environment.”

Ontario Tech is the only university in Canada with a full- scope CANDU control room simulator

“Research at Ontario Tech University strives to improve people’s lives, contribute to economic development, and provide valuable, dynamic learning experiences for our students,” said Dr. Les Jacobs, Ontario Tech’s Vice-Presidents of Research and Innovation. “The Subcritical Assembly Project is an example of how we team with industry, community, government and academic partners to bring ideas and insights into our research and teaching environment – dynamic spaces that contribute to a more prosperous social fabric and planet.”

The project is in an early phase with many steps still to come, including obtaining the operational licence from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). (The CNSC regulates the use of nuclear energy and materials in Canada to protect health, safety, security, and the environment. Ontario Tech has informed the CNSC of its intent to apply for a licence within the next year.)

The only project of its kind ever attempted at a Canadian school was at Polytechnique Montreal. The project was disbanded in 1982.

As the Ontario Tech project evolves the school will actively engage with the community and the nuclear industry to further develop the proposed teaching and research tool. Public participation in the CNSC licensing process will be encouraged as well.

For more information about this project, please email:

[email protected] or visit: ontariotechu.ca/subcritical.


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