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July 28, 2023

NRU reactor recognized for outstanding contributions in the field of isotopes

Canadian research reactor receives the 2023 World Council on Isotopes (WCI) President’s Award for over 60 years of service in the research, production and delivery of isotopes 

Saskatoon, SK – July 28, 2023 – Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), Canada’s nuclear Crown corporation, and Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), Canada’s premier nuclear science and technology laboratory, are pleased to announce that the National Research Universal (NRU) Reactor has received the 2023 World Council on Isotopes (WCI) President’s Award for over 60 years of service in the research, production and delivery of isotopes. CNL accepted the award on behalf of AECL, who owns and operated the facility during its service lifetime, and on behalf of the thousands of talented and dedicated men and women who designed, built and operated the NRU, at the 11th International Conference on Isotopes (11ICI) yesterday in Saskatoon, SK.

The WCI President’s Award recognizes outstanding contributions to the promotion of isotope technologies and the use of isotopes to benefit mankind, criteria which most certainly applies to what was the largest research reactor in the world when it came into service on November 3, 1957. A landmark achievement in Canadian nuclear science and technology, the NRU reactor would go on to produce isotopes that were used in over 1 billion medical procedures, impacting the lives of people all over the world.

“We are proud to receive this recognition, and even more proud of Canada’s nuclear heritage and the contributions that the NRU made to global nuclear science. In addition to the incredible impact the reactor made on people around the world, the NRU was also instrumental in the development of CANDU technologies that remain a cornerstone of a clean energy future,” reflected AECL President and CEO Fred Dermarkar.

“On behalf of CNL, I want to thank the WCI for recognizing the significant role that NRU has played in Canadian nuclear history, and its enduring legacy in the development and production of isotopes, especially life-saving medical isotopes,” commented Joe McBrearty, CNL’s President and CEO. “When it was first constructed, the NRU was a marvel of science and engineering, and home to some of the most ambitious and pioneering research ever undertaken in this country. That heritage holds a special place in the hearts of people here in the Ottawa Valley, especially the medical isotope mission, and we are very grateful to the WCI for celebrating its achievements.”

Though designed in the nuclear ‘hey days’ of the 1940s and early 50s, the low-temperature, low pressure, 135 MW reactor would enable great advances across a wide swath of globally important industrial sectors during its operation at AECL’s Chalk River Laboratories campus. For over six decades, the reactor would serve Canadians as a major facility for neutron physics studies, including Nobel-prize winning research, and by providing engineering research and development support for Canada’s fleet of nuclear power reactors.

However, it was the reactor’s contributions to nuclear medicine – specifically, the supply of medical radioisotopes used for the diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases, including cancer – where NRU would have its greatest impact. At various times in its history, NRU provided more than 80 per cent of the world’s supply of molybdenum-99, an incredibly important medical isotope used around the globe to detect illnesses such as cancer and other diseases. The medical isotopes created by the NRU benefited millions of people every year, in more than 80 countries.

Other isotopes produced at the reactor included: Cobalt-60, which had many applications, the most notable being their use in radiation therapy machines to treat cancer; Carbon-14, which was supplied to chemistry, bioscience and environmental laboratories as a tracer; Iridium-192, which was used across several industries, such as the inspection of welds and other metal components; and Xenon-133, Iodine-131 and Iodine-125, all of which were used in a variety of clinically important diagnostic and therapeutic applications.

A 2019, documentary titled “Of Great Service: The Story of National Research Universal,” tells the story of the NRU reactor and its historical role as one of Canada’s most important scientific and research facilities. If you would like to learn more about the NRU reactor and its history in Canadian nuclear science and technology, you can access the documentary on CNL’s YouTube page at

About AECL

AECL is a federal Crown corporation with a mandate to drive nuclear opportunities for Canada. AECL enables nuclear science and technology, owns the Chalk River Laboratories and other sites, and manages the Government of Canada’s radioactive waste responsibilities. It oversees and evaluates CNL’s work through contracts.

In business since 1952, AECL designed and developed the fleet of CANDU nuclear reactors that serve Canada and five other countries. It also delivered more than one billion isotopes worldwide to detect and treat cancer. Today it delivers value for Canadians through supporting 14 federal departments and agencies, as well as the global nuclear industry.

For more information on AECL, visit 

About CNL 

As Canada’s premier nuclear science and technology laboratory, and working under the direction of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL), CNL is a world leader in the development of innovative nuclear science and technology products and services. Guided by an ambitious corporate strategy known as Vision 2030, CNL fulfills three strategic priorities of national importance – restoring and protecting the environment, advancing clean energy technologies, and contributing to the health of Canadians.

By leveraging the assets owned by AECL, CNL also serves as the nexus between government, the nuclear industry, the broader private sector and the academic community. CNL works in collaboration with these sectors to advance innovative Canadian products and services towards real-world use, including carbon-free energy, cancer treatments and other therapies, non-proliferation technologies and waste management solutions.

To learn more about CNL, please visit


CNL Contact:

Philip Kompass
Director, Corporate Communications

AECL Contact:

Jeremy Latta
Director, Communications and Government Reporting

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