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Michael Cork is working at the forefront of nuclear technology. A systems process engineer at Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) in Mississauga, ON, he is part of a team designing ductwork for the Advanced CANDU Reactor (ACR-1000), an evolution of the existing CANDU-6 design.

"I wanted to work somewhere where I felt that I was contributing to some pertinent problems that I heard about during my undergraduate degree," he says. "As a chemical engineering student I found the two hot topics that you heard about were the energy crisis and global warming. We talk a lot about climate change and our growing consumption of energy and limited resources. To me nuclear seems like an excellent way of tackling both those problems simultaneously." Cork is also designing a heat transport system that adds hydrogen to a light water coolant to reduce corrosion along the pipes of the reactor.

In case you didn't know, nearly 15 percent of Canada's electricity generation is supplied by 18 CANDU nuclear reactors across the country. These same reactors also generate 51 percent of Ontario's power. With the potential to employ thousands of Canadians, from professional engineers to workers in skilled trades, the Conference Board of Canada reports building four ACR-1000s in Canada and eight internationally would add nearly $80 billion to the national GDP within the next 20 years.

Clearly, nuclear technology is rapidly becoming a prime source of economic growth. "Nuclear is coming upon a renaissance," says Monica MacIsaac, director of human resources operations for AECL. "We are reaching a point where there are number of workers in varied roles within the organization and we continually bring in new talent," she says.

Cork can include himself in this category. At 25, he is one of the many talented new graduates in a wide pool hired by the company to work as engineers, technicians or skilled trades people and says the ACR project affords him the chance to branch out and not get pigeon-holed. "The ACR is going to be a 10-year project and I'm having a great time right now. As the project moves forward it's going to become more detailed. I'm really proud of the designs I am doing now and would like to see it through to completion, Cork says.

Supplying the most widely-used isotope for diagnostic disease, molybdenum-99, MDS Nordion in Ottawa is shaping the treatment of devastating conditions such as heart disease and cancer.

"New and innovative products are a strength which keeps MDS Nordion ahead," explains Shelley Maclean, manager of external communications at MDS Nordion. "We have also become a partner of choice for biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies, as well as academia, providing integrated molecular imaging services and technologies for drug discovery and development."

One such development, TheraSphere®, is helping to save the lives of individuals with liver cancer. The treatment, comprised of minute radioactive glass beads, targets cancer cells in the liver, minimizing the impact on the patient's surrounding healthy tissue. As a result MacLean says it has fewer side effects than traditional cancer therapy and turn-around time for recovery is quicker because overnight stays in the hospitals are not required.

A global leader in nuclear medicine, MDS also gives new hires a chance to thrive in many roles including development, engineering and manufacturing, which MacLean adds helps the company stay ahead of the curve.

"We have long term business strategies for diversification and expansion and depending on business needs, recent graduates are considered for roles in our development, engineering as well as manufacturing groups, she says.

From treating life threatening illnesses to evolutions in nuclear energy, Canada has proven nuclear is on the upswing. And as a leader at the edge of ground breaking technology and exploration, AECL, MDS Nordion and many other companies are proving themselves hot spots in nuclear innovation.

Photo: Digital Vision/Thinkstock