of Canada Limited
du Canada, Limitée
Power Projections SPECIAL Edition JUNE 1984
In the beginning there was just a rocky shoreline forming a border along one side of a scrubby woodland that was home to rabbits, deer and a few snakes.
In the end there was a remarkable structure that taught a young, emerging industry how to make the best nuclear power reactors in the world.
Sandwiched between the beginning and the end is a saga of courage and confidence, talent and nerve, advance and setback, innovation and error, spirits high and spirits subdued, foresight and hindsight, and the sense of adventure that prods every step into the unknown. Sandwiched between is the Douglas Point story.
She was an excellent teacher. But after 17 years, the pupils all had grown up. The CANDUs at Pickering and Bruce, and the 600s here and abroad all attest to how well the Douglas Point lessons were absorbed. Now, with no more students, the teacher was running out of ideas and needed facelifting work. In the cold reality that is the business world, the facelifting carried less priority than some other needs.
So, the teacher retired. The official date was May 5, 1984. She did not get a gold watch, but a formidable mountain of sentiment has been heaped upon her.
As the world knows by now, the Douglas Point Nuclear Generating Station is owned by AECL and operated for AECL by Ontario Hydro. There is a chance that she may come out of retirement. Ontario Hydro is taking a long look to determine whether it is feasible to take over the station for the 200 megawatts the old teacher puts out.
But in the meantime, the trail-blazing reactor sits inactive. The only sound today comes from the cooling and ventilation circuits kept operating to cool the plant and equipment. The megawatt output gauges in the control room register zero. Up on one of the television panels that used to tell the operators what was going on inside is a two-word message. It reads: "Gone fishing:"
The station manager at Douglas Point is Hydro s Don Milley, who had been filling the same job at NPD in Rolphton when he was transferred to Douglas Point not too many weeks prior to the retirement announcement. Although he assumed the job recently, Don is more than familiar with Douglas Point, having been among the earliest operations people to be sent there in May, 1964. The very first was George Williams, who is still there.
"Yes, there is a lot of sentiment," Don Milley said. "Some people do feel emotional about it - like losing an old friend. Many people worked hard and are hit hard by it. It was a tough job to get it running well and it has been running very well. In the last few years there were a lot of people who put in a lot of effort and good work and they had a strong feeling of accomplishment.
"I was on operations and not on the early design team. And since I left here in '68, I do not have that feeling of attachment, but many people do"
For a few people, the feeling of attachment could go back to the very early days of the nuclear industry in this country. In 1952 AECL was created to take over the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories from the National Research Council with a mandate to develop nuclear energy for peaceful uses. Pursuit of the mandate was interrupted by the NRX accident in December, 1952, but by the end of the next year the new company was ready to get on with it, and things moved quickly.
WB. Lewis had already made the first nuclear power proposal in the early 1950s and in 1954, a Nuclear Power Group was set up under Harold Smith of Ontario Hydro to explore the possibilities.
W. B. Lewis
Out of the deliberations came the idea for NPD, a tri-partite undertaking among Canadian General Electric, Ontario Hydro and AECL. A design team began work at CGE in Peterborough in 1955. The head of the team was John Foster who had been seconded from Montreal Engineering and who later became president of AECL.
Dr. Foster remembers that about half a dozen people from electrical utilities and related industry were brought to Peterborough to work with AECL designers.
Long before NPD was finished, W .B. Lewis, Harold Smith and the Nuclear Power Group were looking to bigger things. They were pushing for a full-scale power reactor and in 1958 another team called the Nuclear Power Plant Division was set up in Toronto.
The Ontario Hydro changeover from 25 to 60 cycles was just coming to an end and temporary buildings used for this operation in Hydro’s A.W. Manby centre on North Queen Street became available as accommodation for the new project team. The team's purpose was a design study for a 200MW power reactor.
But the launching of a full-scale 200MW nuclear project required approval at the highest levels of government and the job of securing this fell to J. Lorne Gray who had become president of AECL in 1958. Mr. Gray succeeded in convincing the authorities necessary and he was instrumental in setting the Douglas Point project in motion.
Harold Smith was originally the head of the Nuclear Power Plant Division team with John Foster second-in-command. Not long into the work, Harold Smith returned to Hydro and John Foster became project manager.
Ray Burge, who became the public relations man in Power Projects in 1961 and who now is director of marketing services in Marketing and Sales, said: "NPD was strictly a pilot project. The increase of an order of magnitude for Douglas Point put Canada into the world nuclear power scene along with the United Kingdom, which was building two 300MW Magnox reactors and the United States, which had the 60MW Shippingport PWR reactor in operation and was building a 200MW BWR at Dresden.
"It also put us in the export field when the duplicate station at Rajasthan, India, was committed in 1963. And it was the confidence of Ontario Hydro in the design capabilities of the Nuclear Power Plant Division which enabled it to commit to its major role in the first two Pickering units in that same year.
"The Douglas Point project set the future pattern for the many Canadian nuclear projects to come. It provided the essential learning experience in design, development, manufacturing, project organization - and in public acceptance. It brought the fledgling nuclear power industry face to face with the hard realities of nuclear technology. The first calandria tube change, for example, had to be done at the start of service when a chance in a million failure of a locking tab caused fretting of the tube by one of the booster rods."
The momentous decision to proceed with a 200MW commercial prototype reactor at Douglas Point was formally taken in 1959.
Dr. Foster: "One impression that stays with me is the youth of the people involved. I was 37 and I was in charge of the organization. I can remember later, when I was president (of AECL), when the board (of directors) would be deliberating certain appointments and would consider 45 too young for a given job. They would be surprised when I'd tell them about the youth of the Douglas Point team.
"We had young and good people. Most of them were my age or younger. Along with the Chalk River people, we had about 15 from Ontario Hydro and AECL gave private companies opportunity to second their staff and they put up good people.
J. Lorne Gray
"And the board of AECL of that day was plucky enough to entrust the design of this undertaking to all that youth."
Among the personnel on the Douglas Point design team are names that are now of household status within the industry. To list all of them is not possible. The project began with five originals. Along with Harold Smith and John Foster, there were I.L. (Willie) Wilson, a mathematician who was placed in charge of design; B.P Scull, in charge of planning; and Mel Berry, in charge of development.
"We didn't have just one job," Dr. Foster says. "We had three. We had to build an engineering organization - we started with four people (after Harold Smith had returned to Hydro) and had to develop an organization. Then we had the design task which involved a lot of original design. We couldn't take existing designs and build a new model. And finally, we had to build Douglas Point.
"I want to say something about the excellent relationship we had throughout the project with Ontario Hydro and the Canadian industry. We didn't ask for too many wild things but whatever we asked, somebody obliged us. And we had very good relations internally, too - I mean with Chalk River and the labs and other AECL areas:"
Although they were entering uncharted waters, there was no overt excitement or evident awe of the unknown. Dr. Foster remembers that the team members were aware of the historical significance. "I think we realized we were lucky to be there at the right time, but I think interest is a better description than excitement. Of course, nearly all conversation you could hear anywhere, on or off the job, centred on the subject."
Ernie Siddall: "I can remember only calm continence. If there were anxiety or other emotions, people kept it to themselves.
"Yes, it was all new and 200MW was a huge size, but engineering is like that. It has had two centuries of trial and error. In this case it was decided that we had enough knowledge to build the station and that proved correct. Nowadays some look back and say we didn’t have enough knowledge, but that is nonsense. Engineering is doing things."
Ernie also says that the presence of WB. Lewis must never be underestimated. "He was in the background but he was like Buddha or God. He had such an obvious grasp of nuclear."
Dr. Foster says of W .B. Lewis that aside from his knowledge, his strength was also an important contribution.
"You must remember that we had not decided on a design and there were many, many ideas coming from all directions around the world. So much so that I became convinced that nobody would come up with an idea that hadn't been thought of before. NPD, for example, originally was a vertical pressure vessel and the horizontal tube design wasn't adopted until 1957.
"Now Benny was single, worked 16 hours a day, seven days a week. And with his domineering personality, he would argue with anyone on any subject," Dr. Foster said kindly rather than critically.
"And he had a fixation on the heavy water reactor. We probably needed a spirit like Benny Lewis or we might not have followed any line at all."
(Don Milley has a description of another side of WB. Lewis. It occurred at the grand opening of Pickering. "I was watching the dignitaries arriving," Don said. "One after another there were these big limousines pulling up, uniformed chauffeurs jumping out and opening the car doors. Then came an ordinary black-and-white taxi. Out of the taxi stepped Benny Lewis who reached in his pocket to pay the driver. I remember thinking that I didn't know who were in the big chauffeured limousines, but here was one of the most important people of all arriving and paying for his own taxi.")
Dr. Foster also holds Harold Smith equally important. He has said on other occasions that Harold Smith was the kingpin, one of the key people in the business whom Dr. Foster rates with Adam Beck as a contributor to electricity production in Ontario.
Although the atmosphere at Manby may have been calm and unexcited, the design process did have its moments. Dr. Foster recalled a demonstration put on for some visitors from Chalk River.
"Archie Tait had an interesting way of arranging things. We had to find out if a burst tube would endanger other tubes and part of the demonstration involved a diaphragm which had to be punctured to allow water to escape. To puncture it, Archie fired a shot-gun charge into it."
"So here were these touring people from Chalk River, quite used to scientific experiments, and suddenly, KAPOW, the shot-gun was fired. I'm sure it shocked them."
Ray Burge remembers how, as the design work progressed into the early 1960s, the Mississauga offices became so scattered.
By that time, another design team under George Pon had been working on Gentilly 1, which would have light water coolant. It was being pursued because a completely unknown factor in Douglas Point was the rate of heavy water leakage and G-1 would be an alternative. The four original G-1 team members are still at AECL. Working with George Pon were Gord Brooks, Art Kempe and Al Dahlinger.
Ray Burge: "By 1963 we had people down at Manby. George Pon’s group was in the Dixie Plaza. John Foster was operating from an office in a one-story brick building at Dixon Road and the 401. I was in a dentist's office in a shopping centre, along with Peter Spray.
"It was quite something. You could spend a lot of time in your car. You'd get a telephone call saying, ‘So and so wants to see you?and I think it was two and a half cents a mile."
Also by that time, things were humming up at the Douglas Point site. Choice of the site itself required a long process of elimination. Originally in the running were points along the shoreline north of Manitoulin Island, and from Tobermory on the Bruce Peninsula all the way to Goderich. Gradually it was narrowed down to the stretch between Goderich and Southampton.
Finally Douglas Point - about half way between Kincardine and Port Elgin and 90 miles straight across Lake Huron from Bay City, Michigan - was chosen primarily because the bed rock is so close to the surface. Proof of that is a row of pine trees still standing on the left just inside the gate to the station. To plant the trees the "gardeners" had to use a jackhammer.
Design team at Manby
A little later
A little later still (public information centre and
Bailey bridge observation deck at lower left)
Water intake pipe . . .
. . . and a view from inside
The calandria stirs up interest in town . . .
. . . on the way
. . . entering the reactor building
Water storage tank for the dousing system takes shape under the still-open dome.
Bill Brown, licensed on the last day.
View from observation bridge.
Early operations staff in 1964.
If you approach the station today using the Second Concession Road, the route provides a couple of spots just high enough to afford a panoramic view of the whole Bruce Nuclear Power Development site. The gleaming white dome of the Douglas Point reactor building stands out distinctively among the heavy water plant towers and reactor buildings of Bruce 'A' and"B".
But to see Douglas Point amid the sprawl of the entire BNPD, it is difficult to picture its being there all alone, which it was before Bruce construction started in 1969.
Alone in winter, before BNPD.
In winter it might just as well have been at the poles.
Twenty-five years ago last January, a single car was coming in on the same road. In fact, at that time, it was the only road.
Behind the wheel was John Foster. One of his passengers was his deputy Dick Wardell. The party had come up to examine the site for this reactor they were about to build.
"It looked to us as though we were the first people down that road,' Dr. Foster recalls. "The snow was up to the hubcaps and the road ended on a little hill. Beyond was the beach which had been swept clean of snow by the wind. But between us and the beach lay a drift.
"'I think I can get through that, I said. " 'No, you cant, Dick answered. 'Anyway, I stepped on it and of course I became well and truly stuck. We had a shovel and I started shovelling when about 15 minutes later a station wagon showed up bearing Michigan licence plates.
"A man got out and asked: 'What are you doing here??
"We explained who we were and then we asked them: 'What are you doing here?'
" 'Oh, we came up here to hunt wolves; they said, and that was my first trip to site."
The Americans went out and found a snow plow which came in and pulled the Foster car out. But the Foster party was by no means the first down that road. Alan Wyatt, for one, remembers tramping around through the bush there the previous fall in a party of four.
"We were free-wheeling through the brush paying close attention to what we were examining when I stepped on a snake. I don’t really know what it was, but it was no garter snake. It looked six feet long and at least two inches in diameter.
"I had been in Canada only about 18 months and about the only snake I had heard about was the coppermouth. So naturally that's what I thought it was. But whatever it was, the snake and I moved in long, rapid strides in the opposite directions.
"At any rate, all four of us quickly returned to the car and any examining we did from then on was done from inside the car."
Whatever snakes were around retreated when clearing of the site began in 1960. The site is in Bruce Township - billed as "The Nuclear Capital of the World." The township is one of the political entities in Bruce County. Reeve of Bruce Township is John MacKenzie, a farmer who has held that elected post for 26 years. He said that everyone in the area welcomed the construction. But things seemed to be done in an informal style.
"I don't remember anyone asking if they could come in here. I first read about it in the paper. There was a lot of talk and we knew that people in the Bruce Peninsula were doing a lot of promoting to try to get it. We never really seriously considered it would be here.
"Whenever John Foster wanted something, he'd call me and we'd meet in my kitchen. If he wanted some men to help the surveyors or to help clear the land, he'd call me and I'd round up whatever he needed. They used horse power, too. Real horse power. They never did get a building permit from the township:"
Mr. MacKenzie said that much of the land in the area had been Crown-owned. The BNPD site occupies 2300 acres which went for $50 to $70 an acre, the going price of farm land there at that time. He said that Douglas Point had some influence on the area but it was really the start of a whole development that changed the way of life in the area.
"They said the population would double. Well, it has tripled. Shopping centres appeared. Before that we used to have to go into Owen Sound. Farm houses that were vacant for years suddenly increased in value.
"And the whole farming community has had to change its way of life. Most of us used to keep a hired hand but that stopped as soon as union wages came in. So the farmers, most of whom had a mixed farming operation, had to change their operation to beef farming because it isn’t as labour-intensive. And many farmers went to work on the site themselves. In fact, many farms around here were probably saved because of the wages."
As for anti-nukes, there weren’t any.
"There was no concern here at all. There still isn't," Mr. MacKenzie said. "Everybody was looking for industrial development. We were all happy to see some development:"
That sentiment is echoed by Chuck Mann, mayor of Kincardine who was one of the earliest first operators at Douglas Point and who is a training technician there now. Kincardine Reeve Bryan Grant, another Douglas Point staffer, said the same thing.
"The town welcomed the development," Chuck said. "There was a slump at the time. I'd say the whole area within a 50-mile circle around here has benefitted. Kincardine's population in 1960 was 2,800. Now it's 6,000."
Ray Burge also remembers a total absence of anti-nuclear sentiment. "An information office was set up in 1961 and a Bailey bridge was erected at tree-top level which provided a view of the site. Ivan Lloyd, a native of Kincardine, was brought on staff and did a great job of explaining things to the local people and to the summer visitors who came in increasing numbers.
"I remember one farmer who first saw the reactor building. He said: 'Boy, you could sure put a lot of . corn in there."
Visitor tours at Douglas Point had something special. The reactor is the only CANDU incorporating an oil-filled window which offered a view of the east reactor face - even when the reactor was operating.
The target date for completion of the station was 1964, five years after the decision to build it was taken. Cost estimate in 1959 was $81.5 million which, mainly because of completion date extensions and an 11 per cent federal tax imposed on materials and equipment, had become $91 million when the station went into service in 1968. Originally the station was to be a two-unit undertaking, but with the success of the larger Pickering reactors, a second Douglas Point reactor was not built because it was, by then, regarded as too small.
By March, 1962, work inside the reactor building was proceeding and in September that year, the payroll reached its peak of 561 employees. The heavy components started to arrive in February, 1963, and the following May work began on a transmission line to link Douglas Point to the provincial grid near Hanover.
The calandria went in in 1964 and by 1965 all major equipment had been installed. Fuel loading was finished the next year and the reactor went critical at 16:26 on November 15, 1966. Criticality was achieved by adding the moderator and as the level of heavy water rose in the calandria, observers were laying bets on what level the chain reaction would start.
The first electricity was produced in 1967 and the reactor was declared in-service in September, 1968.
"We started in '59 and got power in '66," Dr. Foster recalled. 'And we thought that was bad because Lorne Gray had said it should be finished in five years. I said six. It was a little more than seven. But, you know, you couldn't compare the manhours we used with those put on a job today."
Ernie Siddall: "We needed to extend the completion date and it may have appeared that we bit off more than we could chew regarding the time frame, but people have been trying to keep engineering projects on schedule since time started."
It was clear that some of the equipment was simply not good enough. The main primary circuit pumps were a big headache, the fuelling machines were a problem and many valves did not do the job.
Spent fuel bay, inaccessible thereafter
Ernie: "The standards of engineering at Douglas Point were distinctly more scientific than ever before in Canada ... But there were thousands of little snags and bugs to straighten out. The on-power refuelling machines were completely different from those at NPD and they were no end of trouble. And the main circulation pumps ....
"We learned a lot from Douglas Point. Take the 1,000 horsepower pumps, for example. We thought we could just buy them and hook them up. But there were subtle things in alignment, etc., and these were not in the manuals, they were in the heads of the people at the manufacturers. We learned that we should have brought in people from the factories when we hooked them up.
"All sorts of lessons were learned by all sorts of people. The reason Pickering 'A' worked so well is that the right people got their hands dirty at Douglas Point and learned the right lessons.
"The fuelling machine problems became a rags-to-riches story and we never looked back. Heavy water losses became a difficulty because not too many firms knew how to make good valves or flanges, and we had bad welds. The excellent research they are doing at CRNL on valves is a by-product of Douglas Point. CRNL people are world leaders in valve packing. I consider Don Dixon and Bob Isles world experts on the subject.
"There were dozens of things that we learned," Ernie said.
Don Milley: "The fact that Douglas Point was delayed helped Pickering because difficulties encountered at Douglas Point were corrected by the time they were installed at Pickering"
The CAN-DECON decontamination process was a first for Douglas Point. The reactor also was the first in which a pressure tube and a calandria tube were changed. There was also the famous 'mouse' the remotely controlled tool which crawled into the bowels of the reactor and repaired a leak in 1976.
The capacity factor of Douglas Point since its in-service date is about 54 per cent. But in 1982 it was 75 per cent, in '83 it was 77 per cent and this year to retirement on May 5, it was 82 per cent.
The much improved capacity factors over the last three years are seen as ironic by many people. It seems to them a shame that the reactor has retired just when it began operating smoothly.
And although there is emotion, it is not universal. Ernie Siddall says he feels no emotion at all about the retirement.
John Foster feels a little differently: "I think you always feel something because you put so much into it, as you would feel about any of the others. It's too bad its operating worth won't pay for its operating cost. It was the thing that the team cut their teeth on and Pickering and Bruce have benefitted. But it's only a machine, remember, and it has done its job."
Up in Bruce County there are a few concerns. Don White, community relations officer at BNPD, came to site in 1969 and he has his finger on the public pulse.
"Some people see it as another sign of decline. You must remember that ever since Douglas Point began, this has been a vibrant area. Even when there was an economic struggle elsewhere, it was not as bad in this area of Bruce County.
"But now construction on Bruce "B" is wrapping up. The heavy water plant A is shutting down. And Douglas Point closes. People see all this and worry.
'Another factor is that Douglas Point is synonymous with the whole site. The name ... the location ... Douglas Point is established on the map and people think the whole site is closing down."
Kincardine Mayor Chuck Mann said there is extreme concern over the loss of jobs. "The closing of both Douglas Point and the heavy water plant mean nearly 700 jobs. Those people have to go some place - maybe this site. But it's still a loss of jobs.
"And coupled with this is the apparent lack of progress on the Energy Centre. People are worried." (The Energy Centre is an industrial park proposal which would use surplus steam from the Bruce site for heating purposes.)
Township Reeve John MacKenzie: "I think most people realize that Douglas Point has served its purpose, but naturally they are concerned about job loss:"
The retirement will likely change the routines of two other people. One is Tom Lynn who was among the first people to come to Douglas Point. Tom lives in Pembroke and has been commuting all that way every weekend. For about 25 years.
And think of Bill Brown. After working diligently for eight years or so, Bill received his operating licence on May 5. That was the last day Douglas Point operated. Bill's dilemma is that his licence is valid for Douglas Point only. To qualify for Bruce reactors, he'll have to work diligently for another two or so years.
To the very end, a sense of humour did not desert the crew. On the last day, May 5, the television monitor
in the control room announced:
"8 hours to go
Bus to Darlington
Reserve your seats now."
. . . the last reactor trip
A sense of humour to the end.