April 3, 2009


Editors: A photo of McMaster’s research reactor can be downloaded


McMaster’s nuclear reactor turns 50

Hamilton, ON. April 3, 2009 – When McMaster University’s nuclear reactor first opened, a Conservative was Prime Minister, the economy was in recession, and nuclear-based research was on the upswing.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The McMaster Nuclear Reactor (MNR) first started up on April 4, 1959, and with today’s strong interest and demand in the nuclear energy and medical isotope industries, is more relevant than ever. 

Over the last half century, MNR has established itself as a vital and necessary partner in research circles. Today, the reactor tests the engine turbine blades of the world’s commercial aircraft fleet, it analyzes core samples for the mining sector, produces over 60,000 treatments worth of I-125 each year (used in treatment for prostate cancer) and perhaps most importantly provides students considering careers in nuclear engineering, medical and health physics and other applied radiation sciences a real hands-on experience unavailable anywhere else in Canada.

“We are really seeing a renewed interest in the nuclear energy and medical isotope industries,” says Chris Heysel, MNR’s director. “The nuclear reactor has always been a beacon of technology, engineering and science and continues to be an important resource for modern research.  While we have an extremely rich history, we also have a very promising future.”

The reactor plays an important community education role. Its open-pool design (unique in Canada), enthralls more than 2,000 public school and University students who tour the facility each year and they get to learn more about nuclear and applied radiation sciences.

“With the increased focus being placed in Canada and around the world on nuclear power as a clean energy source, it is imperative that the public has an opportunity to see this technology at work. There remains a sense of secrecy about the nuclear industry which is primarily from a  lack of knowledge.  The McMaster nuclear reactor offers the only opportunity in Canada to see an actual operating reactor and that goes a long way to de-mystify the technology,” says Heysel.

 In the early 1950s, Harry Thode spearheaded an effort to build a reactor at McMaster. Thode was a chemistry professor and one of Canada’s most distinguished scientists (he later became president of McMaster University), who had carried out fission product analysis for the National Research Council during the Second World War. He envisioned a high quality, multipurpose facility to support the emerging technology of radioisotope medicine, as well as world-class physics and engineering research.

A full year of celebratory activities is planned to mark the reactor’s 50th anniversary, including a gala reception; public lecture series; participation in Hamilton’s Doors Open; and mentoring for students keen on a career in the nuclear industry.

McMaster University, one of four Canadian universities listed among the Top 100 universities in the world, is committed to discovery and learning in teaching, research and scholarship. It has a student population of 23,000, and more than 140,000 alumni in 128 countries.


For more information, please contact:

Michelle Donovan

Public Relations Manager: Broadcast Media

McMaster University

905-525-9140 ext. 22869



The man behind the creation of MNR was Harry Thode, a professor of chemistry (and later president of McMaster University). Thode was one of Canada's most distinguished scientists, and he carried out fission product analysis for the National Research Council’s Montreal Laboratory during the Second World War. A keystone of the Anglo-Canadian wartime nuclear research program, the Montreal Lab was a precursor to Chalk River Laboratories and AECL. Since mass spectrometers were not commercially available anywhere, security arrangements were made for Thode and his team to perform their work in their own lab in Hamilton Hall at McMaster. The McMaster group thus became an exception to the practice of cloistering scientists in tightly guarded government labs.