1988 AUGUST 3
Mrs. Laurence, members of the family, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
Were it not for George Laurence, we would probably not be able to assemble here today on top of a reactor that embodies many of the attributes of the nuclear system that is the best in the world.
Robert Bothwell in his book on the history of AECL accurately writes, year after year, Canadian-designed heavy water reactors were at or near the top of the world ranking of capacity factors. Taken together, they marked the culmination of a thirty year cycle that stretched back to George Laurence's modest experiments in the basement of the NRC building . It is fitting that the first Canadian mentioned in that history is Dr. Laurence.
However, long before the publication of Bothwell's book, George Laurence himself wrote a spell-binding pamphlet on the Early Years of Nuclear Research in Canada. I'm sure most of you have read it and were as enthralled as I was, with the excitement of those early days.
Throughout his career, Dr. Laurence was at the forefront of ideas and developments. He was a pioneer in the dosimetry of radium and x-rays at NRC after he returned to Canada from his sojourn in Cambridge with Lord Rutherford. He helped to develop radiation safety regulations for North America, co-authoring the first bulletin of the Radiological Society of North America's Standardization Committee. By 1941 he was a member of the Royal Society of Canada.
Pivotal in the Canadian nuclear power story was his pioneering work in 1940 on nuclear chain reactions using a mixture of graphite and uranium oxide shortly after the discovery of fission. Foiled by lack of funds - a phrase that is still familiar to us today - he was unable to obtain uranium or graphite of satisfactory purity to continue his work. But he had established his credibility as a nuclear scientist. His studies enabled and encouraged Canada to enter into a scientific partnership with the distinguished group of British and European scientists to from NRC's Montreal Laboratory Division, which eventually became AECL.
George Laurence joined that Montreal group in 1942 as the senior Canadian scientist. Hans von Halban, the first Director of the Anglo-Canadian project, described him as a likeable and brilliant man. With others, he assembled a sub-critical mock-up of the NRX lattice and measured some of the constants needed for the design of the reactor. He also worked on the instrumentation and control system of the NRX reactor. In 1945 he came to Chalk River.
Dr. Laurence had strong opinions - and he expressed them. One of his colleagues at the time notes that he was the one person who stood up to W.B. Lewis. Around 1950, when ideas for a distinctive Canadian nuclear power system were being developed, it was George Laurence who insisted that a non-breeder power plant suitable for Canadian requirements should be designed, based on the features proposed for NRU. That persistence paid off; the line that George Laurence consistently upheld won the day. The natural uranium reactor, cooled and moderated by heavy water, became the Canadian nuclear power system.
George was to be heavily involved in its evolution.
In 1952, as Director of the Chemistry and Engineering Division in the newly formed AECL, he was responsible for the conceptual design and detailed engineering of NRU; the reactor below us. Later he was to direct the reactor physics studies needed for the design of the first Canadian power reactors, NPD and Douglas Point.
He was the epitome of the professional scientist. Ask a colleague about his characteristics and invariably integrity is in the reply. He insisted on scientific rigour - and had an intuitive sense of what was right and what was scientific nonsense. He was wary of the unthinking use of computers, recognizing the ease with which users could be seduced into uncritically accepting results. One of his staff, presenting the results of some neutron scattering calculations performed on the latest Chalk River computer, was devastated to be peremptorily told that they were way out - they just did not look right. Sure enough, it was discovered that incorrect data had been used.
He was a perfectionist, not only in getting the science right but in reporting in correctly. A colleague describes the despair of George's associates as draft succeeded draft of any report, long, they felt, after the best version had been attained. And that was in the days before word processing!
In a series of interviews that Dr. Laurence gave late in his life, he recalled the early Chalk River days. It was an exciting period, and we knew it would eventually lead to extremely important applications. We were all young, and there was an air of keenness and enthusiasm that made life here interesting and pleasant. His reflections on how success was achieved point to the strength of the laboratories then - and now. It is the bringing together of ideas from many sources, and many little ideas, many contributions to the solution of the same general problems, that brings about advances. Years later, when you try to think back to who had that bright idea, you can't - it simply evolved out of discussions. Most of the progress in this science has been through the collective conception of new ideas.
George's colleagues recall that meeting were memorable occasions. To his associates in those early days he was Mr. Nuclear Physics. One colleague notes that George would add to the excitement by pacing up and down as the discussion proceeded. As he became more and more wound up, the pacing got faster and faster. Another recalls that he had a habit of conducting meetings with his shoes off.
Dr. Laurence's approach to reactor safety evolved from 1944 when he was first presented with the question of safety in the NRX reactor. With his continuing involvement, the lessons learned from the NRX accident in 1952 lead to many improvements being incorporated into the NRU design, operation, and means of control. He was the natural person to be appointed Chairman of the Reactor Safety Advisory Committee, set up by the Atomic Energy Control Board to advise on the health and safety of nuclear reactors and power stations.
In 1961, George left AECL to become the President of the Atomic Energy Control Board. Although a natural progression in the technical sense, it was not an easy move for George Laurence to make. He did not like Ottawa bureaucracy, and it was not until 1965 that he physically moved his office to Ottawa. A colleague recalls that, after a mandatory senior executive course some two years after he was appointed, he returned incensed by the management jargon to which he had been exposed. It completely reinforced his distaste for the bureaucracy. He remained a scientifically-oriented president.
Under his leadership, the Canadian reactor safety philosophy developed in quite a different way from that in many other countries. In the Canadian approach, the regulatory authority sets the limits for doses to the public and workers, and leaves it to the owner to convince the regulator that the plant will operate within these limits. We, as designers and operators, are convinced that his approach is the best and is a fundamental reason for the excellent safety record of Canada's nuclear power plants.
Mrs. Laurence, all of us associated with nuclear science and technology in Canada owe a great deal to George. Indeed, his influence has spread far beyond the bounds of Canada. I am very pleased to be able to tell you that the Nuclear Reactor Safety Division of the American Nuclear Society is proposing to introduce an award to be named the George C. Laurence Pioneering Award for achievements in the field of nuclear safety. This will be a continuing celebration of the high regard in which George Laurence is held by his peers.
He received many awards during his career. Sadly, this award must be posthumous. I was very privileged to be asked by the American Nuclear Society to present you this plaque that recognizes his pioneering achievements. The citation reads:
The American Nuclear Society
Certificate of Recognition of the Accomplishments
of George C. Laurence
This award is made to confer recognition of a lifetime of achievements in the development of safety philosophy. Over a career spanning 40 years, his pioneering leadership in the area of nuclear reactor safety led to development of the safety concept of numerical safety goals based on risk. His safety philosophy and principles for nuclear power plants, first expressed in the late 1950s, are the basis for the Canadian licensing approach applied to CANDU reactors and have served as the impetus for safety developments in many other countries. Major aspects of these principles include separation of safety and operating systems, two-out-of-three logic for safety systems, and the first numerical safety goals for significant radiological releases due to an accident. During his years of leadership at the Atomic Energy Control Board, he created a climate in which innovative approaches to safety could be developed in ways that enhance both safety and operational efficiency.
This award recognizes his pioneering achievements.
L. Walter Deitrich
Chair, Executive Committee
Roger W. Tilbrook
Chair, Honors and Awards Committee
June 13, 1988
Please accept this citation from the American Nuclear Society, a citation that is sincerely endorsed by his friends and colleagues here in Canada.