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Pioneering Canada's nuclear program.

Ed. note: As part of the CSChE's 25th anniversary in 1991, ACCN published a series of profiles honoring Canada's prominent chemical engineers. The driving force behind the series was Howard Rae. Therefore, it is only fitting that we honor him with his own story. Thanks to Al Bancroft for his time and work in writing the text.

Howard Rae joined Canada's nuclear power program in its formative years. As a chemical engineer with a strong technical understanding and an aptitude for management, he played a central role from concept definition to commercial maturity. This role included periods as researcher, program manager and technical guru while this major new technology was established in Canada.

In his youth, Rae lived in Montreal where he obtained a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering from McGill University in 1947. He continued his formal education at Princeton University, being awarded a PhD degree in 1950. That same year, Rae joined the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) at the Chalk River laboratories where his career spanned 40 years.

As with any developing technology, the nuclear power field offered many opportunities for research and development. Rae's first assignment was the assessment of the technical and economic prospects for separating plutonium from spent fuel for further use as a nuclear fuel. This involved attachment to the U.K's Atomic Energy Research Establishment at Harwell during 1952 and 1953, where the production and properties of plutonium hexafluoride were being studied with a view to separating the isotopes of plutonium; however, such separation proved to be impractical at the time.

When it became clear that the Canadian power reactor concept based on heavy water as moderator and coolant would be unique in the world, Rae revived the early Canadian development of heavy water production processes. This yielded his first heavy water patent, for the design of a distillation packing with very low pressure drop that could separate deuterium from ordinary water.

About 10 years after his pioneering work, and when the Canadian nuclear program became a commercial reality, Rae resumed work on heavy water production processes. He eventually became recognized as an international authority in the field. During the period from 1965 to 1975, AECL, Ontario Hydro and General Electric Canada established the world's dominant heavy water program. At peak production, the Canadian plants at three sites produced sufficient heavy water, valued at $500 million per year, to supply the rapidly expanding nuclear power industry. Achieving high productivity required a concerted effort to understand process fundamentals and to apply them to the very large plant equipment. As development program manager, Rae co-ordinated laboratory and in-plant experiments involving three production plants, three AECL and Ontario Hydro laboratories and seventeen contracting universities and engineering companies.

Throughout his career. Rae focused his attention on many aspects of nuclear chemical engineering. Early in the operation of Canada's second research reactor, NRU, (1957 to 1959), Rae developed the understanding of the dissolution, movement and deposition of solids in water circuits. Applied to power reactor systems, this allowed the reduction of radiation exposures of operating personnel. A related further application is the use of chemical agents in most of the world's power reactor water circuits to remove deposited radioactive solid.

Rae's management responsibilities grew throughout his career, first leading small teams, then as the head of Chemical Engineering Branch, 1963 to 1972; as heavy water program co-ordinator, 1972 to 1976; and as director of the Fuel and Materials Division 1977 to 1979. As director of Applied Research and Development from 1979 to 1985, Rae had a parallel role as co-ordinator of all AECL R&D in support of CANDU. This involved close collaboration with the AECL designers of CANDU and the power reactor operators at Ontario Hydro, Hydro Quebec and New Brunswick Electric Power Commission. In 1986, Rae was promoted to vice-president, Radiation and industrial Applications, and served in that capacity until his retirement in 1989. From 1983 to 1989, Rae was a member of the Steering Committee of the Canadian Fusion Fuels Technology Project which sponsors research on tritium technology and related topics.

From the beginning, Rae realized the importance of contributing to the profession. He joined the CIC as a student member in 1945 and became a full member in 1950. He was active in the Deep River Section starting in 1955 and was elected Fellow in 1957. Over the period from 1965 to 1969, Rae served on the editorial board of Can. J. Chem. Eng., for the last three years as chairman. During the same period, he was on the management advisory committee on publications and the committee for tour speakers. He has also been a strong supporter of the Canadian Nuclear Society.

In recognition of his exceptional achievement in chemical engineering, Rae was the recipient of the R.S. Jane Memorial Lecture Award for 1978. In further recognition of his stature, Rae served as CSChE president in 1984-85.

Within AECL, he has been the spokesman and chronicler for Nuclear Chemical Engineering in Canada. He has organized technical program sessions for a number of the Canadian chemical engineering conferences and has been a frequent contributor to Chemistry in Canada and Canadian Chemical News/L'Actualite chimique canadienne. As examples, Rae was the editor of Separation of Hydrogen Isotopes published in the ACS Symposium Series and author of Three Decades of Canadian Nuclear Chemical Engineering also published by the ACS.

In his retirement, Rae continues to contribute, with Canada's Heavy water Story, a chapter in Chemical Engineering in Canada - An Historical Perspective prepared to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the founding of the CSChE.

Throughout his busy career, Howard has been a happy family man, supported by his wife Mavis and children, Keith, Ian and Wendy. At his retirement home on the Ottawa River near Ottawa, he continues to pursue his hobbies of gardening, sailing and skiing. To his many colleagues and friends, he is known for his sharp technical insight, willingness to contribute and gentle caring.
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Title Annotation:Profiles/Portraits; profile of Howard Rae
Author:Bancroft, Al
Publication:Canadian Chemical News
Date:May 1, 1992
Words:992
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