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McMaster reactor: Extreme makeover, Campus edition Add to ...

McMaster University's nuclear reactor turned 50 this year and for its birthday got a $22 million present from the Government of Canada. The reactor, which was opened in 1959 by Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, was one of the world's few campus-based devices. This year's cash infusion will give the golden oldie new life as a research tool and—since it is the country's only nuclear reactor outside of the troubled Chalk River plant capable of producing medical isotopes—a potentially vital new role beyond its academic day job.

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The federal funding for the Hamilton reactor is part of the $2 billion Knowledge Infrastructure Program (KIP) that regenerates outdated and rundown facilities, creates jobs and supports new innovation at Canada's colleges and universities. Born out of the current economic turmoil, the scheme (under which matching funds have to come from the institutions, provinces or other sources) is setting off a massive wave of construction across Canadian campuses. After years of institutional grumbling about crumbling infrastructure and lack of attention from Ottawa, KIP seems to have created a new era of detente. For example, according to University Affairs magazine, the University of Winnipeg was so delighted with the $18 million in federal KIP money it received for a new science and environment complex that it ran a full-page newspaper ad thanking the government, had it framed and sent it to Gary Goodyear, the minister responsible.

Here's a snapshot of some other major KIP renos coming to a campus near you (all figures represent federal and matching provincial funds):

University of Victoria: $43 million to revamp six aging buildings: the University Centre and the Cornett, Clearihue, Elliot, MacLaurin and Cunningham structures. The facelift will upgrade program facilities and boost energy efficiency.

University of Calgary: $60 million to help build an energy-efficient co-generation plant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to convert an aging heating and cooling plant into a facility to generate electricity from natural gas and capture waste heat for campus buildings.

University of Toronto: Its suburban campuses in Mississauga and Scarborough are each getting $70 million to build new research labs and teaching spaces to help the university expand enrolment at the two sites in an effort to ease pressure on its downtown campus.

University of Northern British Columbia: The Prince George campus got $21 million to build a biomass gasification system that uses waste wood products from nearby paper mills to provide heat to the campus buildings and cut natural gas consumption by up to 85%.

Memorial University: Sir Wilfred Grenfell College campus will get $27 million to create a new academic building complete with research, computer and meeting spaces, as well as faculty and staff offices and student study areas.

With files from Marlene Habib

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