Tuesday, June 8, 2010

cbc news: Nuclear researcher critical of decision to not build a new chalk river reactor


Canada should replace the reactor that produces medical isotopes to honour its commitments, U.S.-based nuclear medicine experts say.

On Monday, Dr. Robert Atcher, past president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, criticized the federal government's decision to scrap the Maple reactors that were meant to replace the National Research Universal Reactor at Chalk River, Ont.

In May 2009, the federal government convened an expert panel to assess proposals for new sources of medical isotopes. Last November, the panel recommended building a multi-purpose research reactor to guarantee supply of medical isotopes, while saying the reactor's other missions, such as scientific research, would help justify the costs.

"The expert panel report actually suggested that there be a replacement for the NRU," Atcher told a news conference at the society's annual meeting in Salt Lake City.

"Lacking the ability the bring the Maples back online, at least commit to doing what their expert panel suggested, and that is to replace NRU and do it in a timetable that would fit with the 2016 deadline that the Canadian government gave for the operations of that reactor."

Atcher called on the federal government to honour its commitment to provide a sustainable, long-term supply of medical isotopes, noting the U.S. put off developing its own isotope-producing reactors based on assurances from the Canadian government and industry.

The federal Conservative government scrapped the Maple project two years ago, saying it was millions of dollars over budget and years behind schedule.
Reactor repairs

NRU supplied a third of the world's medical isotopes until Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. shut it down last May after it found a pinprick-sized radioactive water leak.

AECL originally said the reactor would be off line for a month, then three months, then six months. Last week, ACEL said 98 per cent of the weld repairs are complete and it now estimates isotope production will resume "by the end of July."

The remaining repairs are probably the most complex and difficult to do, Atcher said.

In April, the federal government ruled out its expert panel's recommendation to build a new nuclear reactor to produce medical isotopes, saying the cost of $1 billion was too high, it would take too long, and the sale of isotopes would never recover the cost.

The panel had said the NRU replacement would serve not only the isotope production needs for North America, but also supply neutrons for material sciences, fuel development and power reactor production, Atcher said.

A U.S. bill before the Senate encourages creation of domestic manufacturers of isotopes and would phase out the use of highly enriched uranium to meet non-proliferation goals.

Read more: http://www.cbc.ca/health/story/2010/06/07/medical-isotopes-atcher.html#ixzz0qKpFbfYy

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