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Chalk River reactor to be closed longer than predicted

The Chalk River nuclear reactor, which is responsible for producing much of the world's supply of radioisotopes used in medical scans, will not restart operations until "late 2009" at the earliest, announced the plant's owner Atomic Energy of Canada Limited yesterday.

"Returning the NRU to service to support the production of medical isotopes for Canadian patients and healthcare practitioners is our primary objective" AECL president/CEO Hugh MacDiarmid said. "We have a dedicated team working around the clock to bring the NRU back to operation as quickly and as safely as possible. However, it is a complex task with many variables."

The facility was shut down for repairs in mid-May after a serious leak was discovered.

Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq and Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt pronounced themselves "disappointed" in AECL's estimate of a return to operations for the reactor.

Compounding the bad news is a report from the Netherlands that their radioisotope-producing nuclear plant, which has been picking up much of the slack during the Chalk River shutdown, will shut down on Wednesday. The Dutch plant and Chalk River are the world's two biggest producers of the crucial radioisotope technetium-99.

There are hopes, however, that a Belgian reactor may be able to make up at least a portion of the shortfall during the Dutch plant's repairs. "It'll all depend whether the Belgian reactor comes on as we hope it will," Ontario Association of Nuclear Medicine president Dr Christopher O'Brien told The Globe and Mail. "If the Belgian reactor does not come on and Petten is down, we will be in dire straits... The plan is just to muddle on."

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  1. bogged down9 July, 2009 4:54 PM

    well maybe when in 2008 the head of the nuclear regulatory commission in Canada said that we should shut it down, and the feds promptly fired her, we should have paid heed to her warnings. This just shows a cash strapped federal government who ignores the warnings of the person they put in charge, then blame the utility when it says we need more time. If we would have addressed this in 2008 we wouldn't be dealing with this issue right now.

  2. Sam Solomon9 July, 2009 5:33 PM

    You're not wrong, bogged down, but by that same token, the underlying problem (Chalk River's decrepitude and impending obsolescence) really should have been addressed long before 2008.

    The plan to replace the existing Chalk River reactor -- which consisted of building two MAPLE reactors at the same site in Ontario -- was scrapped in 2008 after years and years of work and millions upon millions of dollars of spending, because the plants apparently didn't meet certain safety regulations. The safety problems were presumably known long before the MAPLEs were abandoned, considering the plants were supposed to be finished and ready to work in 2000 and spent eight years in limbo.

    Should the MAPLE projects have been reworked a long time ago? Should they now be revived and fixed? The answers to these questions point to a more systemic problem than the one you seem to be hinting at: that is to say, it's not just the current government that has failed to provide safeguards for the contingency of Chalk River's closure.

  3. sharon10 July, 2009 7:58 AM

    Considering the following:

    1. the "global" producers of the isotopes are reducing supply ( not just Canada)

    2. the desired/preferred isotope has other value (s) in the nuclear industry (check this one out)

    3.the miidle men ( generator producers, radiopharmaceutical providers) have become global mega/?monopolies within the movement from raw material to product- for- patient

    ...there is more to this than meets the "aye".

  4. sharon10 July, 2009 8:10 AM

    P.S. Paste from the July 8,2009 report on CBC news website:


    Still, the Canadian affiliate of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War says there's another reason to get away from isotopes produced at reactors like the one at Chalk River. The reactor uses highly enriched uranium to produce the molybdenum-99 that is used to produce medical isotopes.

    It's the only grade of uranium from which it is possible to produce a plutonium bomb directly.

    end of paste

    (I think they meant "atomic" bomb)

    I would read that carefully if I were you ..... and take the "cheaters" off the horse pulling your wagon

  5. Anonymous30 September, 2009 9:45 AM

    Due to the maple 2 being abandoned, and the chalk river reactor assumed to being shut down again, this has by the looks of it causeed major issues with the goverment and funding with the producing of radioisotopes. Canada is known to produce 2/3 of the isotopes..

    This issue with the chalk river reactor should have been delt with. And was meant to stop running in 2000 according to otherr sources..

    What will happen now??

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