Not any more

Chalk River reactor back at full power

In Canada on August 17, 2010 at 21:01

OTTAWA — Medical isotopes are expected to be ready for processing and distribution this week, following this morning’s restart of the Chalk River nuclear reactor.

"We’ve begun to create medical isotopes," said Robin Forbes, spokeswoman for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which owns and operates the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor northwest of Ottawa. "We’re working to get the first shipment off this week," to MDS Nordion in Kanata, where the isotopes are processed before being sent to hospitals and other users.

The successful restart follows a 15-month operation to repair corrosion in the heavy-water containment vessel of the world’s oldest operating nuclear reactor.

AECL initially estimated the work would take three to four months. But the extent of corrosion, the complexity of working in a highly radioactive environment and other issues caused repeated delays, threatening Canada’s world dominance in the estimated $4-billion global molecular imaging and radiotherapeutics market, led by Ottawa’s MDS Nordion.

AECL has estimated the cost of the NRU breakdown, including lost isotope revenue, at $70 million.

Prior to the shutdown, an estimated 27 million people worldwide were treated annually with NRU-produced medical isotopes for the diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases.

The NRU routinely produced about 30 per cent of the worldwide molybdenum-99 requirements for medical diagnosis (imaging) of the brain, thyroid, heart, lungs, liver, kidney, spleen and bone marrow.

Another crucial NRU isotope, Cobalt-60, accounts for 16 million annual cancer therapy treatments in 80 countries.

The long-term cost of the NRU closure will be an inevitable spike in advanced cardiovascular diseases and cancers over the next few years among patients who were unable to undergo exams, says the Canadian Society of Nuclear Medicine.

That concern is supported by a recent survey by the Canadian Institute for Health Information. The health data agency reported a nearly 22-per-cent decrease in the number of nuclear medical exams performed on Canadian hearts, bones and lungs last October compared to one year earlier – 12,000 fewer exams overall.

© Copyright (c) The Ottawa Citizen

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