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[cdn-nucl-l] Pembroke Observer: Feds making plans for isotope supply
Can moly-99 be made in the McMaster Reactor?
Feds making plans for isotope supply
By PETER ZIMONJIC
The Conservative government is developing an emergency plan to shore up the
supply of radioisotopes in case the Chalk River nuclear facility shuts down
again, Health Minister Tony Clement said yesterday.
"We have made it clear to the regulator and AECL that if there is ever again
a shutdown that is longer than usual we would have to be notified well in
advance to ... get our supply chain in motion a lot more quickly," Clement
"If something occurs out of the blue, clearly we have got to have protocols
in place with other suppliers."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government was caught unaware on Dec. 4 when
Atomic Energy Canada Limited extended the temporary closure of its nuclear
reactor at Chalk River, 180 km northwest of Ottawa.
The Chalk River reactor, which is operated by AECL, a Crown Corporation,
produces about half of the world's supply of the radioisotope molybdenum-99,
or moly. The radioactive material is used by doctors in imaging technology
to diagnose organ illnesses such as heart problems and cancer. The other
concern was a shortage of the isotope iodine-131, which has a half-life of
eight days and is used to treat thyroid disease and cancer.
The 50-year-old NRU Chalk River reactor is the largest of four major
producers of medical isotopes in the world. There is another reactor in
South Africa, and one in each of The Netherlands and Belgium.
But because the half-life of moly-99 is so short at 66 hours, it's more
practical for the source reactor producing them to be close to the doctors
and hospitals which use the radioactive material to perform diagnoses.
"Obviously, this is a good that you can t stockpile for too long," Clement
said. "...but I think there are some things we have learned from this
situation with respect to alternative methods of treatment (and) alternative
supplies of radioisotopes (which) can be put in place in a pinch..."
The reactor is now operating again after emergency legislation was passed to
override the Canadian Nuclear Safety Agency's recommendation that it remain
closed until safety licence requirements were met.
Should the Chalk River reactor be forced to shut down indefinitely however,
the shortage of isotopes could only be made up by using the other three
Without the Chalk River reactor, "the shortage would be worldwide," said Roy
Brown of CORAR, a trade association for the medical nuclear material supply