Companies vie for Chalk River reactor

Photo courtesy of the National Research Council

Thursday, Aug. 4, 2011 – Globe and Mail

Over more than half a century, the reactor in Chalk River, Ont., has produced a Nobel prize and boosted Canada’s stature as a nuclear innovator, acting as a magnet for budding researchers.

It’s also been the source of deep national embarrassment thanks to an unscheduled outage at the aging reactor in 2009 that led to a global shortage of medical isotopes.

Now it’s been effectively orphaned as Ottawa sells off the CANDU reactor arm of its parent company, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

That divestiture is forcing the federal government to decide whether to continue running it and eventually replace the reactor, operate it until it is too old to repair any more and shut it down, bring in private-sector partners to help run and finance it, or some combination of these options.

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Ottawa’s sale clouds the future of Chalk River

Friday, December 18, 2009 – Globe and Mail

So it’s official: After hinting at it for years, Ottawa’s selling off the family reactor business.

But what happens to the other part of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. – the multi-purpose facility in Chalk River, Ont., that was once one of the world’s nuclear leaders but has more recently been plagued by technical difficulties that have given Canada a black eye in the world of nuclear medicine?

Hard to say.

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Canada puts its nuclear pride on the block

Friday, December 18, 2009 – Globe and Mail

OTTAWA and TORONTO — Stephen Harper travelled the world pitching Canada’s “state-of-the-art” – and state-owned – nuclear reactor technology, but finding no takers at home or abroad and facing record budget deficits, the Prime Minister is selling off the Crown-owned Candus.

The Harper government confirmed yesterday it is calling for bids on the reactor wing of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.

With interest coming from a mix of foreign and domestic firms, opposition critics say they’re concerned technology created at public expense is at risk of leaving the country.

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New $1.2-billion reactor needed for isotopes, Ottawa told

Friday, December 4, 2009 – Globe and Mail

Canada has been told to act swiftly and aggressively by building a new billion-dollar multipurpose reactor to secure its isotope supply for the next several decades and to prevent another global isotope shortage.

An expert-panel report commissioned by the federal Department of Natural Resources also recommended adopting supplementary production methods. The panel convened in June in the midst of a global shortage of the radioactive material and as Ottawa was musing about getting out of the isotope-producing business.

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Chalk River workers want to run nuclear facility

Tuesday, December 1, 2009 – Globe and Mail

As the fate of Canada’s nuclear industry hangs in the limbo of unreleased government-commissioned reports, workers at the Chalk River reactor are taking matters into their own hands.

Fearing a looming, but still vague, restructuring of the Crown corporation that operates the reactor, they’ve submitted their own proposal to Ottawa – an ambitious plan that would see Chalk River independent of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.’s reactor business and become a nuclear research giant in its own right.

“The silence” from Natural Resources Canada, says Gordon Tapp, president of Chalk River Technicians and Technologists, “is deafening.”

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AECL: Will anyone want to buy it?

Friday, August 14, 2009 – Globe and Mail

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. can’t seem to get a break.

Its reactor leaks. Its projects are overdue. No one seems keen on its cutting-edge technology – at least not as much as they were a few years ago.

In May, shortly after Chalk River’s latest problems appeared, Ottawa put AECL’s future into the hands of N.M. Rothschild and Sons, which is to deliver a restructuring plan and financial advice this fall.

Can AECL be sold off wholesale? In pieces? The most pressing question, says Bryne Purchase, a professor of public policy at Queen’s University, is whether there will be anything the private sector will be interested in buying.

“Aside from the refurbishment business, which doesn’t seem to be going that well anyway, what could you possibly be privatizing? … There’s nothing to sell. There’s no business.”

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The isotope crisis: How Canada let the world down

Friday, August 14, 2009

Canada, once relied upon as a leader in isotope production, is now seen as having reneged on its responsibility to the medical world.

The isotope-producing NRU reactor at Chalk River, Ont., will stay shut down until the spring of 2010, at least – marking the third time Crown corporation Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. has pushed back its estimated restart date since the aging reactor was taken offline in late May when a heavy water leak was discovered.

The news was met with frustration yesterday, and a growing sense among the international medical community that Canada has bungled its nuclear file.

The federal government has convened an expert panel, appointed a special adviser on isotopes and has invested $6-million toward research into alternatives to Chalk River.

But by failing to plan for or respond quickly to the failure of a reactor at the end of its lifespan, Canada is going back on its “implied contract” to provide scarce and much-needed medical isotopes, said Robert Atcher, president of the international Society of Nuclear Medicine.

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Chalk River shutdown: Nuclear inaction puts half-century of innovation at risk

Saturday, June 20, 2009 – Globe and Mail

TORONTO — Chalk River is the reason Thad Harroun came to Canada.

The biophysicist and California native had worked with experts in his field on both sides of the Atlantic. But it was Canada’s NRU reactor in Chalk River, Ont., that drew him north. Prof. Harroun did postdoctoral work there and got a teaching position at Brock University. He travels regularly up to the reactor to shine high-powered neutron beams at bits of cell membranes and see what happens.

Or, at least, he did.

Now, he’s stuck in St. Catharines, Ont., research stymied by the same shutdown that has caused a worldwide isotope shortage. And he’s at a loss.

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