The isotope crisis: How Canada let the world down

Friday, August 14, 2009
ANNA MEHLER PAPERNY

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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