Key isotope reactor down at least three months

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May 28, 2009, 1:13:07 AM5/28/09
Key isotope reactor down at least three months
Wed May 27, 2009 8:36pm E
*Source of leak found, but testing continues
*Three month shutdown a preliminary estimate
*Hospitals scrambling for new isotope supplies (Adds reaction, paragraphs

By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia, May 27 (Reuters) - An aging Canadian nuclear
reactor that produces a third of the world's medical isotope supply is
expected to be out of operation for at least three months, officials said
on Wednesday.

Crews have found the source of a heavy water leak at the Chalk River
reactor in eastern Ontario, but more inspections will be needed before a
repair plan can be worked out, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. said.

"Based on our preliminary findings to date, we now believe that the NRU
reactor will be out of service for at least three months," AECL Chief
Nuclear Officer Bill Pilkington said in a news release.

AECL said it cannot give an exact prediction on how long the facility will
be down until the inspection is completed. The government-owned firm had
previously estimated it would be out of operation for at least a month.

The 50-year-old facility was shut down May 17 so crews could find the
cause of the small heavy water leak, which officials say does not pose a
health threat to the public.

A medical isotope is a very small quantity of radioactive material used to
perform nuclear medicine imaging tests. Isotopes are mixed with different
solutions and injected into patients where they give off energy that is
read by a special camera.

Isotopes have a short shelf life, so the unexpected shutdown has sent
hospitals in the United States and Canada scrambling to find alternative
suppliers. There are a limited number of reactors that can produce them.

"The real problem is that those other reactors don't have the excess
capacity that (Chalk River) has," said Robert Atcher, president of the
Society of Nuclear Medicine.

Atcher said there are also fears that AECL will now find other corrosion
problems in the reactor that will lengthen the shutdown or force a
permanent closure..

"To say we're concerned is an understatement," Atcher said.

MDS Inc (MDS.TO), whose MDS Nordion Division has an exclusive agreement to
distribute Chalk River's medical isotopes, is working to secure additional
supply, but said last week it expected a significant global shortage.

A MDS spokeswoman was not immediately available for comment on Wednesday.

AECL said cameras located the heavy water leak at the base of the reactor
vessel in a location where there is corrosion on the outside wall, and
test equipment is being prepare to look at the interior area.

"Until all investigations are completed, it is premature at this point to
set a definitive timeline for the return to service of the NRU reactor,"
said Hugh MacDiarmid, AECL's chief executive.

AECL said it slowed the rate of the leak by lowering the heavy water level
in the reactor.

The water is being contained and stored, although a small portion does
evaporate allowing tritium to be released into the air through the
ventilation system. The amount of airborne release is below regulatory
limits, officials said. (Editing by Doina Chiacu)
Published Tuesday May 26th, 2009
FREDERICTON - It's business as usual at all of New Brunswick's nuclear
medicine departments.

Fears of delayed and cancelled medical treatments were not fulfilled
Monday, as an impending global shortage of medical isotopes failed to have
an impact on health-care services in the province.

Crisis averted - at least for now.

Dan Hickey of the province's anglophone health authority said the weekly
supply of isotopes arrived as usual at the Saint John Regional Hospital,
the Dr. Everett Chalmers Regional Hospital in Fredericton and the Moncton

That means all nuclear medicine treatments and services can proceed as
usual this week, said Hickey, the regional director of diagnostic imaging
for Regional Health Authority B.

The situation is the same in Regional Health Authority A, the province's
francophone health body.

According to Dr. John LeBlanc, sufficient isotopes were also delivered to
the Chaleur Regional Hospital in Bathurst, the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont
Regional Hospital in Moncton and the Edmundston Regional Hospital.

"There shouldn't be any problems this week," said LeBlanc, a nuclear
medicine specialist at the Chaleur Regional. "At least for this week
everything is fine."

However, the root problem won't be fixed anytime soon, meaning the isotope
shortage could hit New Brunswick hospitals as early as next week.

At the centre of the impending shortage is the recent shutdown of an aging
nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ont., which provides up to half the global
supply of isotopes used in medical imaging.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the country's nuclear Crown corporation,
initially estimated the reactor would be out of service for more than a
month while a heavy-water leak is repaired. But late last week, the
federal corporation revised its estimate and said it can't rule out a
prolonged shutdown of the reactor.

If the shortage of isotopes hits New Brunswick next week, it will mean a
significant reduction in nuclear medicine treatments and diagnostic scans
in the province's hospitals.

The shortage will cause delays in everything from cancer treatment - as
patients wait for scan results - to heart, brain and lung imaging.

Nuclear medicine involves putting a small amount of radioactive material
into the body through injection, inhalation or oral consumption. The
material is sent to a targeted part of the body, allowing special
equipment to take images of the area. The technology is used to diagnose
and treat a variety of conditions, such as diagnosing and monitoring the
progression of cancers.

In New Brunswick, only two of the province's nuclear medicine units are
guaranteed to receive isotopes during the crisis: the Chaleur Regional and
the Dumont.
That's because those hospitals are supplied with isotopes from a source in
the Netherlands.

The other four hospitals - in Saint John, Moncton, Fredericton and
Edmundston - get their isotopes from a supplier that taps into the supply
from Chalk River.

Mizz Marcia Ryder

May 30, 2009, 11:42:33 AM5/30/09
J no> wrote:
> Key isotope reactor down at least three months
> Wed May 27, 2009 8:36pm E
Thanks,J, for the news. Makes me the 100% "green"
world where would we get our isotopes???? Windmills, eh?
Methinks the Don Quixotes of the world need to study a little
before charging off to battle their dragons. Just sayin'.

May 31, 2009, 5:04:52 PM5/31/09

Marsha, you may already know this, but the world is a much simpler
place for much simpler people.


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