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Chalk River nuclear reactor, medical isotope facility


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I heard that a reactor is shut down in Chalk River, that is the main supplier of nuclear medicine in Canada and most of the United States. As a result hospitals risked running out of Technicium.

I thought it was surprising that this 50 year old reactor was the single producer of this substance for most Nuclear Medicine departments. In fact this has also hit the US News now.

I heard somewhere that the regulators have shut them down. Does anyone know what went wrong?

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Looks like required license violation upgrades are impacted by parts availability during the maintenance shutdown:

Wednesday, the company announced it was having to make modifications required for the installation of two new motor starters for the reactor cooling pumps, and to connect the motors to an additional back-up power supply.

http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/s...883&k=93559

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Looks like required license violation upgrades are impacted by parts availability during the maintenance shutdown:

It is more like plain Canadian incompetency, as these problems should have been determined at a much earlier stage with the parts readily available and installed with little inconvenience.

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It is more like plain Canadian incompetency, as these problems should have been determined at a much earlier stage with the parts readily available and installed with little inconvenience.

It is incompetency. This is an old plant which was supposed to be replaced. Unfortunately, the replacement is six years behind schedule - for some unexplained reason.

Of course, the Liberals are blaming the Tories. So I guess it's Harper's fault the replacement plant is six years behind schedule.

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It is incompetency. This is an old plant which was supposed to be replaced. Unfortunately, the replacement is six years behind schedule - for some unexplained reason.

Of course, the Liberals are blaming the Tories. So I guess it's Harper's fault the replacement plant is six years behind schedule.

The replacement is late for the same reason no new nukes have been built in decades - anti-nuke hysteria!

I find it ironic that the result of this unscientific fear has been the unfortunate negative effect on so many people needing isotope products to try to save their lives.

As has been said so many times, intelligence is a constant divided by the number of people involved.

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"In spite of the pressing need, Linda Keen, head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, told legislators on Thursday that if AECL had not shut down the Chalk River plant on its own accord she would have ordered it closed because of various safety violations. But these safety concerns, which compelled the shut down of the medical isotope reactor, have been known of for some time, and indeed it may not be running again until well into January 2008."

"Amid accusations of government incompetence by opposition parties in Parliament for the on-going lack of a back-up source for what many doctors complain are "single-source" materials, Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn, told reporters, "I've asked them to ... collectively work together to come up with a solution on this as quickly as possible..."

And Health Minister Tony Clement said Wednesday in the House of Commons, "We are working with industry right now, we are getting emergency supplies for emergency procedures and that will continue..."

http://www.citynews.ca/news/news_17458.aspx

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It's an emergency all right, Mr. Clement.

But Was It One That They Created?

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Life and death decisions are being made right now by doctors.

The situation could grow a lot worse if something is not done soon. It took nine days for anyone to tell the nuclear medicine people that there was going to be an imminent problem. It is now 18 days in and the longer it takes, the longer it will be to take care of the nearly 50,000 Canadians that are treated with isotopes from the plant. It is three times that number in the States that depend on the Canadian isotopes.

Thousands of Canadians have been affected so far.

The government will have to act soon or this crisis is going to be one that shuts down the majority of nuclear medicine testing in Canada.

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Life and death decisions are being made right now by doctors.

The situation could grow a lot worse if something is not done soon. It took nine days for anyone to tell the nuclear medicine people that there was going to be an imminent problem. It is now 18 days in and the longer it takes, the longer it will be to take care of the nearly 50,000 Canadians that are treated with isotopes from the plant. It is three times that number in the States that depend on the Canadian isotopes.

Thousands of Canadians have been affected so far.

The government will have to act soon or this crisis is going to be one that shuts down the majority of nuclear medicine testing in Canada.

What do you suggest they do? It takes a finite amount of time to safely do the physical things necessary to overhaul the reactor. If the parts had not been ordered ahead of time they take as long as they take to manufacture, test and ship.

You can't just send someone out to Home Depot!

This is where politics and bureaucracy meets reality. You can yell and demand all you want but the Universe works the way it works and just doesn't care how you feel about it.

The real problem is obviously the people running the plant. Something tells me they weren't all hired by Harper since the Tories took over in Ottawa. Still, it's a safe bet that the Opposition will blame them for it anyway.

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What do you suggest they do? It takes a finite amount of time to safely do the physical things necessary to overhaul the reactor. If the parts had not been ordered ahead of time they take as long as they take to manufacture, test and ship.

You can't just send someone out to Home Depot!

This is where politics and bureaucracy meets reality. You can yell and demand all you want but the Universe works the way it works and just doesn't care how you feel about it.

The real problem is obviously the people running the plant. Something tells me they weren't all hired by Harper since the Tories took over in Ottawa. Still, it's a safe bet that the Opposition will blame them for it anyway.

The people at the plant aren't political appointees.

The regulators report to the Resources minister and they've told the minister this plant was to have been decommissioned by the end of 2005. No alternative supply was found in the interim when it was suggested that safety might be an issue and now we face this problem.

The Tories are now bypassing the independent regulator and Harper says authoritatively: "There will no nuclear accidents."

Not exactly reassuring when the independent regulator won't certify that.

If it helps to blame the Liberals for this, by all means.

Edited by jdobbin
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The replacement is late for the same reason no new nukes have been built in decades - anti-nuke hysteria!

I think you're right, for the life of me I can't understand this hysteria, but it does exist in Canada. What really amuses me is the fact that Canada had Nuclear warhead tipped missiles in the past and hardly anyone knows about it. Imagine the Hysteria if we still had them, that would be a circus of clown shoes run amok indeed.

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I think you're right, for the life of me I can't understand this hysteria, but it does exist in Canada. What really amuses me is the fact that Canada had Nuclear warhead tipped missiles in the past and hardly anyone knows about it. Imagine the Hysteria if we still had them, that would be a circus of clown shoes run amok indeed.

Yeah, it seems strange to me as well. Politicians of all stripes have been too afraid to build new nukes for some decades now. So the existing plants get old and past their design lifetimes and suddenly "Surprise!" we have no alternate source for medical isotopes!

I agree that Harper forcing a re-start of the reactor is cause for concern but I've always found Harper to be much more of a real world guy than Dion and his predecessors, like Chretien who spoke with imaginary homeless guys in imaginary bars. I've worked in engineering circles and there's always a big difference between going by the book and what's actually necessary to be safe. That's especially true in nuke plants where the "fudge factor" is deliberately made HUGE to ensure safety! So I'm sure he's talked to qualified people at the reactor and found out if they can safely do this. Since they work there themselves they have a vested interest in being realistic!

Still, if the plant is old then the plant is old. They should have built a replacement long ago but as I said the politicians simply responded to irrational public fears. Well, the public got what they asked for - how do you think they like it now?

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how do you think they like it now?

I'd say beyond any doubt that they don't like it at all. The truth though is that they don't and won't recognize the role they had in engineering this present situation. I can't recall any Nuclear meltdowns or other such emergencies in Canada yet the majority of people act as though its inevitable and going to happen any day, all while they offer no credible replacement for the Nukes.

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Heck, I going to do an unheard of thing..... BOTH the Libs and the Tories are at fault for this shut down. Now Harper seemed real determined to get it back on but I think he'll find, you can't always have what you want. If the place isn't ready to go you have to wait and take the responsibility for it.

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It's now quite obvious somebody did a very stupid thing, shutting down this reactor merely for punitive or for political reasons, completely disregarding its vital function in light of the actual risks it presents.

Whenever we hear about "safety concerns", it could mean anything from not having the right written procedures to not posting a proper sign. It doesn't necessarily mean something serious is wrong with the reactor. And the fact that the reactor ran for an extended time with these safety concerns indicates that they were probably minor violations. They could have been dealt with, without a shutdown ordered by the regulator.

The fact that our ministers, seated in the house and not experts on reactors by any means are able to call for its immediate return to operations, confirms this likelyhood. The problem was not bad enough to prompt a full shutdown. Meanwhile the ripple effects of this citical shortage it creates are being felt around the world. The head of the CNSC, and the minister, should be dismissed.

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It's now quite obvious somebody did a very stupid thing, shutting down this reactor merely for punitive or for political reasons, completely disregarding its vital function in light of the actual risks it presents.
I don't think the problem was in shutting it down but rather in starting it up.

CNSC oversees AECL which operates Chalk River. Shut down for routine maintenance, CNSC then said that the reactor needed an additional power supply for pumps as extra security. This has delayed the reactor's start-up.

It becomes (politically) problematic because the board members of CNSC are political appointees and, yes, they were appointed by Liberals. AECL has said there is no danger in starting up the reactor now and dealing with the power supply in due course. They can't legally do this however and so the Tories are passing emergency legislation giving AECL that right - and bypassing the CNSC - for 90 days.

Harper and Clement are blaming the Liberal appointees of the CNSC for being bureaucratic and obstructionist. It may simply be that the CNSC is being exceptionally cautious:

The aggressive response by the CNCS on the safety equipment is unusual for the commission, which is a regulator usually out of the public eye and frequently under attack by environmentalists who claim it is a toothless watchdog.

In recent years, there have been a number of high-profile difficulties at companies that have embarrassed the CNSC, ranging from a factory in Pembroke, Ont., that leaked radioactivity for years into the community before the regulator took strong action to curb its operations, to a discovery this summer that uranium had leaked into the ground under a CNSC-regulated plant in Port Hope, Ont., operated by Cameco Corp.

G & M

Politics. Blame Liberals? Soon enough, MikeDavid will be in here blaming immigrants and Leafless will then blame Quebec. And Argus will blame senior management.

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This is an interesting case of a common public policy dilemma. There is the benefit of these medical isotopes to be weighed against the very small risk of some horrific catastrophe. I think the benefits outweigh the risk and potential cost. Harper is right to do this.

Edited by August1991
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Harper and Clement are blaming the Liberal appointees of the CNSC for being bureaucratic and obstructionist. It may simply be that the CNSC is being exceptionally cautious.

This is an interesting case of a common public policy dilemma. There is the benefit of these medical isotopes to be weighed against the very small risk of some horrific catastrophe. I think the benefits outweigh the risk and potential cost. Harper is right to do this.

Whenever Harper has one of his explosive temper tantrums as he did this week with Ignatieff over the issue, he hurts his support. It isn't like the Tories were caught unaware on this. The warnings from the regulator have been going on month after month.

Harper went on to attack the regulator as partisan. He was angry at AECL (probably one of the reason why he is looking to sell it).

Clement made no apologies about the partisanship. It think dismissing the possibility of an accident by bypassing the regulator is risky. One reason: Harper is no nuclear expert. When he definitely says "there will be nuclear accident", he doesn't generate a lot of confidence.

http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/stor...?hub=TopStories

At one point, the Conservative government accused Linda Keen, the "Liberal-appointed" head of the nuclear regulator, of being responsible for the unnecessarily long closure that led to the international shortage of medical isotopes.

Clement said the Conservatives singled out Keen's actions because they thought the Liberals were going to turn the shortage into a partisan issue and delay the reactor's restart.

The nuclear reactor returned to service at 3:44 a.m. on Sunday, AECL announced.

The Chalk River reactor provides enough medical isotopes for about 25 millions tests and treatments each year.

The reactor stopped production for scheduled repairs on Nov. 18 and was expected to restart within five days.

But the CNSC refused to allow the reactor to restart after finding it had been operating without a backup emergency power system for cooling pumps for 17 months.

All of the months it was without a backup are Tory months in power. Why didn't they ensure the back-up was in place?

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It is amazing how Ignatieff easily provokes Harper into a rage. It is sort of like this forum actually.
Did Ignatieff start this controversy or was it the lack of isotopes?

From link above:

Late Friday afternoon, AECL chairman Michael C. Burns resigned suddenly, after one year on the job.

Clement said Burns had been hired as a part-time chairman and that his resignation was just an "interesting coincidence.

"Some times coincidences happen in politics," Clement said. "There was some indication that this might be coming up down the road."

Glenna Carr, a former civil servant in the Ontario government, replaced Burns.

This strikes me as far more telling.

No politician likes to be blind-sided and that's exactly what the AECL did. Somebody should have given a head's up several months ago and it appears somebody didn't. (Note that Burns was a Harper appointment.)

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Politicians face myriad problems. IMV, getting the right people in the right places is a necessary but insufficient condition for political success.

Then why are you hangin' around? Nothing else to do?
I'm typing these words under about two metres of snow. I'm not sure I can even open the door.
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Did Ignatieff start this controversy or was it the lack of isotopes?

From link above:This strikes me as far more telling.

No politician likes to be blind-sided and that's exactly what the AECL did. Somebody should have given a head's up several months ago and it appears somebody didn't. (Note that Burns was a Harper appointment.)

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Politicians face myriad problems. IMV, getting the right people in the right places is a necessary but insufficient condition for political success.

No, but Igatieff did manage to get Harper flying into a blind rage.

Burns was scheduled to go for some time. That seems to be confirmed by all parties and that is why it isn't a major issue now.

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