Concerns raised over replacing key Canada reactor

Wed Jan 9, 2008 7:40pm EST
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By Allan Dowd

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - The Canadian firm running an aging nuclear reactor needed by the world's medical community is falling short on plans to replace it, according to an auditor's report released on Wednesday.

The report also raised concerns that government-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd has not addressed actions requested by Canada's Nuclear Safety Commission in a 2005 review of the Chalk River facility, the world's main supplier of medical isotopes.

"A significant risk to the successful completion of the project has been the unresolved technical issues related to operating in compliance with regulatory requirements," the federal auditor general warned.

The Chalk River nuclear facility in eastern Ontario supplies more than two-thirds of the global supply of medical isotopes used for cancer tests and other medical procedures. A maintenance shut-down of the facility late last year triggered an international shortage.

The incident also sparked a political storm in Canada when Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government temporarily reopened the 50-year-old reactor in mid-December against the wishes of the government safety regulators.

The auditor general's 41-page review of AECL, the federally owned nuclear technology company, was completed in August but not released until on Wednesday.

Harper replaced AECL's chairman and chief executive in mid-December amid the controversy over the shutdown.

The auditor's report cited strategic problem on the isotope facility, as well as the need to replace other aging facilities at Chalk River and develop of a new generation of Candu nuclear reactors -- which Canada markets internationally.   Continued...