Harper lashes regulator over isotope shortfall

Tue Dec 11, 2007 4:48pm EST
 
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Prime Minister Stephen Harper lashed out at the country's nuclear regulator on Tuesday for refusing to allow the reopening of a reactor that makes crucial radioisotopes for cancer tests.

He also blasted the official opposition Liberals, who are for the time being blocking a government bid to overrule the regulator and allow the reactor to reopen for 120 days.

The Chalk River reactor -- which supplies more than two-thirds of the world's radioisotopes -- was shut down in November. The operator, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, says it will not be back to full output until early to mid-January.

AECL, a government-owned company, originally expected the reactor to be back at normal production by mid-December.

The minority Conservative government -- which says the reactor can be safely reopened for a short period -- is under growing pressure to solve the problem but the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission says the reactor will stay closed until a raft of safety issues are resolved.

"There will be no nuclear accident but what there will be is a growing crisis in the medical system here in Canada and around the world," an infuriated Harper told Parliament, pointing out that commission head Linda Keen had been named by the previous Liberal government.

Harper's comments were a clear sign he has lost confidence in Keen. A senior government official said her position was becoming increasingly difficult.

A spokesman for the commission declined to comment.   Continued...

 
<p>Prime Minister Stephen Harper stands to speak in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa December 10, 2007. Harper lashed out at the country's nuclear regulator on Tuesday for refusing to allow the reopening of a reactor that makes crucial radioisotopes for cancer tests. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>