Isotope production could start very soon: Canada

Tue Dec 11, 2007 6:54pm EST
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By David Ljunggren and Carla Tonelli

OTTAWA/TORONTO (Reuters) - A halted Canadian nuclear reactor that makes crucial radioisotopes for cancer tests around the world could restart production within days, much earlier than initially expected, the operator said on Tuesday.

The Chalk River reactor -- which produces more than two-thirds of global supply of the radioisotopes -- was shut down because of technical problems in November, quickly triggering shortages.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, the government-owned nuclear technology company that operates the reactor, had said it would not be back to full output until early to mid-January. But AECL said "heroic efforts" by staff meant the facility could be restarted on December 20 if all went well.

"Within three to four days we start delivering (radioisotopes) and within seven days we're at full production," said AECL spokesman Dale Coffin.

The reactor might restart as soon as Wednesday if the Conservative government succeeds in pushing through emergency legislation allowing AECL to use a back-up method.

When injected into the body, the isotopes give off radiation that can be seen by a camera to diagnose cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions.

The Ontario Association of Nuclear Medicine says about 50,000 Canadians and 160,000 Americans would have their tests postponed for each month the reactor remains shut down.

Opposition politicians accused the government of incompetence and some medical professionals said they were surprised at how the affair had been handled.   Continued...