Canadian parliament orders isotope reactor restart

Wed Dec 12, 2007 10:39pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian Parliament on Wednesday overruled the country's nuclear watchdog and ordered a reactor that makes crucial radioisotopes for cancer tests be restarted immediately.

The Chalk River reactor -- which makes more than two-thirds of global supply of the medical isotopes -- was shut down in November, quickly triggering shortages.

The Conservative government, under heavy political pressure to solve the problem, pushed through legislation allowing the reactor to resume operations for 120 days.

This will involve using backup safety systems, an action that the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission says is unsafe.

The House of Commons approved the legislation on Tuesday and the Senate upper chamber followed suit on Wednesday.

Once the reactor is restarted it will take three or four days before operator, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd, can begin delivering isotopes. 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.

Government ministers insist there is no danger in restarting the reactor now and say that what they believe is the minuscule risk of an accident is heavily outweighed by the need to start producing radioisotopes again.

"This was always an issue of public interest and it was the right thing to do. We've had absolute reassurance that we could resume production of medical isotopes and 100 percent assurances of safety, and that's what our goal was all along," Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn told Reuters.   Continued...