Canada sacks nuclear watchdog over reactor closure

Wed Jan 16, 2008 2:00pm EST
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government fired the country's top nuclear watchdog over how she handled the closure of a reactor that makes medical radioisotopes and said on Wednesday her conduct could have cost people their lives.

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission President Linda Keen lost her job late on Tuesday for refusing to allow a 50-year-old reactor at the Chalk River facility in Ontario to reopen after a maintenance shutdown in November.

The reactor makes more than two-thirds of the global supply of medical isotopes. The isotopes, when injected into the body, give off radiation that can be seen by a camera to diagnose cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions.

Last month, as hospitals began complaining about widespread shortages, the Conservative government overruled Keen by forcing legislation through Parliament to allow the reactor to be restarted for 120 days.

"Clearly, had we not acted, there is no question in my mind that people would die," Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn told a parliamentary committee investigating the matter.

Lunn, who announced Keen's dismissal in a statement released at 11:46 pm on Tuesday, told legislators that the way she had handled the shutdown "does not meet the very high standard of conduct the government and Canadians expect from public officeholders."

He added: "She has lost the confidence of the government."

Keen's dismissal will put more pressure on Prime Minister Stephen Harper, already under fire from opposition legislators and the media for his handling of the affair.   Continued...

<p>Canada's Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn (C) waits to testify before the Commons natural resources committee on Parliament Hill in Ottawa January 16, 2008. REUTERS/Chris Wattie</p>