Canada sees isotope reactor off line till late '09

Wed Jul 8, 2009 2:46pm EDT
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By Scott Anderson

TORONTO (Reuters) - Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd said on Wednesday it expects its troubled Chalk River nuclear reactor, which produces a third of the world's medical isotope supply, to be off line until late 2009.

The aging reactor has been out of operation since May 17 because of a heavy water leak. Government-owned AECL had originally estimated it would be back in action after three months.

AECL officials said during a conference call on Wednesday that the best repair method would be determined in the next few weeks. The agency said it would then be able to provide a more definitive timetable for a restart.

It said it expects the repair and restart phases to take at least four months.

"It was really only in the last week that all of the threads came together and it became apparent that the timeframe would be longer than the previous guidance," AECL President and Chief Executive Hugh MacDiarmid told a media briefing.

"That was really what drove us to make this announcement, despite the fact that we do not have the precision of guidance with respect to the outage duration."

Chalk River, in eastern Ontario, produces most of the isotopes distributed by MDS Nordion, a subsidiary of Canadian health sciences company MDS Inc.

The unexpected shutdown of the 52-year-old reactor has sent hospitals in Canada and the United States scrambling to find replacement sources of medical isotopes, which have a short shelf life.   Continued...