Restart of Canada isotope reactor delayed to 2010

Thu Aug 13, 2009 1:18pm EDT
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By David Ljunggren

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd has hit more problems with an aging nuclear reactor that produces a third of the world's medical isotope supply and now says it will not be working again until early 2010, months later than initially estimated.

The announcement -- made after markets closed on Wednesday -- prompted an angry reaction from the Canadian government, which critics say has hopelessly bungled the affair.

One leading Canadian nuclear medical expert said he feared the reactor would stay shut forever and predicted serious shortages of the isotopes, which are used in medical tests and cancer treatments.

The Chalk River National Research Universal (NRU) reactor in eastern Ontario was taken out of service in May after it was discovered to be leaking a small amount of heavy water.

Government-owned AECL initially said the reactor would be back in service in three months but has now pushed back that date twice. Last month it predicted the reactor would be operating by late this year.

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

MDS Nordion predicted major shortages and said supplies would become even tighter when a similar reactor in the Netherlands -- the only other one in the world that can make large amounts of isotopes -- is shut down for six months early next year for maintenance.

AECL said closer inspection has identified nine different sites at the reactor that need to be fixed, more than had been discovered initially. One solution might be to fix the problem with a series of welds, it said.   Continued...