Canada pushes back isotope reactor restart to July

Thu Mar 25, 2010 8:47pm EDT
 
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VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A Canadian nuclear reactor that supplies about one third of the world's medical isotopes should resume production in late July after more than a year of repairs, its operator said on Thursday.

Atomic Energy Canada Ltd (AECL) had earlier expected the Chalk River reactor in eastern Ontario to be restarted by mid May. It said it revised the schedule after consulting with outside experts about the final repairs.

The reactor is more than 50 years old and its restart date has been pushed back repeatedly because of the difficulty of fixing the heavy water leak that forced the facility to shut down in May 2009.

"The new schedule has built in prudent contingency reflecting the difficulty inherent in these final repairs," the government-owned company said in a report updating the status of the repair work.

It said crews have completed eight of the 12 weld site repairs needed, which represented about 56 percent of the work that needed to be done.

The shutdown of a key source of the world's medical isotopes has forced doctors and research facilities to scramble for alternative supplies.

A medical isotope is a very small quantity of radioactive material used to perform nuclear medicine imaging tests. Isotopes are mixed with different solutions and injected into patients where they give off energy that is read by a special camera.

Chalk River's shutdown has been financially painful for Canada's MDS Inc, whose Nordion division depends on the facility for the bulk of the isotopes it sells.

MDS said this month that the problems at Chalk River were largely responsible for a $20 million drop in revenue in the first quarter of 2010 compared to a year ago.

AECL has said the leak at Chalk River never posed a risk to the general public.

(Reporting Allan Dowd; Editing by Janet Guttsman)