December 6, 2007 / 9:13 PM / in 10 years

Canada urges end to medical isotope problems

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government is demanding that the country’s maker of crucial radioisotopes for nuclear medicine sort out technical problems that have crippled production, a key minister said on Thursday.

In November, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd shut its Chalk River reactor -- which supplies more than two-thirds of the world’s radioisotopes -- and now says it will not be back to full output until early to mid-January.

Linda Keen, head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, told legislators on Thursday that if AECL had not shut the Chalk River plant on its own accord she would have ordered it closed because of various safety violations.

“We’re very concerned about this. I spoke to both agencies yesterday,” said Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn, who is responsible for the nuclear industry.

“I’ve asked them to ... collectively work together to come up with a solution on this as quickly as possible,” he told reporters.

Chalk River produces medical isotopes for Canadian health care company MDS Inc and its MDS Nordion division, which is responsible for about 50 percent of world supply.

When injected into the body, the isotopes give off radiation that can be imaged with a camera to diagnose cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions.

In Parliament, opposition parties accused the government of incompetence, saying it should have ensured there was a back-up plan in case of problems with the Chalk River reactor.

Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Jeffrey Jones

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