May 27, 2009 / 9:01 PM / in 9 years

Canadian isotope reactor down at least three months

VANCOUVER, British Columbia (Reuters) - An aging Canadian nuclear reactor that produces much of the world’s medical isotope supply is expected to be out of operation for at least three months, officials said on Wednesday.

Crews have found the source of a heavy water leak at the Chalk River reactor in eastern Ontario, but more inspections will be needed before a repair plan can be worked out, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. said.

“Based on our preliminary findings to date, we now believe that the NRU reactor will be out of service for at least three months,” AECL Vice President Bill Pilkington said in a news release.

AECL said it cannot give an exact prediction on how long the facility will down until the inspection is completed. The government-owned firm had previously estimated it would out of operation for at least a month.

The 50-year-old facility that supplies a third of the world’s medical isotopes was shut down this month because of the leak, which official say does not pose a health threat to the public.

The shutdown has sent hospitals in Canada and the United States scrambling to find alternative suppliers of the isotopes that are used in medical research and cancer treatment and have a short shelf-life.

Reporting by Allan Dowd; Editing by Frank McGurty

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