July 5, 2010 / 7:54 PM / 7 years ago

Canada agency looks to restart isotope reactor

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The operator of a dormant Canadian nuclear reactor that once supplied a third of the world’s medical isotopes formally applied on Monday to restart the plant, saying it was safe again after lengthy repairs.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd shut down the aging Chalk River facility in eastern Ontario in May 2009 after discovering a leak of heavy water, used as a moderator and coolant in the reaction process, which took months longer than initially predicted to repair.

In a presentation to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission -- the official regulator -- AECL said tests showed no leaks from the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor, which is more than 50 years old.

“NRU vessel has been repaired and is fit for service. AECL is confident that all requirements for safely restarting NRU have been met,” government-owned AECL said.

In March, AECL said it hoped to restart production of medical isotopes in late July.

The long shutdown forced doctors and research facilities to look elsewhere for supplies of the isotopes -- small quantities

of radioactive material used to perform medicine imaging tests.

The delay also hurt Canada’s MDS Inc whose Nordion division depends on the Chalk River facility for the bulk of the isotopes it sells.

In its presentation, AECL pledged to suspend operations after nine months to maintain the reactor and said maintenance would be carried out annually thereafter.

The commission was not expected to immediately release its decision on whether to allow the reactor to start up again.

The Canadian government announced in early June that it would spend C$35 million ($33 million) over the next two years to promote the development of new sources of medical isotopes.

($1=$1.06 Canadian)

Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson

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