Friday, January 18, 2008

Heavy water runs deep... part de deux

No, there's no doubt. The Chalk River medical isotope shortage was a manufactured Harper government crisis which goes much deeper than the firing of Linda Keen. In fact, Lunn's removal of Keen appears to have been an afterthought on the part of the Harperites.

They wanted to make sure attention was deflected from Lunn, who knew all along that the AECL Chalk River reactor was under pressure from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission to install proper safety devices.

The so-called risk to the health of Canadians is far from the truth. While Chalk River produces the cheapest isotope, molybdenum-99, (from which technetium-99m is easily extracted on-site at a hospital), there are other sources which, though more expensive, are available for medical procedures.

By pure coincidence, on the same day that 900 ft Jesus posted this, a report which has flown under the radar of the Canadian news media appeared.
Advanced Medical Isotope Corporation (AMIC) is currently in formal negotiations to partner with a firm headquartered in China to export isotopes as well as to produce shorter-lived isotopes in both Taiwan and Mainland China. This will provide the benefits of both higher volume availability as well as greater treatment options utilizing different medical isotope production methods currently being developed by AMIC.
Readers can be excused for not understanding the impact of this report. The Chalk River reactor produces molybdenum-99 and cobalt-60 for MDS Nordion; AMIC is a different company and represents direct competition.

And AMIC has reportedly developed a different process, using small facilities and local production. While the isotopes would be different, the application and targets appear to be the same. That would represent a direct threat to the stranglehold MDS Nordion has on medical isotope distribution and, with MAPLE 1 and MAPLE 2 still not operational, a threat to the viability of oldest nuclear reactor outside the United States.

When you're a Conservative bent on selling AECL, a Crown corporation and Chalk River's owner, that's enough to rattle your socks. When the country's nuclear safety regulator declares the one plant that is producing cheap medical isotopes unsafe, that could drive you to distraction.

Worse, AMIC is looking at a source which has become a bane for almost every other North American industry - China.

The US has the capacity, particularly in some university reactors, to produce the necessary medical isotopes to meet US demands. In the past, when Chalk River was unable to supply the necessary isotopes, US reactors had their licenses extended to begin production of the same isotopes. And while I don't think this is likely to happen, if the United States ever decided to restart the Fast Flux reactor at Hanford, Washington, Chalk River's existence would be under serious threat.

Personally, I don't think anyone in the Harper government, including Harper, is bright enough to have executed any of this of their own accord.

I think they got a phone call; got told a story of failing companies and competition which would have made Milton Friedman write a book from the grave and then panicked.

This bunch is too reckless to have thought this one out.

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