[FoRK] Our wonderfully advanced society

Ken Ganshirt @ Yahoo ken_ganshirt at yahoo.ca
Mon Feb 8 14:22:10 PST 2010


http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/isotope-crisis-deepens-with-dutch-reactor-shutdown/article1459423/

Just as a bit of background to the article, we (Canada) have been trying for many years to build and bring into service a new replacement for the NRU (National Research Universal) reactor refered to in the article. The replacement project (MAPLE) was shut down in 2008. Gruesome details here:

http://www.neimagazine.com/story.asp?storyCode=2050699

We seem to be unable to get a new one going or keep the old one in reasonable repair. 

What's with that?? Have we suddenly become neanderthals that we cannot repair or replace what we have built and become dependent upon? What's next? Dams? Waterworks? Roads?

I love the summation of the initial article:

      '“But those reactors did not become 40 or 50 years old overnight,
       so there should have been a bit more foresight on the part of
       governments across the world,” he said.'

Why is it that we can budget for these things to be built initially but we refuse to budget for their maintenance, in perpetuity, and/or eventual replacement?

      ...ken...

----------------------------
Gloria Galloway

Ottawa — From Monday's Globe and Mail 
Published on Sunday, Feb. 07, 2010 10:17PM EST
 
Last updated on Monday, Feb. 08, 2010 12:40PM EST
 

.Canadian medical officials are bracing for “significant shortages” of a key isotope used to perform imaging tests and warning a lack of supply this spring could hamper diagnoses of life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.

Doctors have been grappling with a decline in isotope production since last May, when the nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ont., was shut down for repairs. 

But the shortfall is about to get worse. 

The aging Petten reactor in the Netherlands, which has helped to fill the void while the Chalk River facility sits idle, will be turned off on Feb. 19 to repair leaks, and it is expected to remain closed until summer. 

Together, these two reactors produce about 60 per cent of the world's supply of an isotope called technetium 99, a radioactive substance used in 85 per cent of diagnostic imaging procedures. 

“We are definitely exquisitely anxious. But I don't think that anybody has real solutions,” said Jean-Luc Urbain, president of the Canadian Society of Nuclear Medicine. 

“Nuclear medicine is such that we have the ability to do early diagnosis compared to radiology, for example. And, if you don't do diagnoses of diseases, they keep progressing,” he said. 

“So what we are going to see is an increase in the numbers of advanced cardiovascular diseases and advanced cancers in the years to come.”

Since the NRU reactor in Chalk River was shut down in May, Dr. Urbain said he and the other doctors in his field have been “coping, coping, coping, day to day.”

Hospitals and clinics have learned to maximize procedures when they have isotopes and sit nearly idle when they don't, he said. 

“Usually Thursday and Friday are very, very quiet days,” Dr. Urbain said. When Petten goes down, he added, “we might be quiet every day of the week.”

Christopher O'Brien, president of the Ontario Association of Nuclear Medicine, said the supply of isotopes over the past nine months has been better than expected, though he acknowledged that some doctors have been forced to switch to less effective isotopes and employ more costly testing procedures.

“Do we have any elbow room? No,” he said. “If one of the shipments is late due to some delivery issue overseas, then we are into dire straits until the shipment comes in. So there is actually no slack in the system at all. It is cut to bare bones just to keep supplies going.”

That could change when the Petten reactor goes down, he said.

Although both the Petten and NRU reactors were down simultaneously for a brief period last summer, July and August are slow months for nuclear medicine, Dr. O'Brien said. 

March, on the other hand, is the busiest time of year. “So we are anticipating significant shortages.”

Christian Paradis, the federal Natural Resources Minister who only recently took over the portfolio that has been a political minefield largely as a result of the isotopes issue, said in an e-mail that the government is doing what it can lessen the impact of the problem.

“The health and safety of Canadians is of the utmost importance and it is imperative that the NRU be brought back online as quickly, and safely, as possible. I speak regularly with AECL [Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.] to ensure everything that can be done, is being done,” Mr. Paradis said when asked about both reactors being put of service.

Covidien, one of the two North American isotope distributors, has posted a message on its website saying that smaller reactors in Belgium, France and South Africa will help plug the production gap. “But,” it says, “intermittent periods of serious shortage will still occur.” 

AECL, the Crown corporation that owns the NRU, has not given a start-up date for the reactor's return to service. Previous estimates of the amount of time it will take to fix leaks have proved wildly optimistic.

The repair period is “moving forward and right now,” said AECL spokesman Dale Coffin, “the best information we have is that … April is a hard finish, back in service, unless something happens between now and the end of the repair process.”

Dr. Urbain said there is no question that old reactors, such as the NRU and the unit in the Netherlands, need to be fixed from time to time.

“But those reactors did not become 40 or 50 years old overnight, so there should have been a bit more foresight on the part of governments across the world,” he said.

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