Canadian nuclear reactor shutdown causes worldwide medical isotope shortage

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Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ontario in Canada was shut down on Thursday, May 14 by the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) due to a leak of heavy water. Government officials say that by Saturday the demand for medical isotopes will no longer be met, due to the shortage caused by the closure.

Medical isotopes are used in diagnostic procedures for cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions. When radioactive isotopes are injected into the body, radiologists can view higher radiation via medical imaging, enabling them to make a more accurate diagnosis.

Estimates suggest that the reactor will be shut down for approximately one month for repairs. The Chalk River Laboratories produce 33% of the international supply of medical isotopes.

Lisa Raitt, Natural Resources Minister said, "A secure supply of medical isotopes is not only an issue for Canada, it is an international issue that is being addressed co-operatively by all isotope-producing countries."

"It may mean that if you have an elective study booked ... that patient is going to be deferred and will have to wait until the situation is resolved. I'm reasonably confident that for most patients, if they're having an acute problem, that problem is going to be dealt with - and the greater the acuity, the more likelihood it's going to be dealt with quickly and expeditiously," said Dr. Karen Gulenchyn, a nuclear medicine expert.

"The government of Canada is engaging international isotope producers as well as companies such as MDS Nordion, Lantheus, and Covidien, who all play key roles in securing medical isotope supply for North America," said Raitt and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq.

In December 2007, the 52-year-old reactor was shut down and the Canadian House of Common stepped in to restart the reactor.



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