Chalk River

The Government's commitment, advanced by Hon Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources in December, 2008:
"ensuring that the Canadian medical community receives a consistent and reliable supply of medical isotopes has been of critical importance to me. I have been actively engaged with both my departmental officials, and Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), to determine how best to continue meeting this objective. [...]
"In January, at Canada's request, a meeting of governments and industry focused on isotope security of supply will take place in Paris, France. This is a global issue which warrants a global response, and I will ensure that Canada plays a leadership role in the planned discussions. [...]
"Ensuring the conditions for a reliable supply of medical isotopes in Canada continues to be a priority of our Government. I look forward to working closely with my colleagues, Canada's medical community, and our global partners to further address this matter."
from a statement issued by the Minister on December 15, 2008

"For whatever reason, Atomic Energy was not able to make that project work. There was no prospect that it would work. [...]
"Eventually, we anticipate Canada will be out of the business" of making medical isotopes [...]
"we can't spend hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars and never produce an isotope."
from statements by Harper on June 10, 2009, quoted in the Toronto Star

AECL is a "dysfunctional," $30-billion "sinkhole": "The government has put $30 billion into AECL over its history and it's been one of the largest sinkholes of government money probably in the history of the government of Canada. [...] I don't think we're going out on a limb to say it has been a fairly dysfunctional place."
from statements by Harper's communications director, Kory Teneycke, on June 11 to Canadian Press [what is that name, anyway? some hokey spoonerism of Tory Canuck?]

The achievements of the Chalk River facility, the National Reactor Unit or NRU, are described on its website as follows:
"Since it began operation in 1957, the NRU reactor has made substantial contributions to the science, technology, energy, health, and economy of Canada. Medical isotopes produced in NRU are used in the treatment of more than 20,000,000 patients around the world each year: a huge contribution to world health, and a significant Canadian export business. Following from the Nobel Prize winning work of Canadian Bert Brockhouse at Chalk River...neutron scattering continues to be a field of excellence in Canadian science. Knowledge gained at test facilities in NRU has been an essential foundation for developing the current fleet of CANDU power stations...an important source of electricity for Canada, and generate no greenhouse gases. This catalogue of achievements makes the NRU reactor the most ambitious and productive science facility in Canada."
AECL employs over 5,000 highly skilled employees delivering a range of nuclear services worldwide and its reactors supply 16% of Canada's electricity. And finally, what we can be most proud of is that "For over 50 years AECL has been safely and passionately developing peaceful and productive applications of nuclear energy."

A panel of experts of the US National Academy of Science is incredulous that Canada has abandoned the MAPLE reactors project. According to the panel's January 2009 report: "The decision to discontinue work on the Maple reactors is not consistent with AECL continuing to produce Mo-99 over the long term. The committee assumes that the worst-case scenario for fixing the Maple reactors involves the replacement of the reactor cores. The cost of such replacements would likely be small (tens of millions of dollars)." Moreover, "AECL could probably contract with another organization to fix the Maple reactors—and, if desired, to convert the NPF [new processing facility] to LEU [low-enriched uranium]-based production—if it does not have the necessary in-house technical expertise or resources to do the work itself."

So instead of directing stimulus spending and infrastructure disbursements to facilities that:
  • improve the health of Canadians and the world
  • help mitigate greenhouse gas emissions
  • continue our longstanding leadership in nuclear research
  • complete a project that Canadian taxpayers have already invested in heavily
  • stabilize international supplies of medical isotope in a secure facility
  • hire highly skilled knowledge workers
the Government has instead elected to abandon the project and throw its money into the automakers' coffers, the perfect antithesis for all that AECL achieves. The auto bailout price tag for 2009? $10.8 bln, plus an additional $3.5 bln from Ontario, or roughly enough money to operate the AECL for half of its illustrious five-decade history.

from the National Academies Press, Medical Isotope Production Without Highly Enriched

Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty shake hands after addressing a news conference in Toronto, Monday, June 1, 2009 to discuss details on the future of GM Canada. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, right, and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty shake hands
after addressing a news conference in Toronto, Monday, June 1, 2009 to discuss
details on the future of GM Canada. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darren Calabrese)

UPDATE 20 July 2009
Along the same lines, from the Liberal Party site: Harper's decision to leave isotope business hurting Canada.

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