[ RadSafe ] AECL update

FISHER Spencer -NUCLEAR spencer.fisher at opg.com
Fri Dec 7 09:47:24 CST 2007

"Thursday, December 06, 2007

CREDIT: Ottawa Citizen 
OTTAWA - The head of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission on Thursday
blasted Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. for violating licence requirements
at its Chalk River, Ont. research reactor - a situation that has led to
an extended shutdown and worldwide shortage in radioactive medical

"You are and were in violation of your licence that was granted, in the
eyes of the commission, in August '06," commission president Linda Keen
told company officials at a public meeting.

Keen's comments came after Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) official
Brian McGee explained why the Crown Corporation has extended a planned
shutdown of its 50-year-old National Research Universal reactor -
possibly until next month - to go ahead with upgrades, which included
the installation of two new motor starters for the reactor cooling pumps
and connecting the motors to an emergency backup power supply.

The shutdown has caused a shortage of isotopes used in tests for a
variety of health conditions and has led to test cancellations in many
Canadian cities. 

The Canadian Society of Nuclear Medicine issued a statement on Thursday
saying the nuclear medicine community is "devastated" by the shortage,
which it estimates will cause delays in treatment for 50,000 Canadians
each month that services are reduced.

The isotopes are injected into the body and emit radiation that can be
imaged with a camera during diagnostic tests.

"Nuclear medicine services are now being rationed across Canada.
Patients with fractures, cancer, heart disease, and blood clots are not
getting timely access to critical diagnostic procedures.

"This is impacting on timely surgery and therapy planning, placing
patients at increased risk," the statement said, which added the nuclear
medicine community is frustrated by the apparent lack of a contingency

McGee, AECL's senior vice-president and chief nuclear officer, said
there is a 75 per cent probability the reactor will be operational by
the end of December and a 95 per cent chance that the reactor will
return to service by the end of the first week in January. 

Once the reactor starts up, it takes at least a few days to a week to
produce isotopes, he said. 

The materials produced at the reactor are shipped to MDS Nordion, where
they are processed. 

MDS Nordion supplies more than 50 per cent of the world's medical

"We're acutely aware of the impact that this event is having on the
isotope supply stream," McGee said. 

The reactor went into a planned five-day maintenance shutdown on Nov.
18, before announcing the extension. 

McGee told reporters Thursday AECL did not believe the upgrades were
part of work called for by the commission, and the company had believed
it was operating safely and in line with the licencing basis.

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission staff expected the upgrades would
have been done at or near the time of licensing, said Barclay Howden,
director general of the directorate of nuclear cycle and facilities
division. Howden told the commission that site inspectors carrying out a
routine inspection reviewed documentation that raised questions as to
whether the upgrades had been completed. After speaking to AECL, it
decided to carry out repairs and extend the shutdown, Howden said. 

McGee told commission members the reactor "was operated safely up to and
including the time of the shutdown" and AECL planned to complete
upgrades during a number of shutdowns over a 12 to 14-month period in
the future. But during the shutdown, it was discovered and "understood
more greatly" that there was a disconnect between the plant and the
licencing basis, McGee said. 

AECL "made a safe and prudent decision to extend the current planned
outage to perform the safety related modifications that will ensure the
safe and long-term operation of the NRU reactor," McGee said.

But the company's response didn't appear to satisfy Keen, who said she
was concerned no clarification was sought regarding "what exactly
compliance meant."

Keen said the commission undertook a "very serious review" of the
reactor before renewing its licence last year. 

"The whole understanding of this commission was that that facility was
being reviewed against modern standards and was up to date and was going
to go forward to the licence period - that it could operate," she said,
noting that connection of an emergency power supply is an issue the
commission has faced on other files.

"It is not an option," she said. "I really feel that the impression's
been left here that this was an interesting, nice upgrade, that it
wasn't essential. It was essential."

While it was "commendable" that the company elected to extend the
shutdown, the commission would have ordered it to do so, she said.

A Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission spokesman said no enforcement
action is being considered at this time, but the commission continues to
review the circumstances surrounding the case.

(c) CanWest News Service 2007"

Spencer M. Fisher
Generals - Authorization Training Instructor
Nuclear Theory
1480 Bayly St.
Pickering, Ont
L1W 3T8
Fax: 905-837-4270
Cell Phone: 416-508-7216 

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