[ RadSafe ] shortage of tech 99

John R Johnson idias at interchange.ubc.ca
Wed Jul 29 11:14:04 CDT 2009


Thanks for this summary, but I don't think Stephen Harper has the "power" to 
tell AECL what to do. Parliament can, but would need a majority of siting 
member to do it. That is unlikely given the minority situation.

John R Johnson, PhD
4535 West 9th Ave
Vancouver, B. C.
V6R 2E2, Canada
idias at interchange.ubc.ca

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Toro Laszlo" <torolaszlo at yahoo.com>
To: <radsafe at radlab.nl>
Sent: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 12:01 AM
Subject: Re: [ RadSafe ] shortage of tech 99

Good morning,

I received the following text - a short history of NRX, NRU, Maple - from an 
other list. It seems the main cause are not the greens (I don't like but 
must to recognize) but inertia of the state .

Laszlo Toro

Maple fall
21 July 2009

Reactor Accidents author David Mosey considers the sad tale of AECL's
medical isotope business.

On 10 June 2009, Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper confirmed that
Canada was getting out of the medical isotope business, bringing down
the curtain on the final act of a play that has included tragedy,
farce and theatre of the absurd in equal proportions. We take our
seats as the curtain rises, 18 years ago.

Act I

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) has a long and honourable history
in pioneering radioisotope production for medical and commercial
applications. So successful was it in this that the AECL Commercial
Products Division (renamed the Radiochemical Company in the
seventies), responsible for marketing isotopes and radiotherapy units,
was sold to MDS Nordion in 1991. Radioisotopes were originally
produced in the NRX reactor (started up in 1947) and ten years later
the more powerful NRU, but by the eighties it was apparent that a
dedicated medical isotope production reactor would be needed: NRX was
due to be withdrawn from service in 1992 and NRU was expected to be
shut down in 2005. The plan was initially for a single dedicated
isotope production reactor, but this was cancelled in 1993 as a result
of budget constraints. Three years later, in 1996, Nordion and AECL
reached an agreement to construct two reactors and an associated
processing facility by 2000 to provide a 40-year supply of medical
isotopes. Two reactors were needed to ensure that the supply of
isotopes would not be interrupted by maintenence, or unplanned

Act II

When the first Maple reactor was started up in 2000, it was found that
the reactor’s power coefficient of reactivity (PCR) was not negative,
as predicted in the design, but positive. In other words, as reactor
power increased, so did reactivity. While this didn’t mean that the
reactor was necessarily unsafe, or unusable, it did mean that the
regulatory authority (the CNSC) felt that the reason for the
discrepancy between predicted and actual behaviour should be
understood before routine reactor operation should begin, a not
unreasonable point of view. But the process of achieving this
understanding seemed to take rather a long time. It was not until
December 2005 that AECL reported that the “PCR issue [is] poised for
resolution following significant work by AECL and independent

Though the government took no action, MDS Nordion certainly did. They
saw project costs doubling on a project that was already five years
late, and promised to be much later. They wanted out. In 2006,
agreement was reached whereby AECL took over complete financial
responsibility for the project, committed to have the reactors in
service by October 2008, and agreed to provide Nordion with a 40 year
supply of isotopes.


While the NRU reactor was shut down for maintenance in November 2007,
it was discovered that AECL had not installed required safety upgrades
(to two of the circulating pumps), and the reactor was in violation of
its operating licence. The interruption of isotope supply provoked the
government to prompt action. In an unprecedented move, they over-rode
the authority of the CNSC, and introduced a bill (passed with all-
party support) ordering the return to service of NRU. To emphasise its
displeasure, the government also sacked CNSC’s president. No-one asked
the question that, if continuity of supply of medical isotopes is so
vitally important to the health of Canadians (the rationale used by
the Prime Minister Harper to justify his government’s foray into
nuclear regulation), why were no contingency plans made to cover this
sort of eventuality?

Act IV

On 16 May 2008, AECL announced it was stopping work on the Maple
project, the board of directors having concluded that it was “no
longer feasible to complete the commissioning and start-up of the
reactors.” The company added that this decision would not affect the
‘current’ supply of isotopes from the NRU reactor. The natural
resources minister stated that the government was “absolutely
committed to ensuring the medical community has the isotopes it needs
in the future,” but offered no plans of how he proposed to meet this
commitment. MDS Nordion announced that it was seeking an order to
compel AECL to meet its obligations under the 2006 agreement
(including the 40-year supply of isotopes). It also noted it was
filing a court claim for CAD1.6 billion in damages against AECL and
the Canadian Government.

Act V (finale)

A year after AECL’s announcement the NRU reactor shutdown safely
following a loss of electrical power. Subsequently a heavy water leak
was detected at the base of the reactor vessel. Repair of this leak
has required defuelling the reactor. While no firm restart date has
been given (nor could one be reasonably expected at this stage) the
reactor is not expected to be back in service for at least three
months. And on 10 June the prime minister confirmed that Canada was
getting out of the isotope business.
There are two contributing factors to this dismal story. First, AECL’s
abysmal performance. It is nothing less than tragic that an
organisation that can justifiably take pride in its pioneering work in
nuclear science should now appear as a sort of atomic Inspector
Clouseau (but without the funny bits). No one appears to be held
accountable for a project that has cost Canadian taxpayers between
CAD650-750 million but has achieved nothing. Second, and perhaps more
serious, is the egregious irresponsibility and total disconnection
from scientific reality of AECL’s government minders. Despite clear
indications by 2006 that the Maple project was in serious trouble, no-
one appears to have taken charge of the issue.
Laszlo Toro PhD
senior scientist
Physicist, Certified radiological protection expert

Institute of Public Health Timisoara
Radiation Hygiene Dept.

RO 300226 Timisoara
Bd. V. Babes 16-18
ph. +40 256 492101 ext 34
fax +40 256 492101
e-mail  toro.laszlo at matefin.com
torolaszlo at yahoo.com

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