[ RadSafe ] shortage of tech 99

parthasarathy k s ksparth at yahoo.co.uk
Thu Jul 30 19:47:40 CDT 2009

Dear Dr. Laszlo,

Thank you  very much for reproducing the background story including the recent developments on the shortage of Tc-99. In India we import about 80% of our requirements. The world wide shortage has started pinching the nuclear medicine community in India. According to a nuclear medicine specialist from a reputed  hospital, the cost has gone up by 200%. India has only about 200 nuclear medicine physicians working mostly very close to cities.


From: Toro Laszlo <torolaszlo at yahoo.com>
To: radsafe at radlab.nl
Sent: Wednesday, 29 July, 2009 12:31:30
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due to be withdrawn from service in 1992 and NRU was expected to be 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. 

Act III 

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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