Inspection work at NRU: the reactor will restart shortly (Courtesy: AECL)
By Hamish Johnston
There must have been a collective sigh of relief from North American medical physicists yesterday when the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said that the NRU reactor can resume operations.
Located at Atomic Energy of Canada’s Chalk River, Ontario lab, the ageing reactor makes Mo-99, which is used to make the medical isotope Tc-99m. NRU normally supplies North America with Tc-99m and accounts for a significant chunk of world production.
Over the past few years the supply of Tc-99m has been interrupted by two unscheduled safety-related shutdowns – with the current shutdown lasting over one year. Yesterday’s announcement means that production should resume by the end of this month.
As well as causing delays for medical procedures the debacle has also had political consequences, with the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission being sacked in 2008.
It has also encouraged Canadian physicists to think of new ways of making medical isotopes that don’t involve ancient and unreliable reactors. Indeed, the TRIUMF accelerator lab in Vancouver has just announced that it will build an electron linear accelerator that will produce radioactive isotopes. You can read all about the C$63m ARIEL facility here.