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CDN Forces Reactor Online Against Safety Regulations 338

Posted by samzenpus
from the the-great-white-glowing-north dept.
Socguy writes "The Canadian government has passed legislation that will reopen an Ontario nuclear reactor that produces most of the world's supply of critical medical isotopes, even though the site has been shut down for safety maintenance. Witnesses and experts were called in to the House to face questions about safety concerns and all parties eventually voiced support for the bill, which would effectively suspend CNSC's oversight role for 120 days. The Chalk River reactor ceased operating on Nov. 18. Pressure on the government to restart operations began to build after delays in the shutdown of the government-run site, which generates two-thirds of the world's radioisotopes, began to cause a critical shortage of radioisotopes."
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CDN Forces Reactor Online Against Safety Regulations

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:09AM (#21680299)
    ...why they couldn't have stockpiled their products before the shutdown, but then realized that the half-lives for the sort of thing they're offering are probably measured in days or hours, right?
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by bouchecl (1001775)
      The stuff produced at Chalk River Laboratories [reportonbusiness.com] is Technetium-99m [wikipedia.org]. Its half-life for gamma emission is 6.01 hours. Pray tell, how do you stockpile?
      • Re: (Score:2, Redundant)

        by sholden (12227)
        Which is exactly what the parent post said...
      • by ottawanker (597020) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @02:16AM (#21680649) Homepage
        Well, considering you linked to the article [wikipedia.org]:

        Technetium-99m is used in 20 million diagnostic nuclear medical procedures every year. Approximately 85 percent of diagnostic imaging procedures in nuclear medicine use this isotope. Technetium-99m is made from the synthetic substance Molybdenum-99 which is a by-product of nuclear fission. It is because of its parent nuclide, that Technetium-99m is so suitable to modern medicine. Molybdenum-99 has a half-life of approximately 66 hours, and decays to Tc-99m, a negative beta, and an antineutrino (see equation below). This is a useful life since, once this product (molybdenum-99) is created, it can be transported to any hospital in the world and would still be producing technetium-99m for the next week. The betas produced are easily absorbed, and Mo-99 generators are only minor radiation hazards, mostly due to secondary X-rays produced by the betas.
      • by megaditto (982598)
        You stockpile a buttload of it. In 6 hours you have one half of a buttload left. In 12 hours, one half of the remaining half will decay, but the rest remain. So in 24 you still have 1/16th the buttload, and so on, but the point here is that you will always have some left over.

        If you make "enough" then your stockpile can last for years.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by jacquesm (154384)
          You'd have to filter out the 'dead' (fissioned) material because otherwise you'd be running a very real risk of giving a patient a wrong dose. Most of this stuff is done on a milligrams / bodyweight basis, stockpiling it for any length of time would throw off the dosage schemes in a terrible way.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by budgenator (254554)
            The dosage changes constantly anyways so each draw is calculated, and double checked by measurement with a detector.
        • by p0tat03 (985078) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:10AM (#21681131)

          Ah, but then you have the problem of purity. The byproduct of the radioactive decay is no doubt a heavy metal - i.e. you really would want to minimize the amount going into the patient's bloodstream. So, for the sake of the test, you would desire a substance that is fairly pure - i.e. you can minimize the dose but maximize the activity level to gain a better reading.

          So yes, while it's possible (but not feasible) to create a large stockpile, you will still need purification facilities to constantly re-process the decayed material out of your stockpile, which is really quite pointless.

        • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

          by tsa (15680)
          It's not that after 6 hours you can throw half of the bottles away and the other half is magically still fresh.
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        Just accelerate the isotopes close to the speed of light, and you can make those six hours last years!

  • by Kozz (7764) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:10AM (#21680301)
    ... how many people were abso-freaking-lutely SHOCKED to learn that there was no "backup"? There's a WTF if there ever was one.
    • I was not in the least surprised. Having backup for this would increase the capital cost of supplying the isotopes (possibly by as much as the two thirds it represents), which is a very significant increase in the overall cost.

      From the point of view of the governments that make the decision, it will probably be OK not to have backup, whereas having backup will definitely cost.
  • by cephalien (529516) <benjaminlungerNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:11AM (#21680311)
    Even if nothing goes wrong, they've set a dangerous precedent of basically telling their watchdog group "Well, we'll let you do your thing, but even though we know little about the engineering behind a reactor, we are also going to basically feel free to disregard you and tell you to suck it if we don't like what you say."

    A spectacular idea. Why aren't we, maybe, wondering how we ended up with only ONE reactor that can produce this stuff in the first place?
    • by Iobor (240936) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:19AM (#21680355)
      It's OK, the watchdogs are also, some of them, chosen for their lack of knowledge of nuclear engineering.

      Also, an isotope production reactor doesn't produce electricity, so it doesn't compete with natural gas-fired electricity producers. With natural gas at $4 million per uranium-tonne-equivalent and the real thing at only $0.24 million, and hidden taxes on the $4 million, an electricity production reactor has enemies in government that an isotope production one does not.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by freetolio (778425)
      Actually, Chernobyl set this precedent already.
      Scientists: "No, we can't run the reactor safely at that capacity."
      Government: "Mother Russia needs those Megawatts beotch."
      Reactor: "Poof! Now your faces will melt and your kids won't have arms."
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Adambomb (118938)
        I do not know how may times it needs to be said in the comments before people notice it, but this is NOT a power generating site. The site produces isotopes and even in the event of critical failure, you still will not see anything of meltdown proportions. Even if it was, keep in mind that, since Chernobyl, safety procedures [wikipedia.org] have become VERY precise and robust.

        That which is unknown is definitely scary though. It's a choice between how many definitely die due to lack of medical radioisotopes, versus how many
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by tbannist (230135)
          Just to add to the your point. It's a backup water pump that wasn't in the original design of the plant, there was an agreement to a schedule about 10 years ago to install a backup water pump, however, as often happens someone got the schedule screwed up and thought the pump was supposed to be installed for December 2008 instead of 2007. The reactor's only been running for 50 years without the backup pump because it's not critical to operational safety. If the main water pump goes down, the control rods
    • Also they've been working on two more reactors but they are years behind schedule.

      Fortunately, where I live in western Canada, we get our isotopes from the Netherlands. Go figure.
    • by Tavor (845700)
      Wasn't it political pressure and a flawed concept of nuclear engineering that enabled the Chernobyl incident to happen? I know there was also the RBMK design flaw, but seriously...

      those who don't learn from history...
      • by sumdumass (711423)
        I thought Chernobyl's incident was cause primarily because of the lack of safety controls. It wasn't necessarily because it was unsafe, it was because they didn't really have a way of knowing it was unsafe until and event was happening and then there wasn't enough containment mechanisms and protocals in place to deal with it properly.

        Why you and I would think that was an unsafe situation, it is only with our hindsight of what went wrong along with other experiences that we know about. The Russians thought t
    • by Kristoph (242780)
      We ended up with ONE reactor because running a second reactor for this purpose (it does not actually produce energy) would be hugely expensive. Who would pay for this do you suppose? The government (more taxes), the insurance companies (higher premiums, less people able to afford premiums) or the people (less people able to afford scans). Since there are no such reactors in the US, and anyway the US is opposed the socialised medicine, government support in the US is probably out, which means the only way to
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by digitig (1056110)

      Even if nothing goes wrong, they've set a dangerous precedent of basically telling their watchdog group "Well, we'll let you do your thing, but even though we know little about the engineering behind a reactor, we are also going to basically feel free to disregard you and tell you to suck it if we don't like what you say."

      As I read the article, the government asked the watchdog "Can it wait" and the watchdog said "Yes". That doesn't look to me as if anybody is being steamrollered.

  • Politics... meh (Score:3, Informative)

    by detritus` (32392) <{gro.osyasew} {ta} {ekztiwa}> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:12AM (#21680313) Homepage Journal
    I've done a lot of work out at chalk river with neutron diffraction, and talking to some of the people there apparently a lot of the "issues" are petty little things like signage for hot pipes, etc. The largest issue is back up generators for 2 key pumps, but in reality there are back up pumps with seperate power supplies that could take over in a worst case senario (not likely though). It all appears to be political gesturing as usual but unfortunately this time peoples lives are truly at stake. But then again considering the previous actions of the liberal party i'm truly not that suprised, just saddened that a grab for political power is so negatively affecting peoples lives world wide
    • Re:Politics... meh (Score:5, Interesting)

      by rubycodez (864176) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:38AM (#21680453)
      why not truck backup pair of generators on-site for those pumps (hell, those can't be anything like the generators for coolant systems of 2.5GW PWRs I've been at, gotta be tiny), get any needed priority ISI & FAC inspections done and leave all the chicken shit for another outage?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Secret Rabbit (914973)
      I think you meant to say Conservative party. Because the Liberals (NOT the NDP NOR the Bloc) criticised this decision by asking if Harper would take responsibility if something went wrong. Here's a quote that was in the article that you have obviously not read:

      "Will the minister [of natural resources] or the prime minister, for that matter, tell Canadians what will happen if there's a nuclear accident?" Alghabra asked to raucous applause.

      Harpers answer was:

      "There will be no nuclear accident," Harper answe
    • I've had a fair bit of experience with Atomic Energy Canada as well, and though I don't know Chalk River at all I would not be surprised to find them taking an absurdly cautious approach despite the dramatic negative impact on medical patients around the world. They're pretty much the epitome of bureaucratic.
  • by circletimessquare (444983) <circletimessquare&gmail,com> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:30AM (#21680411) Homepage Journal
    you rush her into the car, strap on the seatbelt, and start heading towards the hospital. on the way there, the "check engine" maintenance light comes on

    do you:

    1. stop the car, and call for an ambulance
    2. drive on, ignoring the light

    i think we all know what the obvious answer is

    folks: people could die without these radioisotopes. additionally, the safety issue is probably something extremely circumspect

    please, no more scolding lectures about safety first, the canadian government did the right thing
    • Your example is extremely misleading. That driving with the light on will only be slightly longer than just taking it to the garage immediately. For that matter, how many people instantly take there car in as soon as the light comes on? Furthermore, how dangerous is not paying attention to the light? What could happen?

      The answer to those questions is that the most likely worse cases are engine dies, only the person owning the car is affected.

      On the other hand, if a problem occurs at the plant best case
      • by vux984 (928602) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @02:20AM (#21680671)
        Right, you need to make an -informed- risk assessment. Are you?

        On the other hand, if a problem occurs at the plant best case is that the plant is shut down for much longer. Worse case is obvious and... unpleasant.

        I've heard at least one person here report that at least some of the 'safety problems' amount to missing signage, and stuff like that.

        People need these isotopes to save their lives, should we really keep the facility shutdown because the first aid kit doesn't have its full stock of bandages, a few water pipes aren't labelled as hot or cold, an inspection of the fire extinguisher in the cafeteria is overdue? I think not.

        What if one of the generators is slightly overdue for maintenance, but the maintenance schedule is known to be extremely aggressive. (e.g. like doing on an "oil change" every 1500mi, even though the engine and the oil are spec'd for 3000mi. its a nucear reactor and all, and you want to be safe.) Is it really worth shutting the facility down if we're at 1600mi, given that people certainly lose their lives if you shut it down while its extremely unlikely to fail if you continue running it? And if it does FAIL, you've got a backup, and a contingency if that fails?

        Point is, we need more information about the actual safety concerns and real risks before we applaud or condemn this move.
      • by martinX (672498)

        most likely worse cases are engine dies

        No way. The car will roll over and then explode. Outside a school. I saw it on TV. Or maybe it was a movie. But the point is, I saw it and you should think of the children!

    • Forgot to mention the whole, "suspend CNSC's oversight role for 120 days." So, what's going to happen in 120 days? Probably shut it down again and we renew the problem. How long do you think it's ok to run with that light on and still expect nothing to go wrong?
    • by Turbowaffle (1079577) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @02:19AM (#21680663)
      If your engine contains a nuclear reactor, then I'd say yes, stop the car.
      • Bah! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by foreverdisillusioned (763799) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:12AM (#21681145) Journal
        And you only say that because you've been brainwashed into thinking that nuclear power is more dangerous than fossil fuel power.

        Stupid Russians aside (and trust me, Chernobyl wasn't an accident--it was the direct, foreseeable result of extreme stupidity. Quick analogy: Its crappy design made it the Pinto of nuclear reactors, and then the operators in charge basically went around slamming on their brakes randomly until they got rear-ended and the fucking thing blew up), pollution from fossil fuels (including--*gasp!*--radioactive pollution) outweighs pollution from nuclear power by many orders of magnitudes. People die every day due to the direct effects of using fossil fuels (and this isn't a snide criticism of Iraq, though that argument could certainly be made as well.) They explode. And cause cancer and respiratory illness. And then there's the whole greenhouse gas thing. Three mile island, on the other hand, dumped enough radiation into the area that they calculated there is a 50% chance that one extra person died from cancer. Eventually. Years later.

        You see, what people fail to grasp is how utterly surrounded they are by radiation. Have you ever watched television on anything other than a flat screen? If so, you've been staring directly into a cathode ray tube. Wanna know what a CRT really is? A particle accelerator. It's beaming beta radiation (and some side-effect X-Rays as well) directly into your eyes. They actually have to add lead to the glass in TV sets to prevent the radiation from reaching harmful levels. I am not making this shit up; every day, millions (if not billions) of knee-jerk anti-nuclear hippies sit around for hours and stare directly into a particle accelerator. (Yes, you can argue that the power levels and leaded glass makes it a pretty safe activity, but that's PRECISELY my point. Just because radiation is involved doesn't mean something is inherently dangerous. Radiation is a danger like high current electricity or poisonous chemicals are a danger. We're surrounded by all three, all of the time, yet sane design renders these things fairly safe.)

        And, of course, almost everyone will (at least a couple times in their lives) suffer a radiation burn--more commonly known as a "sunburn". Many people suffer these radiation burns repeatedly, even though they (like all radiation exposures) cause cancer, and even though they're fairly trivial to avoid.

        I'm not arguing that we should have a cavalier attitude towards nuclear power--just a little sanity and appropriateness. I don't know the specifics in this case, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the safety requirements were minor and/or highly redundant. Personally, I'd rather we get decent air filters put on our coal-burning plants first. They're far more of a threat to our well-being.
        • Re:Bah! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:30AM (#21681195)
          Who are these anti-nuclear hippies, anyway? I've never met one.

          I have however, lived two hours away from a Canadian reactor which was mis-managed and unmaintained to the point where the thing was leaking radioactive water into the landscape. This was discovered in a big-scandal-stink, and the power company shortly after held a big public press-conference apologizing for their mistakes and promised transparency and honest ties to the community. Then a week later they were caught hiding another giant fault. The offending reactor went off-line shortly after.

          I can't speak for the (imaginary?) anti-nuclear hippies, but can certainly say that while I don't mis-trust the technology, I certainly mistrust the government and corporations responsible for handling it.


          -FL

          • Re:Bah! (Score:4, Interesting)

            by foreverdisillusioned (763799) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @04:41AM (#21681243) Journal
            And when was the last time you heard the big, scandalous story about the radiative particles that coal burning plants dump into the air supply? Oh, right, there never was one, because people don't care about radiation unless it's coming from a nuclear power plant. Nevermind that coal burning plants release much more radiation than nuclear plants. Nevermind that the total yearly release is greater than that of Three Mile Island.

            If you want me to care about a specific instance of mis-management, I'm going to have to see some numbers first. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the total radioactive "contamination" was still less than that of a typical coal burning plant (granted, drinking water contamination vs. air contamination is different.)
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by wish bot (265150)
              Not that I disagree with you in principle, but the missing ingredient in your discussion is "concentration", which kind of changes everything.
            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              If you want me to care about a specific instance of mis-management, I'm going to have to see some numbers first.

              Well, this [wikipedia.org] particular case of (spectacular) mismanagement has nothing to do with radiation release, although this [wikipedia.org] one does.

              My beef with nuclear isn't so much the environmental issues, it is the financial issues. Nuclear is becoming relatively safe, but for the complete life-cycle of the plant (dirt lot to dirt lot), it is extremely expensive.

              If you believe in open market solutions, nuclear just

        • You're soaking in it...
        • Even if the risk of an explosion and large-scale contamination might be minimal due to the reactor's design, an accident would most likely melt the core, rendering the plant permanently useless.

          Given the current shortage of radioisotopes, I'd hurry along with the repairs, but would keep the damn thing closed until they're done for fear of losing the plant altogether. Ration the radioisotopes if needed until it's done.

          Also, start planning to construct a new plant so that this situation doesn't occur again.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by squiggleslash (241428)

          And you only say that because you've been brainwashed into thinking that nuclear power is more dangerous than fossil fuel power.

          Well, it is. Which leads to the somewhat major irony that its danger means it generally doesn't hurt or kill as many people, because we consider the importance of safety far more when dealing with Nuclear power than we do with more traditional means of power generation.

          Cars are relatively safe compared to airliners. They're on the ground, so if they fail they're not going to k

    • bad analogy (Score:3, Insightful)

      by m2943 (1140797)
      folks: people could die without these radioisotopes

      And people could die in a nuclear accident.

      i think we all know what the obvious answer is

      That's because you're no worse off calling the ambulance from your broken down car on the highway as you would be from home.

      please, no more scolding lectures about safety first, the canadian government did the right thing

      No, they did not, because this action will make it even harder to convince communities to permit nuclear facilities to be located near them.
    • As other have pointed out, thi si snot a fair analogy becuase nobody dies if your car breaks down. A better analogy would be if your car was leaking break fluid. That should at least make you think hard about what the heck you are doing before you are exposing yourself and your wife and unborn child, as well as aeverybody else on the road to the danger of driving a car where the breaks could fail.
    • by Lumpy (12016)
      I take the other car. or the neighbors car. I'm not risking my child and wife.

      Water broke? I got at LEAST 3-4 hours yet. no hurry at all. where we are I can put her on a wheelchair and walk her there in time. Why? because the last time my check engine light came on it was because of antilock brake failure. I had NO BRAKES. they failed to a point where they barely grabbed as the Antilock was pulsing all the time.

      Fool rush around and take risks without knowing what they are.
  • by plsavaria (823160) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:32AM (#21680417)
    On the radio channel of Radio-Canada (french CBC), there was a report on the subject. Said the reactor woulf be closed for four months. Also said the half-life of the isotope, technétium-99, is 6 hours.

    Then someone asked the question : why don't they make a four-month-reserve?

    • Re:Radio 1 report. (Score:4, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:43AM (#21680485)
      The reactor doesn't produce Tc-99m directly for medical imaging. This would be nearly useless anywhere except at the site of the reactor, due to decay during the time it would take to ship with only a 6 hour half life.

      Rather, the reactor likely produces Mo-99, with a half life of 2.75 days (66 hours). Mo-99 decays into Tc-99m, and the two can be easily separated chemically. Hospitals have a "generator" that contains Mo-99, that continually decays into the useful Tc-99m, which is periodically extracted and used.
  • Pressure on the government to restart operations began to build after delays in the shutdown of the government-run site, which generates two-thirds of the world's radioisotopes, began to cause a critical shortage of radioisotopes."

    How does this one site belonging to a single country generate two-thirds of the worlds radioisotopes? How is this possible?

    Who are the other [major] suppliers? The world has so several nuclear powers and I wonder what these powers are doing.

    The fact that this reactor was built in the fifties is a blessing in disguise! You see, it shows that the engineering even back then, was sound.

    On the other hand, it points to ineptness of successive Canadian governments that have failed to install better and more

    • How does this one site belonging to a single country generate two-thirds of the worlds radioisotopes? How is this possible?

      Perhaps because they are expensive to build/maintain but one reactor can satisfy a lot of demand?
      Australia has a research reactor [wikipedia.org] that is used to (among other things) produce medical isotopes, I have no idea what sort of volume it produces compared to that Canadian one though or whether we even export them.

  • I have to wonder which isotopes Chalk River produces. We don't talk much about the production side of things here, so I honestly can't say. Following links on the wikipedia page for the reactor, I can say that it produces Mo-99 and Co-60--as I could've guessed. 99m-Tc (made naturally from Mo-99 decay) is literally indispensible to nuclear medicine as we know it today--from what I've seen, if nuclear pharmacists could use 99m-Tc for everything, they would. Co-60 is still important for some applications (Gamm
  • by the_other_one (178565) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:43AM (#21680483) Homepage
    12.12.2007
    Green Party demands inquiry into AECL negligence

    OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper should save taxpayers money on the Mulroney-Schreiber inquiry and instead perform a useful inquiry, says the Green Party. The party is calling for a full inquiry into the behaviour of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., focusing on safety concerns arising from AECL's severe lack of accountability, its repeated failures to comply with instructions from its regulator, radioactive dumping practices and other environmental transgressions along with the recent incident at Chalk River, where AECL ignored licensing conditions.

    "It is apparent that AECL has become a rogue force and pays no heed to safety instructions from its regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). Mr. Harper must look into this serious situation at once to gain control over AECL," said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. "We urgently need answers. Why was AECL operating the NRU reactor in violation of its license and why did the Harper government allow this to happen?"

    The CNSC ordered the installation of a backup power supply system at the Chalk River reactor as a crucial safeguard, yet AECL operated the reactor without the backup system until it was caught red handed last month.

    "Canadians also deserve to know why the government was unprepared for the shortage of medical radioisotopes when the Chalk River facility was shut down for routine maintenance. The government saw this coming from a mile away, so why did the Harper government fail to source the isotopes from other reactors? Why is he only now scrambling to do something about the situation? How is it that AECL is years behind schedule and at least $160 million over budget on bringing online the two Maple reactors which could have prevented this shortage?"

    Ms. May said the inquiry should also investigate AECL's former practice of dumping thousands of litres of radioactive waste into Chalk River daily.

    "We know that AECL continued to dump up to 4,000 litres of radioactive waste a day into Chalk River despite repeated commitments to stop. Furthermore, does AECL have a plan for the decontamination of Chalk River? We demand to know how AECL was allowed to get away with dumping radioactive contaminants into the river and what have been taken to clean up this mess."

    In 2003, AECL told the CNSC that the cost of a clean up would be at least $2 billion.

    "For too long, the AECL has been permitted to operate as it pleases - defying orders from its regulator, keeping its practices secret and avoiding accountability. Mr. Harper must rein in this rogue force for the safety of all Canadians."
  • by WoTG (610710) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @01:51AM (#21680527) Homepage Journal
    Personally, I have to agree with the forced reopening of the reactor. It sounds terrifying, and it's a disgrace that we're in this situation, but the risk is very minimal. The story has been playing in the media here in Canada for a few days now.

    This is not a large-scale power generating reactor. It's a relatively small "research" reactor and it is more or less middle of nowhere [google.ca].

    From what I recall from the news stories, the current hold up is the backup power to the second pump is offline. The backup power to the first pump is online, and only one pump needs to be operating at any one time. The truly disgraceful thing is that the plant has been improperly operating without any proper backup power lines for months and months. The current unexpectedly long shut-down occurred because the improper backup systems were discovered by the regulators during a shorter planned down time.

    On the flip side, critical medical scans are being canceled by the thousands across North and South America. You can't point at any specific case, but given the large number of procedures being delayed, I'd bet that someone out there is going to die on a daily basis because a scan is postponed.
    • The current unexpectedly long shut-down occurred because the improper backup systems were discovered by the regulators.

      Should AECL have been more diligent in hiding the improper backup systems from the regulators?!!!

      What happens if the only working pump fails?

      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by mr_matticus (928346)
        Well, first the TWO working pumps have to fail, and then the backup has to fail, and by that time I would think they'd shut down the reactor.

        As it is, it's working fine, and a pump is not a thin red line separating "life goes on" and "catastrophe"--this isn't even a big power reactor.

        If both of the main pumps were to go offline, it would be a bad call not to shut down the reactor at that point, but even if they waited for the backup to fail (three pump failures in a row? What are the odds?), it's still pos
    • by jacquesm (154384)
      > I'd bet that someone out there is going to die on a daily basis because a scan is postponed.

      someone is going to die at most once, not on a daily basis :)

      Also, they'll likely only die *earlier*, I seriously doubt they were going to avoid being at their own funeral in the first place.
  • Observe the current quote at the bottom of the page:
    "Real Men don't make backups. They upload it via ftp and let the world mirror it. -- Linus Torvalds"

    Unfortunately, this doesn't work for generators, nor does it for reactors.
  • by aeschenkarnos (517917) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @02:16AM (#21680653)
    Maybe the plan is to deal with the isotope shortage by putting isotopes EVERYWHERE ...
  • by Anonymous Coward
    About 16 yrs ago I was a younger physicist looking for work. I found a job conducting/directing neutron activations at a reactor making medical materials, testing samples at a major facility. Measured 92 of the elements, even down to ppb. (Needed x-ray facilities for more, across town...) We generated the second-highest amount of low-level waste in my state. My job was to bag-and-tag all the isotopic waste, too.
    My boss tried to get me to dump it all into the dumpster, so he could pocket the ~$75000US instea
  • by Minupla (62455) <minupla@@@gmail...com> on Thursday December 13, 2007 @02:36AM (#21680739) Homepage Journal
    Gotta love it, behind door number 1:
    Leave the reactor closed, definitely kill people.

    Behind door number 2: Violate safety regs on a reactor, possibly kill people.

    Politics is definitely a game more fun to play from the bleachers. For what it's worth, I live in the country and I agree this is the best of a bad situation.

    Min
  • This whole thing sounds a lot like that old tale of the diligent, hard-working ant and the lazy, procastinating grasshopper. If these isotopes are so important to preserving human life, why the hell don't we have more reactors in place to produce them? Even if we didn't need to keep such reactors constantly active, there's no excuse for us not having at least a couple back-up facilities on hand in the event the primary facilities would even become unusable or inaccessible.

    (Of course, this argument could app
    • "these isotopes are so important to preserving human life, why the hell don't we have more reactors in place to produce them?"

      Because they are VERRRRRRRY expensive. And for the U.S.'s part, they haven't put a reactor online since 1996. Maybe they'll build some appropriate reactors after 2013 when Watts Bar 2 goes online (hopefully).
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by compro01 (777531)
      we do (the Petten reactor in the Netherlands and the OPAL in Australia), but these things are relatively expensive to build and run, as they don't produce power. beyond isotopes and some heavy water, these things are for nuclear physics experiments, so these things have very low return on investment and thus most aren't real interested in building/running them.
      • by compro01 (777531)
        hate replying to myself, but i forgot to mention that the OPAL has been down since July and isn't expected to be back up until sometime next year, making this reactor that much more important.

      • If they aren't making any sort of return on their investment on these vital isotopes, then something is seriously out of whack with the system of supply and demand here. Given how notoriously expensive the rest of the medical industry is, you would think part of those costs would go to the production and distribution of these isotopes.
  • Well ... I have no idea whether the shortcomings (no auxiliary power supply for the backup pumps) are sufficiently serious to prevent taking the reactor into production again. It might sound more scary than it is.

    However I have found that there is at least one other reactor in the world that produces the at least one of the isotopes (molybdenum-99) as the Chalk River reactor, and it's in The Netherlands (Europe) (see http://www.nrg-nl.com/public/medical/valley/node6.html [nrg-nl.com]). I gather that some of the other

  • "world supply" (Score:4, Interesting)

    by locust (6639) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @03:25AM (#21680961)
    According to yesterday's interview on CBC's As It Happens, its not the world's supply, but rather the North American supply. In the past when the reactor has been down, the company that supplies the isotopes (Atomic Energy Canada Ltd runs the place, but another company produces the isotopes) buys isotopes from reactors in australia, south africa or Europe (holand I think). Its just this time they decide to make it a big issue. (so they don't have to pay for the isotopes). The interview in question is, I think, in part two of the broadcast... see: http://www.cbc.ca/radioshows/AS_IT_HAPPENS/20071212.shtml [www.cbc.ca] The segment is: "ISOTOPES: KUPERMAN"
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by RedWizzard (192002)

      In the past when the reactor has been down, the company that supplies the isotopes (Atomic Energy Canada Ltd runs the place, but another company produces the isotopes) buys isotopes from reactors in australia, south africa or Europe (holand I think).
      The Australian reactor (OPAL) is also shut down at this time and will remain so into 2008 [acfonline.org.au].
  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday December 13, 2007 @03:32AM (#21680985) Homepage

    Let's take a look at the advertising from the company that actually sells the medical isotopes made at Chalk River:

    MDS Nordion [nordion.com] is the global leader in the supply and distribution of short-lived medical isotopes. It's what sets us apart.

    • Our world-renowned rapid, reliable and customizable distribution, and logistics system ensures shipments are where they're needed, when they're needed - anywhere in the world.
    • Our capacity to respond rapidly and effectively to routine orders as well as unexpected requests and emergencies is a hallmark of our operations.
    • Our four cyclotrons and access to two reactors located in North America and Europe guarantee an uninterrupted supply for research and manufacturing.

    There's a "Molybdenum-99 Shortage Resource Center" [snm.org] page which has more useful background on the subject. There are about five places in the world that make this stuff, and not much excess capacity.

    The U.S. Department of Energy started a project [comcast.net] in 1995 to convert a research reactor at Sandia to medical isotope production. This was done after the last US commercial producer, in Tuxedo, NY, shut down. The Sandia effort was canceled, after it was working and able to produce isotopes, on July 30, 1999, by the Office of Isotope Programs at DOE.

    There's a startup that claims they will start making this stuff with a linear accelerator in early 2008, but they sound flakey.

  • by farrellj (563) * on Thursday December 13, 2007 @10:37AM (#21683139) Homepage Journal
    Former US President Jimmy Carter has been to the reactor site in question in the 1950s...Canada had their "3 Mile Island" in 1952 when the NRX Reactor at Chalk River had a partial core meltdown. At the time, Carter was a nuclear engineer with the US Navy, and had been training at Chalk River. After the explosion caused either by hydrogen gas, or steam, he was one of the 150 US servicemen who helped clean up the reactor.

    ttyl
              Farrell

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