AECL ups isotope production in response to Dutch reactor shutdown

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AECL says it is prepared for potential isotope shortage. Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory  

The Netherlands temporarily shut down its nuclear reactor Aug. 22 due to technical difficulties, and the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) said it will increase production of medical isotopes should a shortage occur.

Upon learning of the outage, Canadian Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn immediately contacted Health Minister Tony Clement to implement the protocol for notification and information sharing among AECL, Natural Resources Canada and Health Canada that came into place after the December 2007 shortage of medical isotopes occurred after the MDS Nordion shutdown. Health Canada said it has notified provincial and territorial health officials and key partners in the nuclear medicine community of the situation.

Despite a scheduled five-day maintenance closure later in the week, the Canadian government said it has confirmed that AECL will be able to increase its normal production schedule to help close the supply gap should a global shortage arise. Other reactors in South Africa, France and Belgium that produce isotopes are also on scheduled maintenance for various periods of time over the next few weeks, according to Health Canada.

The new protocol is serving as a means to communicate information clearly and quickly to all involved parties, according to Health Canada.

“Our government is monitoring this developing situation, and is working closely with AECL and suppliers in an effort to help ensure a consistent supply of medical isotopes,” Lunn said.

Health Canada said it is estimated that 15 to 20 percent of the Canadian market is supplied primarily by other reactors outside Canada, including the Dutch reactor. The agency said it has been assured that supply to Canada will continue at regular levels for remainder of the week.