Canadian nuclear safety agency chief fired over isotope shortage

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon
Linda Keen, former Conference Chair and President of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Source: International Atomic Energy Agency  

The federal government of Canada late Tuesday night fired Linda Keen as president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. Michael Binder, currently an assistant deputy minister within the department of industry, has been named interim president of the commission.

Keen's dismissal follows a month of increasingly bitter and politicized rancor between Canada's nuclear watchdog and the country's primary nuclear operator, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL), reported The Vancouver Sun.

In a brief statement released before midnight, commission spokesman Aurele Gervais said Keen "has been terminated" as commission president, according to The Sun. Keen is expected to continue sitting as a commissioner.

The government directly blamed Keen for unnecessarily imposing November's closing of the Chalk River nuclear reactor and the resulting domestic shortage of life-saving medical isotopes for cancer and cardiac diagnoses and other treatment, The Sun reported.

The nuclear safety commission had been long aware that a safety upgrade to Chalk River's nuclear reactor was incomplete, according to The Sun, yet did nothing until November, when it suddenly raised the alarm and pressured for the reactor's closing, according to the AECL.

In the latest blows between the nuclear titans, AECL accused the nuclear regulator of making a "wrong decision" and issuing misleading public statements about events leading to the Nov. 22 emergency shutdown of the world's chief radioisotope-producing reactor, and of unnecessarily pushing AECL to keep the reactor closed.

"The commission made a decision and, in retrospect, in light of all this evidence, we have shown it was a wrong decision and the reactor's extended outage could have been prevented," Dale Coffin, AECL's spokesman, said Tuesday, reported The Sun.