MDS: Restart MAPLE project to combat isotope shortage

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MDS Nordion is urging the Canadian government and Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) to reactivate the MAPLE nuclear reactor project as part of a stategy to address the medical isotope shortage created by the shutdown of the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at Chalk River, Ontario.

In 1996, MDS contracted for AECL to complete and commission the MAPLE reactors, which were meant to replace the NRU. This project was unilaterally discontinued in May 2008 by the federal government and AECL. MDS' investment in the MAPLE project was approximately $350 million.

MDS subsequently sued the AECL and the Canadian government over the decision. The provider said its primary objective through the legal proceedings is to have AECL honor its long-standing commitment to replace the NRU by bringing the MAPLE facilities into service, and provide a 40-year supply of medical isotopes.

Given that there are no domestic or international sources of supply that can fully mitigate this shortage, MDS Nordion has requested that the government direct AECL to honor its commitment to replace the NRU reactor by bringing the MAPLE facilities into service. The facilities would enable Canada to maintain its leadership position in the field of nuclear medicine, according to the Ottawa, Ontario-based company.

"The current NRU shutdown--and the shutdown of November 2007--illustrates the fragility and unpredictability of the global medical-isotope supply system, and highlights the requirement for new research reactor capacity to deliver a reliable long-term supply of medical isotopes," said Steve West, president of MDS Nordion.

The 51-year-old NRU reactor, the largest producer of medical isotopes in the world, produces 30 to 40 percent of the global medical isotopes, and approximately 50 percent of those used in North America. The isotopes are then processed by MDS Nordion at its Ottawa facility.

On May 25, in an interview with Canwest News Service on the status of the supply of medical isotopes, Christopher O'Brien, MD, president of the Ontario Association of Nuclear Medicine and director of nuclear medicine at Brantford General Hospital in Brantford, Ontario, said "if Chalk River does not come back up online, North America will be faced with a significant and chronic shortage of medical isotopes. There just aren't enough reactors out there that can take the place of Chalk River."