Saskatchewan seeks to develop isotope industry

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The leader of the Canadian province of Saskatchewan is seeking to build a nuclear reactor and transform his province into a producer of medical isotopes, the Globe and Mail reported this past weekend.

Medical isotopes have become a political issue in Canada after the country's Chalk River reactor in Ontario was shuttered in May for at least three months due to a heavy water leak. The 51-year-old reactor, which normally produces about one-third of world supply, has plagued the isotope industry with unexpected shutdowns over the past several years.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall told the Globe and Mail newspaper that he wants to build a research reactor within two to three years, likely at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

He said the shutdown of Atomic Energy of Canada's Chalk River reactor creates an intersection of Canada's need and Saskatchewan's nuclear ambitions.

"Maybe the west can provide a solution," he said in the interview.

Wall ran on a platform that included a pledge to build up a full-fledged nuclear industry in Saskatchewan, which is one of the world's largest uranium suppliers, but does little beyond extract the ore, according to the Globe and Mail.

Building a reactor would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and Saskatchewan would pick up part of that tab, Wall said, but added that he hopes the reactor can be built through a partnership of the federal government, the province and the private sector.

The article said Wall had discussed the issue with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, but that the federal government has not yet made any commitments. Wall said he expects that any funding from Ottawa would be contingent on Saskatchewan being willing to spend money.

Private-sector financing would be relatively straightforward, he added, noting that there is a commercial market for medical isotopes used for diagnosing cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions.

Medical isotope distributor MDS Nordion said this month it was in talks with a Russian producer of medical isotopes as it scrambles to cope with the prolonged shutdown of Chalk River, which had been its main supplier.

The article said Wall is hoping for expedited federal regulatory approval so that construction could commence quickly and the reactor could be up and running in three years.

It added that a final decision will come as soon as August, after public consultation. Wall stressed that public reaction will be key to how he proceeds that he believes there is more support for nuclear power in Saskatchewan than in other jurisdictions, the article added.