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Chalk River is back online

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | August 17, 2010
Back in business - for now.
The nearly half-century old National Research Universal reactor is back online after months of delays.

Atomic Energy of Canada, Limited, which runs the site in Chalk River, Ontario, said after completing low-power testing that the reactor is now "operating at high power and can begin to create medical isotopes."

"We’re working to get our first shipment off this week," AECL spokeswoman Robin Forbes told DOTmed news. "As soon as we’re there, we’ll be issuing [a statement] to let people know."

The NRU reactor was initially expected to be back online in the spring, but lengthy, complicated repairs regularly pushed back the restart date.

The reactor is one of the most important suppliers of molybdenum-99, the parent isotope of technetium-99m, used in nuclear medicine tests. Its shutdown in May 2009 after the discovery of a heavy water leak led to disruptions in the world's supply of the isotope, especially as the High Flux Reactor in Petten, Netherlands, another critical isotope-making workhorse, has also been offline for repairs since February to fix corroded pipework. The High Flux Reactor is expected to be fully powered up by Sept. 9.

Last month, SNM, the society that represents nuclear medicine professionals, warned that the Canadian government intends to retire the NRU reactor in about six years. The society is pushing for the American Medical Isotopes Production Act, which calls for domestic production of molybdenum-99. The bill is currently stalled in the Senate.