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Chalk River reactor repaired, isotope production to resume

The Canadian nuclear reactor that is capable of producing a third of the world's medical isotopes is back in service after a 15-month shutdown that caused headaches for nuclear physicians and their patients both here and abroad.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation that owns the 53-year-old reactor at Chalk River, Ont., announced on Tuesday that the lengthy repairs required after a leak was discovered in May of last year have been completed.

"AECL reports that it has concluded low-power testing on the NRU reactor," the company said in a news release. "As a result, the reactor is now operating at high power and can begin to create medical isotopes."

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The repair process had been plagued by repeated delays and setbacks and some doctors despaired that the unit might never be returned to service.

AECL did not say when clinics could expect to receive their first batch of the isotopes that are used in a wide range of medical treatments and diagnoses of illnesses including heart disease and cancer.

Those procedures have repeatedly been put on hold with fluctuations in supply of isotopes from the other limited number of reactors around the world that are capable of producing them.

The Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said it ultimately wants to get out of the medical isotope business and plans to shut down the reactor permanently in 2016.

Companies that have ideas for producing the isotopes without a nuclear reactor have been asked to submit their proposals to the federal government under a $35-million initiative announced in June.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Gloria Galloway has been a journalist for almost 30 years. She worked at the Windsor Star, the Hamilton Spectator, the National Post, the Canadian Press and a number of small newspapers before being hired by The Globe and Mail as deputy national editor in 2001. Gloria returned to reporting two years later and joined the Ottawa bureau in 2004. More

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