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Provinces give Ottawa $33-million bill for isotope shortage

Provinces and territories have asked the federal government to pay them a combined $33-million to cover the extra costs of obtaining isotopes during the long period that the Canadian nuclear reactor that is responsible for a third of the word's supply was out of service.

The bill was tallied over the past few months and presented to the federal health department in recent weeks, sources said.

Federal officials say they are open to the idea of compensation but have asked the other jurisdictions for a better breakdown of how the money was spent.

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Because the isotope shortage varied dramatically across the country, some provinces are asking for more money than others. Ontario, which was particularly hard hit, is asking for much more money than Alberta where the reactor's shut-down had little effect.

Although Federal health Minister Leona Aglukkaq is meeting Tuesday with her federal and territorial counterparts, federal sources said no agreement on the compensation is likely to be reached this week.

The aging reactor at Chalk River, Ont. was out of service for 15 months after a leak was discovered in May of 2009.

That left nuclear medicine doctors and their patients scrambling to find reliable sources of the isotopes which are used in a wide variety of procedures for life-threatening illnesses such as cancer and heart disease.

The shortage created by the reactor's shut-down was exacerbated by the fact that the world's other major isotope-producing reactor in the Netherlands was out of service for much of the same time.

That meant the cost of the material increased as countries around the world bid for the limited supply. In the end, it was the provinces and territories that had to foot the bill.

The Canadian reactor was brought back on line in August but doctors say many diagnostic tests had to be delayed over the past year, and some of the health repercussions of the shut-down will only become apparent in years to come.

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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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