Quebec will ask the federal government for compensation for costs incurred because of the medical isotope shortage, costs that could reach $10 million by the end of the year, Health Minister Yves Bolduc said Thursday.
The radioactive isotopes, which are used as markers in a number of medical tests, have been in short supply since the nuclear reactor in Chalk River, Ont., was shut down in May.
On Wednesday, Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. announced the Chalk River reactor likely won't be back in production until spring.
Bolduc said he will ask the federal government for compensation because it's not the province's fault that its supply of isotopes was suddenly cut off.
"They are responsible to have the isotopes, and if we have a problem today, it's because we had a problem with Chalk River," he said.
The head of Quebec's nuclear medicine specialists, Dr. François Lamoureux, also put the blame for the crisis squarely on the federal government. He said the cost of the isotopes has doubled or even tripled, as hospitals look to sources overseas.
Because of the short half-life of the radioactive isotopes, he said, long-distance shipping is not very efficient.
"We lose about 25 to 30 per cent of the isotope that we are importing because of the distance, so the company [has] to increase the price," he said.
Lamoureux said hospitals across the province also have increased staffing costs because their employees are working around-the-clock to use the isotopes as soon as they come in.
He also said Canada is shirking its responsibility as a global supplier of medical isotopes.
"Nobody was thinking about the patients. So the prime minister one morning said, 'Well, we will get out of this business' — without any consultation, without any discussion with other countries.
"Canada is not reliable anymore. It does not assume its responsibility in this field," Lamoureux said.