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The nuclear reactor that produces medical isotopes at the Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. plant in Chalk River, Ont., was out of commission for more than a year.

The federal government should investigate whether a new reactor for the creation of medical isotopes would be worthwhile, a parliamentary committee says.

The natural resources committee has spent much of the last year looking at the status of the aging reactor in Chalk River, Ont.

Conservative MPs on the committee agreed to the recommendation Thursday, even though Prime Minister Stephen Harper said last year that Canada would be getting out of the medical isotope business.

Those comments confirmed speculation the federal government's decision to split up and sell off Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. was a prelude to a pull-out.

The government plans to spin off AECL's profitable nuclear reactor business as part of a major restructuring that will also mean private-sector management for the company's Chalk River research facility.

AECL shut down the Chalk River reactor in May 2009 after discovering a heavy-water leak.

The shutdown sparked a worldwide shortage of isotopes, which are used in scans to diagnose cancer and heart ailments. The facility was only able to begin producing isotopes again in August 2010.

The Chalk River reactor makes about a third of the world supply of medical isotopes. A Dutch reactor kicks in another third, with lesser amounts coming from reactors in France, Belgium and South Africa.