Expert panel recommends new isotope reactor

The federal government should build a new nuclear reactor to produce medical isotopes and guarantee an adequate supply for the country, an expert panel has recommended.

The federal government should build a new nuclear reactor to produce medical isotopes and guarantee an adequate supply for the country, an expert panel has recommended.

In a report to Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt released Thursday, the Expert Review Panel On Medical Isotope Production says the best way to keep isotopes stocked is to build a new research reactor to replace the downed unit at Chalk River, Ont.

"We recommend that the government expeditiously engage in the replacement of the [National Research Universal] reactor as we believe a multipurpose research reactor represents the best primary option to create a sustainable source of [the isotope molybdenum 99], recognizing that the reactor's other missions would also play a role in justifying the costs," the report says.

The Conservative government convened the panel in May to assess proposals for new sources of medical isotopes. Raitt wasn't immediately available for comment, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said Canada may have to get out of the medical isotope business.

The Chalk River reactor supplied a third of the world's medical isotopes until Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. shut it down in mid-May after it found a pinprick-sized radioactive water leak.

The reactor was supposed to be down for a month. That estimate was extended to three months, and now AECL's best guess is the reactor won't be back on line until the first quarter of next year.