Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"The irony is complete"

Updated (9:35 p.m.) and (9:45 p.m.) below...

Linda Keen, voice of conscience on nuclear safety is watching the Harper government wriggle as a result of its failure to do much at all since the 2007 shutdown of Chalk River:
Keen said she worries her successor at the CNSC, Michael Binder, does not have the independence he needs to ensure Canadians are safe from nuclear risk.

She noted he has a dual mandate: to regulate nuclear safety; and safeguard the supply of medical isotopes.

"I really worry about the independence of the regulator," she said.

She said she expects independent commissioners to put AECL "through the wringer" at a June 11 meeting at the CNSC.

She noted the independent commissioners "can't be fired."

Keen also said she finds it ironic that Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt and the government are downplaying the shutdown by saying isotopes are available elsewhere and are not always necessary anyway. In contrast, the 2007 was described as a life-or-death situation, which is why Parliament voted to overrule her decision.

"The irony is complete," she said.
Oh, it be complete all right.

I'm not sure that anyone has said that isotopes are not "always necessary anyway" but the rationing regime that's now in place is inherently prioritizing some health scans over others. The world is "snookered," as it is. Let's hope the CNSC is indeed going to be rigorous, based on some of the ideas being floated anonymously for a solution to the isotope shortage:
...two sources, both of them nuclear engineers who have worked on the NRU and the MAPLEs, say the MAPLEs are perfectly capable of safely producing isotopes and that Raitt ought to "persuade" the CNSC to take another look the project.

"I think there's a way out of this but the way out is that CNSC would have to relent on the safety requirements and that's a tall order," said a former Chalk River engineer who is now a risk management expert for the federal government and asked not to be identified. "But maybe we'll have to get that in order to avert a major crisis."
So, what has the Harper government done since the shutdown in 2007? What was the plan that's been put into place to manage this very public, pressing risk to the Canadian health care system? As we sit and watch isotopes being rationed, it's become apparent that it's been a wing and a prayer.

It's become a little tiresome this week in terms of rolling out the slogan one more time....but the "Stephen Harper: Leadership" label has to be one of the biggest scams in recent Canadian political history as we watch it being continuously laid bare.

Update (9:35 p.m.): Don Martin tonight on the implications of the latest shutdown: .
..if this plant shutdown goes long-term or even permanent, there's no avoiding a toxic spillover into the hospitals and medical clinics of Canada and the world.

If the Conservative blueprint for coping with a sick nuclear plant that has immense global medical significance is a single sheet of paper, the politics of this issue will go radioactive and the public reaction will go nuclear even faster than the economic meltdown.
Update II (9:45 p.m.): Just saw Dave's take on this:
From the point where Harper countermanded the requirements of then CNSC president Linda Keen and forced the Chalk River reactor back into operation through a parliamentary vote, (then fired Keen), the responsibility for that reactor's continued safe operation became the sole province of Harper and his Minister of Natural Resources.

In short, Harper himself is to blame for the state of the Chalk River reactor today and the current rationing of medical isotopes.

It will probably take more time, but eventually Harper and his mediocre collegues will figure out that the warm water hitting them in the face is not a late spring rain.
The Harper government's incompetence never ceases to amaze and they deserve every ounce of accountability on this that they get.

For more on this topic, see: Blog Post Index: Medical Isotope crisis & Chalk River shutdown.