Saturday, June 20, 2009

Back to the 50's

Not like there's a pressing medical issue that Canadians are facing or anything. So here's what the Conservative government has decided to do. Minister Raitt names a panel to come up with long term solutions to the isotope shortage, 18 months later than most well run entities would have done:
Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt named four members of an expert panel Friday, whom the federal government has asked to find a way for Canada to secure a stable, long-term supply of medical isotopes, used to help diagnose and treat more than two million patients a year.
...
She has asked the panel to complete its final report by Nov. 30.
It's almost laughable, these circumstances. The government has a tonne of material and testimony that's been presented to the Natural Resources Committee to work with. If they wanted, they could surely act on it. The timing of this expert panel seems intended to take the issue off the table and beyond an election that may be in the cards for the fall. But that's a risky move, an exercise in procrastination on a very time sensitive matter that could work against them. It means their lack of leadership here will be an election issue, to a greater extent than it already is. Because this "Plan B" panel assessment is a step that should have been taken after the last shutdown in December of 2007 and the long term solutions would be in front of us and pursued by now.

For good measure, here's what appears to be the common sense position that's of course going to be ignored:
On Thursday, University of Waterloo engineering professor Jatin Nathwani urged the government to reactivate the MAPLE project, even as the expert panel started its deliberations.

"A parallel path followed with urgency can bring the already built MAPLE reactors to an operating state in perhaps the next six to 18 months," Nathwani said.

"If Minister Raitt was concerned with the health and safety of millions of Canadians, she would embark on this parallel path today," said Regan. "If her panel comes to the same conclusion on Nov. 30, 2009, as Dr. Nathwani and the other experts we heard from yesterday, we will have wasted five months and put the health of thousands in jeopardy."
More in a remarkable Globe report today on the brain drain that's expected if Stephen Harper's inspirational vision of shutting down nuclear research in Canada comes to pass:
But as the aging machine heads into a sixth week offline, Canada is seen as dropping the ball not only when it comes to the 31 per cent of global isotope supplies it was relied upon to create and export worldwide; it risks letting a half-century of innovation slip away, leaving a retinue of researchers, doctors and technicians with no choice but to pack it in or pack their bags and head to greener, more nuke-friendly pastures.

“This is really actually quite awful,” Prof. Harroun said. “The whole Canadian community who uses neutron beams now have to find other places. They have to go to the States or they have to go to Europe or even farther abroad.”

The president of the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine agrees. “It's going to be a drain of brains outside Canada, if Canada gets out of that field,” Jean-Luc Urbain said.
Back to the 50's with Stephen Harper...it really works on this issue, doesn't it?

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