Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Your credibility deficit is showing again, part II

"Cancer patient vents anger over isotopes." There is little to add to this powerful report this morning but here's one small excerpt quoting Patrick Batrynchuk, the patient who was interviewed:
“I'm extremely angry with the government. They've been completely remiss in taking stock in what they actually have,” he said. “The biggest thing I think about…is let's take a look at the reality that it's caused for people by giving them no more than a week's notice and not having any provision in place to support people while this maintenance is being done.”
The supplies are dwindling at hospitals now, the report goes on. Now emergency tests only.
Dr. O'Brien said companies have estimated that they will be able to supply 10 per cent of the normal volume this week, and, as a result, it will be more difficult to keep scheduled appointments.

“We're all trying to cope with the situation, but it's almost getting to be impossible now,” Dr. O'Brien said.
Looming in the background of the current shutdown and lack of isotopes, the decision by Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. in May of '08 to "mothball" the new Maple units next to the old Chalk River NRU facility that has been the prime source of isotope production. That "mothballing" being done with the approval of the Harper government. This Canwest report from last night suggests that the Maple units could be put back on track and possibly up and running within four months, with some significant safety steps being taken:

"The solution to the global medical isotope crisis is in Canada." MDS Nordion president Steve West said in a statement. "The infrastructure is in place and, with the assistance of an international consortium of nuclear experts, the MAPLE facilities could be producing medical isotopes to the benefit of patients worldwide."

Some engineers at the Chalk River Laboratory, speaking to Canwest News Service on condition of anonymity, largely concur, saying that the MAPLEs are in "hot standby" mode and could be producing isotopes within three or four months.

According to AECL, it would have cost $1 billion to get the Maple units up and running, perhaps explaining the Harper government's reluctance to pursue it. I mean, when you've spent a $13 billion surplus you've inherited, and then on top of that, you've added a $12 billion hole in annual federal finances with those GST cuts, then finding those extra $1 billion amounts at some point gets difficult. In fact, it provides a convenient Conservative rationale to try to privatize the thing altogether and make it someone else's headache. In the meantime, better to just hope the old Chalk River NRU doesn't shutdown again. And muddle through a $1.6 billion lawsuit against the government for having decided to give up on the Maple reactor options. Are you feeling the train of faulty decision-making yet?

The Harper government's done nothing since the last shutdown at the end of 2007 to plan for the current situation where isotopes are now dwindling and patients are now angrily feeling the impact. It's an epic failure for Canadians by their government.

Perhaps this is why they're trying to distract us today with stories of sensational Crown corporation sales that aren't going to happen...they'll be defeated long before any of those Conservative dreams can come true.

(h/t LibArts & Minds)

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