Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Still no leadership on isotope file

Some things to keep in mind today as you hear the news coverage of the announcement by Atomic Energy Canada Limited that the Chalk River shutdown will be longer than initially estimated:
The Canadian nuclear reactor that until a few weeks ago produced a third of the world's medical isotopes will be down until late this year, sources say, leaving patients facing further shortages of a premier tool for many heart and cancer tests.
There are even doubts that it will ever run again:
Sources in the engineering community at the Chalk River facility and in Ottawa have told Canwest News Service that the reactor could be out of service for at least eight months and perhaps even permanently.
The medical community's confidence in the government's management of this shutdown is shot:
“We're going to go back into the dark ages in terms of health care,” Jean-Luc Urbain, president of the Canadian Society of Nuclear Medicine, said in an interview Tuesday. “We'll be practising 21st-century medicine with 20th-century technology.”

Dr. Urbain said he does not have confidence in the government or AECL to manage the crisis.
Dr. Jean-Luc Urbain, president of the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine, called AECL's communications strategy "deceitful" and said he was unsure if Canadian hospitals would be able to cope if the NRU is, in fact, off-line until the end of the year.
Then there are the broken record appeals that are being made to deaf government ears:
Christopher O'Brien, president of the Ontario Association of Nuclear Medicine, said uncertainty about the Chalk River reactor should prompt the government to take another look at the mothballed Maple reactors. The Maple reactors were to replace Chalk River, but did not perform as expected after many years of experimentation and more than half a billion dollars, and the government has demonstrated no appetite for revisiting them.

“If NRU is down for a very long time, we do need an immediate alternative resource,” Dr. O'Brien said.
And then there's the timing of AECL's announcement. A neat yet cynical week and a half after the parliamentary session has ended. Juuuust long enough so people won't say the announcement was purposely held back, to avoid the concentrated glare of media and parliamentarians on Parliament Hill.

This is a big announcement with serious health implications for Canadians. Wonder if any of the responsible Conservative ministers will have anything of consequence to say about this today.

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