Monday, August 31, 2009

Ignatieff backs McMaster offer to solve isotope shortage

Michael Ignatieff was at McMaster this weekend viewing the reactor facility there. The report today is that he is committing to funding the McMaster proposal to produce isotopes. This is a big move in response to the Harper government's inaction on this file.
McMaster University will get all the money it needs to solve Canada's medical isotope crisis -- as long as Michael Ignatieff gets to be the next prime minister.

The Opposition Liberal leader made his promise over the weekend after touring Mac's nuclear reactor and flogging the Harper government for letting the crisis develop.

"Canada has had leadership in this field for 60 years. It's regrettable, to say the least, that Mr. Harper and the Conservatives have had two shutdowns to supplies of nuclear isotopes on their watch," he said. "We're here today to talk to the world-class researchers at McMaster about how they can step in and begin to fill the gap ... When we're in government they'll have full-hearted support from my government."
"I don't want to drag McMaster into political controversy, but Mac came to the government a very long time ago, after the first shutdown and said 'How can we help?' They've had no reply," Ignatieff said.

Mo Elbestawi, Mac's vice-president for research, said the reactor upgrade could be a boon for the Hamilton area. The facility currently provides about 150 jobs with the potential for another 50, making isotopes which can be sold around the world.

"Government has already invested in the infrastructure, but what we need is the operating funding; we need the people who can operate this facility. The ask is about $44.3 million, and we believe we could be up in production at a steady pace in 12 to 18 months," he said.
As Ignatieff suggests, the McMaster offer was made in January 2008 on the immediate heels of the December 2007 shutdown. Yet there has been no apparent response to it. If the offer had been accepted by the government then, McMaster would likely be producing isotopes for Canada (and the world) by now.

McMaster has executed this role before and they believe it is something they can quite readily do now. That point was clearly made in the Globe recently, where McMaster's role in stepping up to do so in the 1970s was cited, along with the main pitch:
McMaster wants to be a part of the Canadian solution; it's willing and certainly able. Ramping up the McMaster Nuclear Reactor to produce moly-99 would utilize a facility with proven technology. It would require a modest investment and relatively little startup time. It would reassert Canada's position as a leader in nuclear research and nuclear medicine. And it would save lives and bring peace of mind to countless numbers of cancer and heart patients in Canada and around the world.
Ignatieff is stepping into the leadership void which exists on this issue. His stance marks a clear contrast with the Harper government's inaction and failure to lead on this file. A very welcome development.

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