Friday, September 11, 2009

Lisa Raitt speaking today on action & leadership for Canada's nuclear industry

Update (2:50 p.m.) below.

You'll have to be an early bird to catch this event but it should be worth paying some attention to given the topic:
On Friday, September 11, the Honourable Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources, will speak to the Economic Club of Canada about “Charting a Better Course: Action and Leadership for Canada’s Nuclear Industry.” The Minister will be available to respond to questions from the media after the speech.
Should be an interesting speech. Raitt has been keeping a low profile on anything having to do with the nuclear file, remaining largely out of sight on the isotope shortage this summer. The government has essentially begged off questions about what it is doing on the isotope shortage by creating an expert panel that is presently occupied with the question of what Canada should do for long term solutions. It's due to report to Raitt at the end of November.

So it should be interesting to see whether Raitt gives any specifics in the speech Friday morning or gives any hints of what direction the panel is taking. Wouldn't count on it but given that there's an election likely in the offing, damage control on this file, given their incompetence, might be on their list of things to do. And since Michael Ignatieff recently announced support for the McMaster offer to produce isotopes, maybe Raitt will suddenly be unburdened from her cone of silence on specifics.

Here are a few things you might want to keep in mind as you read any reporting on her speech on Friday.

Raitt is speaking about "Action and Leadership for Canada's Nuclear Industry." This comes at a time of notable contrast with the actual action and leadership going on in the United States at the moment where they are quickly moving to create their own supply of isotopes. They are doing so since the Canadian supply that has been satisfying about 60% of the U.S. market for decades has been interrupted, for the second time on Mr. Harper's watch. (There were no interruptions in isotope supply during the previous Liberal governments, despite their similarly overseeing the aged reactor.)

And the U.S. is doing so because Mr. Harper announced in June that Canada would be getting out of isotope production eventually, what some say is a breach of Canada's leadership and implied contract to produce for the world that's relied upon us. So it should be interesting to hear how this U.S. move will be spun positively by Raitt. The loss of this market fundamentally alters Canada's nuclear medicine industry. Researchers will likely be drawn to the U.S. as a result unless Canada takes steps to retain their future here. And the U.S. move is, frankly, an embarrassment for Canada. From Thursday's Globe:

The U.S.'s move to produce its own medical isotopes isn't surprising, said Dominic Ryan, president of the Canadian Institute for Neutron Scattering, which does its research at Chalk River.

“The contrast between the U.S. and Canadian responses is not encouraging. They are actually committing money to doing something,” he said, adding that it casts Canada's nuclear industry in a less than flattering light.

“Maybe it's just a recognition they can't depend on us. … They're trying to scramble to build something to replace the supply that we've been providing for the last few decades because they think we're unreliable.”

Here's another thing to keep in mind as Raitt speaks about Canada's supposed action and leadership on this file under the Harper government. Doctors who met with Raitt's expert panel this week in Ottawa were underwhelmed by the panel's progress:

Norman Laurin, nuclear physician and vice-president of the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine, said the expert panel seems to have made little progress.

“Let's just say my expectations are small at this point,” he said. “I'd be more than happy to be corrected on that.”

And then there are the jobs and technology issues that Raitt might touch upon. The isotope shortage has significantly impacted MDS Nordion, headquartered in Ottawa and the distributor of isotopes from the Chalk River reactor. MDS is the employer of approximately 1,175 employees in Ontario. Might those high tech jobs be at risk should the Chalk River reactor not re-open? Probably.

Additionally, Atomic Energy Canada Limited's future and Conservative plans to privatize its reactor business might also be a feature of Raitt's speech. Should a foreign company buy it, more jobs could be at risk and Canadian high technology leadership may once again be exiting the country.

We'll see what Raitt has to say. But it's all enough to make you wonder whether the nuclear industry can actually stand much more "Action and Leadership for Canada’s Nuclear Industry" from the Harper Conservatives...

Update (2:50 p.m.): Here's a CP report on Raitt's speech. Manage the isotope supply with other global providers, fix Chalk River. Still waiting on expert panel.

The action and leadership remain a breathtaking spectacle to behold.