The issue of the planned backups to Chalk River, the MAPLES reactors, came up throughout the afternoon. It really is one of the elephants in the room on this file. A lot of money has been poured into that project and there are enough experts who believe they can be brought online if there is money and study pointed at them. The Harper government made a final decision in the spring of 2008 to mothball them and now we're faced with an aging reactor that has been shooting off red flags since December 2007. Junking the principal back-up without making any other moves, other than appointing a long term panel (belatedly in summer 2009) is a decision that deserves the public scrutiny that such roundtables bring out. Ignatieff asked questions of the panel on the costs of "de-mothballing" the MAPLES, at least demonstrating a willingness to probe all options.
The cost of doing something is going to be high, whether it's re-working the MAPLES reactors or committing to a new research reactor to replace Chalk River. Yet as O'Malley noted in her liveblogging, there was that thing called the Economic Action Plan this past year that dispensed funding, not always so prudently ($100 million in advertising of it in the past year?) and often times skewed in partisan directions (see media studies on skewing to Conservative ridings). A government that's had this problem on its radar since December 2007 did not consider that the isotope matter could have been part of the EAP. It's a reminder that who is in government matters. Looking back from 30 years in the future, we'll have lots of rinks out of EAP circa 2009 but what will we say about what we did on this health care issue?
A more general political point, the roundtable today was an effective contrast between Liberals and Conservatives, in terms of prioritization of the issue and future governing style. This is a serious issue that requires much greater attention. As one expert noted, it's a wonder more people aren't up in arms about it. The silence from the Conservatives, other than standard press releases (quoted here), is deafening. It's almost as if they just wish it would go away.
"This kind of drift has to stop because the health and safety of Canadian patients is at stake," Ignatieff told reporters on Tuesday.There are difficult solutions to be assessed and choices to be made, to state the ever loving obvious, and we can all make our judgments on who might best grapple with the options in the next government.
For more on this topic, see: Blog Post Index: Medical Isotope crisis & Chalk River shutdown.