Sunday, April 04, 2010

More fallout from the no reactor choice

Time to check out some of the opinion reaction to the government's announcement this week that they will not be building a new reactor to replace Chalk River. First, there's this editorial from the Star Phoenix in Saskatoon that weighs in on the side of those wondering why the government would reject its own expert panel's conclusion: "Reactor rejection defies logic, sense." They smartly situate this decision within a larger narrative about the Harper government and its choices. It's worth a quick read, even if you don't follow the isotope issue:
Over the past four years, the Harper government has mocked, ignored or fired almost everyone it has in place to provide guidance on the most complex issues that Canada needs to address.

From the firing of the head of the Nuclear Safety Commission and the watchdogs of the RCMP and military, the national science adviser and Canada's chief electoral officer, to mocking the parliamentary budget officer and members of the diplomatic corps, to attacking the judiciary, charities and human rights groups, there is barely an expert in Ottawa who hasn't been marginalized or disrespected by this government.

Under the circumstances, Saskatchewan's Energy and Resources Minister Bill Boyd and the expert panel established by the Conservative government to determine the best solution to Canada's medical isotopes crisis should feel themselves in good company when their advice was rejected and they were informed of the decision via a press release.

To be fair, federal Natural Resources Minister Christian Paradis actually quoted extensively from the work of his expert panel while ignoring its conclusion and instead using the panelists' logic to outline an alternative path to isotopes security.

The expert panel recommended that Canada should build a research reactor to maintain a leading role internationally in nuclear and particle research, with the reactor's operating costs defrayed by it helping to retain Canada's historic position as the world's top supplier of medical isotopes. Mr. Paradis, however, is worried that such as strategy would make Canada responsible for handling nuclear wastes other countries should be generating by producing their own isotopes.

He expects commercial interests to pick up the responsibility for producing isotopes, while the government cuts the role played by such agencies and ministries as Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada, Western Economic Diversification, Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness, Industry Canada and Natural Resources -- all of which will lose more than 40 per cent of their funding beginning in next year's budget, according to a study by the Globe and Mail.

This government's plan to get out of deficit seems to be to get out of governing. Only the Corrections ministry is expected to see a significant increase in government involvement, growing to $3.128 billion from its current $2.267 billion -- a 36 per cent increase -- by the 2012-14 budget year.

Although innovation and support for research were a crucial aspect of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's speech from the throne, that research apparently had better fit into a tough on crime agenda if it's to receive any government support.
On the other hand, there's the Calgary Herald with a new eye-catching tidbit in one of their columnists' pieces from the other day:
According to one confidential research paper, reactor technology for creating isotopes is outdated. It uses highly enriched uranium that poses significant public safety and security issues. It produces long-lived radioactive waste and, as we have seen with the breakdown of Canada's NRU reactor at Chalk River, it creates a critical dependence on a single facility.
Ah, a confidential research paper says reactor technology for isotope creation is outdated. Two things...very convenient that it's confidential as in no one can see it. So we'll just take the opinion maker's word for it. Secondly, it seems really unfortunate that nobody seems to have told the highly qualified expert panel about the super-secret research paper because they seemed to think the technology was just what was needed. So did the Dutch who are - I guess crazily - building a new reactor to produce isotopes.

Interesting that such a tidbit is sprung in an opinion column, bolstering the Harper government's choice not to pursue reactor technology, just a few days after the government's announcement.

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