Monday, June 14, 2010

Experts coming out against the Harper government's experimental isotope plans

Two items today highlight the bizarre situation that has been unfolding on the isotope issue where the Harper government is ignoring what the experts in the nuclear medicine field have to say. The experts seem to be speaking out now, in greater numbers.

There are two experts cited in this report who are critical of the government's recent decision not to follow its own expert panel who had recommended a new nuclear research reactor for isotope production. Speaking out is one member of the expert panel, Dr. EricTurcotte:
“All members of the panel were a bit disappointed with the decision of the government,” said Turcotte.
He and others are, again, worried that the "accelerator" route chosen by the Harper government as a preferred technology to produce isotopes is too experimental and may not be found to work in say a year or two's time. What then, they're asking. Citizens need to be asking too!

There's an op-ed from two others in the field in the Star today as well, "Ottawa fails to lead on isotopes," with a similar message:
The Harper government’s response to the panel came at the end of March and in the federal budget. Most significantly, the government chose a path that fails to deliver a reasonable degree of certainty to the supply of isotopes.

The government’s decision to ignore the pivotal recommendation concerning a new multi-purpose reactor should be deeply troubling to all Canadians. A brave recommendation that would put us on a sustainable path to a robust supply was pushed aside. The modest financial support in the budget will go instead to the search for alternative isotope sources, an approach that remains unproven. Cleverly disguised as support for innovation in the cyclotron option, the government strategy lacks a coherent long-term vision required to move us away from week-to-week crisis management.
This issue is really about ensuring the best health care for Canadians and pursuing cutting-edge research to assist this worthy goal. We’re good at the isotopes business, actually very good. The expert panel issued a challenge to the federal government to lead. Leadership requires courage and a coherent view of the future that integrates the demands of the health-care system with the promise of a robust supply of isotopes.

Other countries have made isotopes a key priority, including the Dutch, the Belgians, the South Africans and the Australians. If they can take bold actions, why won’t Canada?
Good question!

One talking point the Conservatives are using with the public, rather shamefully actually, is the constant mention of radioactive waste in connection with the idea of building a new nuclear reactor for isotope production. Christian Paradis does so once again in the Canwest report above (“Canada has some of the greatest minds in the world and we are giving them the tools they need to diversify our sources of medical isotopes and reduce the production of radioactive waste”). The government relied rather heavily on the waste point in their response to the expert panel as well. The panel, however, was not concerned enough so as to prevent it from making the reactor recommendation above all other options. It seems to be a bit of a scare tactic from the Conservatives to bolster initially what they knew would be a controversial decision and what is now turning out to be a poorly received decision. That they seem to have latched on to this element of radioactive waste, as political cover, is something that bears watching.

One last point, such lines become almost comic fodder now in light of the G8/G20 costs, here's Minister Christian Paradis in response to the expert criticism set out above:
Paradis said the estimated $1 billion cost of a new reactor would be an “irresponsible” investment.
Uh huh.

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