Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Paradis' isotopes announcement today

A few points on this announcement that's to be made today: "Ottawa solicits ideas for producing medical isotopes without a reactor."

Natural Resources Minister Paradis is going to announce $35 million today to fund new technologies to produce medical isotopes. Or should we say, re-announce, since this money was already announced in the budget at the beginning of March. So, three months later, Paradis is getting a move on. Not like there's a crisis going on or anything, right?

The projects they're looking to fund are the cyclotron and linear accelerator technology projects which are mostly experimental at this point, there are big questions about the ability to create the end product necessary to produce isotopes and deliver it so that it can actually be medically used for the isotope diagnostic function. This is why the medical community was disappointed when, in the budget and their subsequent announcement, the Harper government confirmed that it wouldn't replace the Chalk River NRU with a nuclear reactor, the trusted isotope technology producer to date and the choice recommended by the government's own expert panel.

So, that's their choice, experimental cyclotron and linear accelerator technologies and we'll have to see how they work out, experimental as they are. Keep that in mind when you hear all the likely rhetoric today portraying this as a solution. If these technologies work, they're down the road.

Further, note this from Paradis in the Globe report that should be quite reassuring to rural Canada:
The problem with the alternative technologies is that the technetium they produce does not last as long as the isotopes produced in a reactor. That means it cannot be viable exported – or even transported across significant distances within Canada. “That being said,” said Mr. Paradis, “there are tremendous opportunities for urban centres.”
That was one of the downsides to choosing this route, the cyclotron technology in particular (see the expert panel report, p. ix Exec Summary). That you actually need to have a lot of them just to overcome those geographic challenges and that locations far away from the cyclotron would have to still rely on old nuclear produced isotopes in any event. Kind of a big deal in big old Canada. But hey, that's just my two cents.

Maybe somebody can ask Paradis, today, if he permits questions, just what we do if none of this stuff works. What's the contingency planning behind these risky choices?

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