Isotope firm urges Ottawa to revive new reactors

OTTAWA, ONTARIO - A supplier of medical isotopes crucial to diagnostic tests urged the federal government to bring a project that would have replaced the aging nuclear reactor at Chalk River back from the dead.

Ottawa-based MDS Nordion wants a panel of international experts to weigh in on whether the shelved MAPLE project at the heart of its $1.6 billion lawsuit against Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. and the Canadian government should be revived as a long-term solution to the fragile global supply.

"I think these are exceptional circumstances," MDS Nordion president Steve West said in an interview, on why his company decided to break the silence on its dispute over the project.

MDS Nordion has an exclusive revenue-sharing agreement with AECL to distribute the isotopes produced by the NRU reactor, which is now expected to be out of service for at least three months.

"We felt that we had to encourage the government to bring in this consortium of experts to restart the MAPLE project because it really truly is the only viable option going forward for a secure long-term supply of isotopes," West said.

The government supported an AECL decision to cancel the MAPLE 1 and MAPLE 2 reactors in May 2008 due to design flaws and significant cost overruns.

Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt said that MDS Nordion could submit its proposal to an expert panel reviewing alternatives but reviving the project would not be a quick fix. "I wouldn't want people to think that it can just be switched on because it simply cannot," Raitt told reporters.


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