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CDN Forces Reactor Online Against Safety Regulations

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the the-great-white-glowing-north dept.

Power 338

Socguy writes "The Canadian government has passed legislation that will reopen an Ontario nuclear reactor that produces most of the world's supply of critical medical isotopes, even though the site has been shut down for safety maintenance. Witnesses and experts were called in to the House to face questions about safety concerns and all parties eventually voiced support for the bill, which would effectively suspend CNSC's oversight role for 120 days. The Chalk River reactor ceased operating on Nov. 18. Pressure on the government to restart operations began to build after delays in the shutdown of the government-run site, which generates two-thirds of the world's radioisotopes, began to cause a critical shortage of radioisotopes."

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338 comments

Per chance... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680291)

It wasn't per chance shut down because it "leaked" all those radioisotopes, was it? It is Canadian, after all, eh?

I was going to ask... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680299)

...why they couldn't have stockpiled their products before the shutdown, but then realized that the half-lives for the sort of thing they're offering are probably measured in days or hours, right?

Re:I was going to ask... (2, Informative)

bouchecl (1001775) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680499)

The stuff produced at Chalk River Laboratories [reportonbusiness.com] is Technetium-99m [wikipedia.org]. Its half-life for gamma emission is 6.01 hours. Pray tell, how do you stockpile?

Re:I was going to ask... (4, Informative)

ottawanker (597020) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680649)

Well, considering you linked to the article [wikipedia.org]:

Technetium-99m is used in 20 million diagnostic nuclear medical procedures every year. Approximately 85 percent of diagnostic imaging procedures in nuclear medicine use this isotope. Technetium-99m is made from the synthetic substance Molybdenum-99 which is a by-product of nuclear fission. It is because of its parent nuclide, that Technetium-99m is so suitable to modern medicine. Molybdenum-99 has a half-life of approximately 66 hours, and decays to Tc-99m, a negative beta, and an antineutrino (see equation below). This is a useful life since, once this product (molybdenum-99) is created, it can be transported to any hospital in the world and would still be producing technetium-99m for the next week. The betas produced are easily absorbed, and Mo-99 generators are only minor radiation hazards, mostly due to secondary X-rays produced by the betas.

Re:I was going to ask... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680723)

And from your quote: would still be producing technetium-99m for the next week.

So how do you stockpile four months in advance?

Re:I was going to ask... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21681041)

The reactor was set to be shut down for good deal more than a week.

Re:I was going to ask... (1)

megaditto (982598) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680699)

You stockpile a buttload of it. In 6 hours you have one half of a buttload left. In 12 hours, one half of the remaining half will decay, but the rest remain. So in 24 you still have 1/16th the buttload, and so on, but the point here is that you will always have some left over.

If you make "enough" then your stockpile can last for years.

Re:I was going to ask... (2, Insightful)

jacquesm (154384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680765)

You'd have to filter out the 'dead' (fissioned) material because otherwise you'd be running a very real risk of giving a patient a wrong dose. Most of this stuff is done on a milligrams / bodyweight basis, stockpiling it for any length of time would throw off the dosage schemes in a terrible way.

Re:I was going to ask... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680701)

You slow down time!

Re:I was going to ask... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680775)

According to wiki, "Molybdenum-99 has a half-life of approximately 66 hours, and decays to Tc-99m"

Re:I was going to ask... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680849)

2.75 day half-lives still don't help a 4 month gap.

OK, a show of hands... (2, Insightful)

Kozz (7764) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680301)

... how many people were abso-freaking-lutely SHOCKED to learn that there was no "backup"? There's a WTF if there ever was one.

Re:OK, a show of hands... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680547)

... how many people were abso-freaking-lutely SHOCKED to learn that there was no "backup"? There's a WTF if there ever was one.


The replacement was to be the two MAPLE reactors at chalk river, each of which supposedly could produce 100 percent of the worlds supply of radio isotopes. They were supposed to be in use years ago.

Re:OK, a show of hands... (1)

the_womble (580291) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680613)

I was not in the least surprised. Having backup for this would increase the capital cost of supplying the isotopes (possibly by as much as the two thirds it represents), which is a very significant increase in the overall cost.

From the point of view of the governments that make the decision, it will probably be OK not to have backup, whereas having backup will definitely cost.

Got to love it... (1, Insightful)

Fallen Kell (165468) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680309)

... when business takes priority to safety especially at a nuclear reactor. Sounds to me like there is a need for more alternate sites to provide these radio-isotopes to the rest of the world. I bet the places that produce the other 1/3 are making a fortune right now due to supply/demand.

Re:Got to love it... (3, Insightful)

ShieldW0lf (601553) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680361)

This isn't business taking priority to safety. This is the old demographic overruling the young demographic.

Re:Got to love it... (5, Insightful)

timeOday (582209) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680369)

.. when business takes priority to safety especially at a nuclear reactor.
You're missing the point. The nuclear materials they produce there are used for medical diagnoses. Ceasing to give people medical care may very well outweigh the risks of keeping the reactor open.

Re:Got to love it... (4, Informative)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680383)

Did you even read the article? The isotopes this reactor produces are for medical purposes.
FTA
Doctors around the world depend on the nuclear material for life-saving diagnostic scans, and imaging for fractures, cancers and heart conditions.

Further, the reactor is owned by Canada, the country. It is not an independent business. Everything you've just said is complete anti-business bullshit.

Re:Got to love it... (1)

jamesh (87723) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680399)

The Workplace Safety people in Australia are currently running a series of ads along the lines of a manager asking a factory worker to do dangerous tasks, eg

"We're running behind schedule, could you use the machine with the broken guard? You'll probably get your hair tangled in it, leaving you horribly disfigured for life".

or

"We need this stuff shipped out tonight, could get in that forklift and grab the crates from the highest shelf. It will probably tip over and you'll break your neck".

I was reminded of those ads when I saw this article...

"Okay guys... the safety concerns that lead to us shutting down this nuclear plant still remain, but we really need those isotopes, so we need you all to get back to work. Hope you aren't planning on having any more kids..."

This is why so many jobs go to China. (-1, Flamebait)

tjstork (137384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680593)

The Workplace Safety people in Australia are currently running a series of ads along the lines of a manager asking a factory worker to do dangerous tasks, eg

Any more, these safety issues raised by liberal workers groups are red herrings. These people simply do not want to work. If it is not safety, its illness. It's always something. These people bitch about not having jobs, and then, they get them, and what's the first thing they do? Complain about safety so they don't have to work, then, they go on worker's comp, so they don't have to work. I mean, why invest in a culture that's so lazy as to be utterly useless?

Re:Got to love it... (1)

Bieeanda (961632) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680773)

You should see our current run of workplace safety ads. They're like yours, only they go through the disfiguring parts, and have the mutilated character get back up, bleeding and spurting, and give a brief lecture to his horrified co-workers about how the accident could have been prevented.

What a sound idea.. (3, Insightful)

cephalien (529516) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680311)

Even if nothing goes wrong, they've set a dangerous precedent of basically telling their watchdog group "Well, we'll let you do your thing, but even though we know little about the engineering behind a reactor, we are also going to basically feel free to disregard you and tell you to suck it if we don't like what you say."

A spectacular idea. Why aren't we, maybe, wondering how we ended up with only ONE reactor that can produce this stuff in the first place?

Re:What a sound idea.. (5, Insightful)

Iobor (240936) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680355)

It's OK, the watchdogs are also, some of them, chosen for their lack of knowledge of nuclear engineering.

Also, an isotope production reactor doesn't produce electricity, so it doesn't compete with natural gas-fired electricity producers. With natural gas at $4 million per uranium-tonne-equivalent and the real thing at only $0.24 million, and hidden taxes on the $4 million, an electricity production reactor has enemies in government that an isotope production one does not.

Re:What a sound idea.. (2, Funny)

freetolio (778425) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680455)

Actually, Chernobyl set this precedent already.
Scientists: "No, we can't run the reactor safely at that capacity."
Government: "Mother Russia needs those Megawatts beotch."
Reactor: "Poof! Now your faces will melt and your kids won't have arms."

Re:What a sound idea.. (2, Insightful)

Adambomb (118938) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680917)

I do not know how may times it needs to be said in the comments before people notice it, but this is NOT a power generating site. The site produces isotopes and even in the event of critical failure, you still will not see anything of meltdown proportions. Even if it was, keep in mind that, since Chernobyl, safety procedures [wikipedia.org] have become VERY precise and robust.

That which is unknown is definitely scary though. It's a choice between how many definitely die due to lack of medical radioisotopes, versus how many might be affected by a reactor failure.

I'm just glad i'm not the one making the decision, because you know the perception of the choice only depends on the results, not the validity of the reasoning behind the choice prior to results.

They were ordered to fix this 3 years ago. (1)

Keith McClary (14340) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680491)

Also they've been working on two more reactors but they are years behind schedule.

Fortunately, where I live in western Canada, we get our isotopes from the Netherlands. Go figure.

Re:What a sound idea.. (1)

Tavor (845700) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680811)

Wasn't it political pressure and a flawed concept of nuclear engineering that enabled the Chernobyl incident to happen? I know there was also the RBMK design flaw, but seriously...

those who don't learn from history...

Re:What a sound idea.. (1)

Kristoph (242780) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680873)

We ended up with ONE reactor because running a second reactor for this purpose (it does not actually produce energy) would be hugely expensive. Who would pay for this do you suppose? The government (more taxes), the insurance companies (higher premiums, less people able to afford premiums) or the people (less people able to afford scans). Since there are no such reactors in the US, and anyway the US is opposed the socialised medicine, government support in the US is probably out, which means the only way to 'get more stuff' is to basically increase cost to a level that would reduce access to poorer individuals, not just of these scans but medical care in general.

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Re:What a sound idea.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680965)

"Why aren't we, maybe, wondering how we ended up with only ONE reactor that can produce this stuff in the first place?"

Because we already know. Because nuclear reactors are BAD BAD BAD. At least, that's what the TV tells me.

Politics... meh (3, Informative)

detritus` (32392) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680313)

I've done a lot of work out at chalk river with neutron diffraction, and talking to some of the people there apparently a lot of the "issues" are petty little things like signage for hot pipes, etc. The largest issue is back up generators for 2 key pumps, but in reality there are back up pumps with seperate power supplies that could take over in a worst case senario (not likely though). It all appears to be political gesturing as usual but unfortunately this time peoples lives are truly at stake. But then again considering the previous actions of the liberal party i'm truly not that suprised, just saddened that a grab for political power is so negatively affecting peoples lives world wide

Re:Politics... meh (4, Interesting)

rubycodez (864176) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680453)

why not truck backup pair of generators on-site for those pumps (hell, those can't be anything like the generators for coolant systems of 2.5GW PWRs I've been at, gotta be tiny), get any needed priority ISI & FAC inspections done and leave all the chicken shit for another outage?

Re:Politics... meh (2, Interesting)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680555)

I think you meant to say Conservative party. Because the Liberals (NOT the NDP NOR the Bloc) criticised this decision by asking if Harper would take responsibility if something went wrong. Here's a quote that was in the article that you have obviously not read:

"Will the minister [of natural resources] or the prime minister, for that matter, tell Canadians what will happen if there's a nuclear accident?" Alghabra asked to raucous applause.

Harpers answer was:

"There will be no nuclear accident," Harper answered in the Commons. "What there will be ... is a growing crisis in the medical system here in Canada and around the world if the Liberal party continues to support the regulator obstructing this reactor from coming back on line."

Here's another quote from the people that you think did this:

"Attacking the regulator, taking [it] out of the process, is going to make the problem worse," deputy Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff said Tuesday

Gotta say, that's about the level of logic and justification that I'm used to seeing from Harper. Sad isn't it.

Re:Politics... meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680781)

He was saying the liberals are trying to keep the place shutdown as consequence of their grab for political power. When from the information he's getting, the issues are very minor and the biggest problem is lack of backup power for 2 pumps... but there are separate backup pumps different power circuit available.

Re:Politics... meh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680927)

Well this all sounds fine for the short term, how long until the current repairs are complete? And will operating while the repairs are being done interfere? What if for instance operation while under repair causes something else to break? What happens to the world's radioisotope supply at that point? Seems to me like if the failure was originally deemed worthy of shutting things down then things should stay that way, until cleared. There's an "mean time between failure" ratio here, repairs being done, what looks like a lack of redundancy (the backup power?), and pressure from the outside world. The situation is starting to look complex, I don't like complex, the solution here should be simple.

Re:Politics... meh (1)

wouter (103085) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680567)

True, but in both scenario's, peoples lives are truly at stake: or people don't get the necessary scans they need, or the reactor says boom and people get a hell of a scan they don't need. Yes, the decision of the CNSC might be politically influenced, but it is an official body that is pointing out faults in the system. I'd hate to be on that board and being able to say "told you so!", because indeed there are flaws in the system...

I'm going with the rest of the sensible flow:
- How did this reactor end up being responsible for 2/3rds of all medical isotope supplies? Hardly redundant planning!
- How sensible is it to ignore an official safeguard body which job is to guard nuclear safety? It's not!

Re:Politics... meh (1)

Angry Toad (314562) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680841)

I've had a fair bit of experience with Atomic Energy Canada as well, and though I don't know Chalk River at all I would not be surprised to find them taking an absurdly cautious approach despite the dramatic negative impact on medical patients around the world. They're pretty much the epitome of bureaucratic.

The Regulator is right (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680333)

The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission is absolutely right to shut the plant down. It's unfortunate that patients are going to have to wait, but if something happens to the plant, they'll be waiting a heck of a lot longer. The PM will be eating his words if something goes down in the near future.

Asking for disaster? (0, Flamebait)

Omnedon (701049) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680351)

Nobody forces me to maintain my car, but I do it anyway to avoid things like losing a wheel at highway speeds. So we have a nuclear reactor (failure scales a wee bit above losing a wheel) with the government telling them to ignore maintenance requirements? Maybe they need another reactor (I wish I had a second car) but things capable of "spectacular" failure do not need to be pushed beyond safety regs...

Re:Asking for disaster? (5, Informative)

AJWM (19027) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680389)

This is a small reactor (ie, not a power reactor), way the hell in the middle of nowhere north of Ottawa. It's upstream from Camp Petawawa (large and mostly empty Cdn Forces base), which itself is way out in the boonies.

And no, this isn't capable of "spectacular" failure for most values of spectacular.

Re:Asking for disaster? (-1, Offtopic)

kypper (446750) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680427)

It's upstream from Camp Petawawa (large and mostly empty Cdn Forces base)

So what the government is saying is:

All your base... *ducks*

Media hyperbole... (1, Informative)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680467)

It is not a maintenance requirement. It is a modification request to a plant that has been in operation for many years already. The mod will be done eventually, but they have been ordered to do it with minimal disruption.

Anyhoo, they don't really produce a large fraction of the world's supply of isotopes, simply because transporting the stuff all over the place would be extremely wasteful due to the short life thereof - that is pure media hyperbole. It would be true in an Ontario sort of way, where Ontario is regarded as 'the whole world'.

Every major city with a cancer treatment centre has to produce their own isotopes, since even if you would transport the stuff in a military jet it won't get there in time.

Re:Media hyperbole... (5, Informative)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680797)

Completely missing the point.

If you were to consider total medical isotopes by the kilo then true, chalk river is a small player, which is sort of like considering the total amount of fossil fuels used in the world when half the worlds oil production has stopped for 4 months.

If you look at Tc99 production worldwide (in terms of the commericalized amounts) chalk river is somewhere between 1/2 and 2/3rds of production. Maybe a little more, maybe a little less depending on who you ask.

Any sort of functional imaging probably involves Tc99, blood pool organ imaging etc... There are lots of reasons why Tc99 is the choice, but in short, that's what we use, so that's what detectors are designed for so changing to something else is impractical.

The isopotes produced in 'hot labs' at cancer centers etc... are for different kinds of imaging (e.g. PET scans). These can still be done of course, but they aren't the same kind of imaging as Tc99 tends to provide.

In short, yes, they load it on planes and fly it all over north america and Asia, from chalk river.

Re:Media hyperbole... (1)

Kristoph (242780) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680907)

... also the Europeans have another one of these but it is smaller then Chalk River and is largely for European consumption (and is paid for largely by European socialized medicine).

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Re:Media hyperbole... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21681009)

I think you are misunderstanding the meaning of the term "half-life". I know you think it's a great game and all, but it's also a scientific term. It refers to how long it takes an isotope to decay to half of its initial mass. This means that, yes, it is possible to transport in planes across the globe. If you read more about the specific isotope here (Molybdenum-99), you would see that a vial of the stuff typically lasts a week (with a half-life of 66 hours).

your wife's water just broke (4, Insightful)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680411)

you rush her into the car, strap on the seatbelt, and start heading towards the hospital. on the way there, the "check engine" maintenance light comes on

do you:

1. stop the car, and call for an ambulance
2. drive on, ignoring the light

i think we all know what the obvious answer is

folks: people could die without these radioisotopes. additionally, the safety issue is probably something extremely circumspect

please, no more scolding lectures about safety first, the canadian government did the right thing

another thing people are overlooking: (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680465)

This reactor is in fucking Canada, so even if it explodes and destroys a million sqare miles and kills a million Canadians, who cares?

Re:your wife's water just broke (1)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680575)

Your example is extremely misleading. That driving with the light on will only be slightly longer than just taking it to the garage immediately. For that matter, how many people instantly take there car in as soon as the light comes on? Furthermore, how dangerous is not paying attention to the light? What could happen?

The answer to those questions is that the most likely worse cases are engine dies, only the person owning the car is affected.

On the other hand, if a problem occurs at the plant best case is that the plant is shut down for much longer. Worse case is obvious and... unpleasant.

What should have really happened is that the government should have told off the contractors unions and got them to work overtime to fix the problems faster. This is after all, a world wide health issue. And getting people to work more paid overtime is a lot better than risking something bad happening. After all, if something really bad happens to that reactor, where's the isotope gonna come from then?

Re:your wife's water just broke (4, Insightful)

vux984 (928602) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680671)

Right, you need to make an -informed- risk assessment. Are you?

On the other hand, if a problem occurs at the plant best case is that the plant is shut down for much longer. Worse case is obvious and... unpleasant.

I've heard at least one person here report that at least some of the 'safety problems' amount to missing signage, and stuff like that.

People need these isotopes to save their lives, should we really keep the facility shutdown because the first aid kit doesn't have its full stock of bandages, a few water pipes aren't labelled as hot or cold, an inspection of the fire extinguisher in the cafeteria is overdue? I think not.

What if one of the generators is slightly overdue for maintenance, but the maintenance schedule is known to be extremely aggressive. (e.g. like doing on an "oil change" every 1500mi, even though the engine and the oil are spec'd for 3000mi. its a nucear reactor and all, and you want to be safe.) Is it really worth shutting the facility down if we're at 1600mi, given that people certainly lose their lives if you shut it down while its extremely unlikely to fail if you continue running it? And if it does FAIL, you've got a backup, and a contingency if that fails?

Point is, we need more information about the actual safety concerns and real risks before we applaud or condemn this move.

Re:your wife's water just broke (1)

martinX (672498) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680719)

most likely worse cases are engine dies

No way. The car will roll over and then explode. Outside a school. I saw it on TV. Or maybe it was a movie. But the point is, I saw it and you should think of the children!

Re:your wife's water just broke (1)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680605)

Forgot to mention the whole, "suspend CNSC's oversight role for 120 days." So, what's going to happen in 120 days? Probably shut it down again and we renew the problem. How long do you think it's ok to run with that light on and still expect nothing to go wrong?

Re:your wife's water just broke (-1, Troll)

megaditto (982598) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680795)

Have you considered that cancer, heart attacks, antibiotics allergies, and brain dementias are all Darwin's way of adding chlorine to the gene pool?

The cute little dinosaurs were not fit to compete with mammals, so they died (and fuck them).
But that lovely child with the Down syndrome that consumes resources of a half-dozen productive men (and whose children, if born, will also be Down's? I say fuck her too.

so where do you stop? (1)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680883)

downs syndrome children you say should just be left out in the snow in wintertime? like the cavemen did?

what about the autistic?

how about the socially awkward?

how about the elderly?

where do you draw the line?

howabout only super-optimal fit and intelligent 20 somethings allowed to live, the rest turned into protein shakes? sounds good? do you fall in that group?

or maybe turn the less fit into slaves?

nah, i have a better idea. because in the path from the caves to the cities, we made some progress. one of the greatest points of progress that we made is to turn a warmer eye to our fellow human beings. we had to, as a SURVIVAL ADVANTAGE. because you see, oh great genius that you are (not), a GROUP of organized, subintelligent, physically unfit humans can outcompete a lone superfit supersmart human for survival

so honestly, then, if we were ever to bring back the just-put-them-outside-in-the-snow approach to the less than physically and mentally optimum humans amongst us, i would nominate people who think like you to be stuck out there first ;-)

you've displayed that you lack a very important survival gene: you devalue your fellow human beings. us, the group, we understand then that you are not going to work with us, but against us: cast a cold uncaring eye on some of us and think about discarding some of us, who, despite having limited means, are wholly devoted to working with the group- a much more desireable survival trait

we have found that you are problem that, how should i put this, let me find the right words: "consumes resources of a half-dozen productive men". where productive men are those who work with the group, not cast an eye towards dismantling some of it. best to discard you, you are malformed ;-)

you, my friend, are on the low end of the gene pool, where the new important gene is the one for simple human empathy

more important then strength. more important than intelligence

enjoy your extinction, dinosaur, and you're welcome for the intellectual charity for you in this post, dear dim little troll

bad analogy (2, Insightful)

m2943 (1140797) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680803)

folks: people could die without these radioisotopes

And people could die in a nuclear accident.

i think we all know what the obvious answer is

That's because you're no worse off calling the ambulance from your broken down car on the highway as you would be from home.

please, no more scolding lectures about safety first, the canadian government did the right thing

No, they did not, because this action will make it even harder to convince communities to permit nuclear facilities to be located near them.

Radio 1 report. (5, Funny)

plsavaria (823160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680417)

On the radio channel of Radio-Canada (french CBC), there was a report on the subject. Said the reactor woulf be closed for four months. Also said the half-life of the isotope, technétium-99, is 6 hours.

Then someone asked the question : why don't they make a four-month-reserve?

Re:Radio 1 report. (1)

X0563511 (793323) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680443)

Because that would make sense!

Re:Radio 1 report. (1)

plsavaria (823160) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680487)

Having a four-month-reserve of an isotope having a six hour half life would make sense?

Re:Radio 1 report. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680681)

Why don't they just use plutonium - that shit keeps _forever_ ;-)

Re:Radio 1 report. (2, Insightful)

Your.Master (1088569) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680777)

24 hours in a day / 6 hours in a half-life = 4 half-lifes in a day.

4 months @ approx. 30 days / month * 4 half-lifes per day = 480 half-lifes.

So, just to supply the one 6-hour period 6 months later, you would need 2^480 times as much material as you would need producing it right then. That's 3.1 × 10^144. The number of atoms in the Universe is often estimated at between 4 × 10^78 and 6 × 10^79. Conservatively, that's 5.2 × 10^64 times more atoms than are contained in the entire Universe.

Of course, you also need enough for the time period before, and the time period before that. Each time you need half as much. This amounts to a summation of 1 + 1/2 + 1/4 + 1/8 ..., which isn't quite an infinite summation but close enough for our rounding. The infinite summation is 2 and the real summation is just under 2 by an incredibly small fraction. That means you need twice as much as the number I calculated.

Now, that said, others mentioned that it's probably "stored" and "shipped" as Mo-99, which has 66 hours' of half-life. This, of course, changes everything. In that case you only have to deal with about 44 half-lifes, or 1.4 × 10^13. Which is a hell of a lot less. To get one gram of material to ship at the end of this process (there will be less than a gram on arrival at the destination!) you only need 445000 Kg, or 445 tonnes, or a million pounds. Seriously, a million lbs. For one gram at the end. If you want one gram every 66 hours, you need two million lbs of the stuff. The compared to the fact that at constant rate production, you really only need 44 grams.

All of this math was brought to you so that I could point out that the gp was hilarious and you totally got whooshed. That, or I totally got whooshed by your dry irony trap. But I'm pretty sure it is you who are the whooshed.

Re:Radio 1 report. (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680485)

The reactor doesn't produce Tc-99m directly for medical imaging. This would be nearly useless anywhere except at the site of the reactor, due to decay during the time it would take to ship with only a 6 hour half life.

Rather, the reactor likely produces Mo-99, with a half life of 2.75 days (66 hours). Mo-99 decays into Tc-99m, and the two can be easily separated chemically. Hospitals have a "generator" that contains Mo-99, that continually decays into the useful Tc-99m, which is periodically extracted and used.

Re:Radio 1 report. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680695)

> Then someone asked the question : why don't they make a four-month-reserve?

I'd actually welcome that sort of question from the "loyal" opposition. It'd give me an opportunity to fight fire with fire.

"Sir, a 4-month (120-day) reserve of Tc-99 (half-life 6 hours) would require a 4-month-and-3-days reserve of Mo-99 (half-life 2.75 days).

6 hours + 2.75 days = 3 days. 120 days == 40 half-lives.

So unless you want 2^40 (1,099,511,627,776, let's round it down do an even trillion) times as much radioactive stuff floating around, you government ignoramuses can either have a nice cup of shut the fuck up and let us do our jobs or explain to the voters why you asked us to keep a trillion times as much radioactive material as necessary to accomplish our government-assigned mission of providing government-funded health services to your citizens."

End. Of. Debate.

How did we get to this? (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680429)

Pressure on the government to restart operations began to build after delays in the shutdown of the government-run site, which generates two-thirds of the world's radioisotopes, began to cause a critical shortage of radioisotopes."

How does this one site belonging to a single country generate two-thirds of the worlds radioisotopes? How is this possible?

Who are the other [major] suppliers? The world has so several nuclear powers and I wonder what these powers are doing.

The fact that this reactor was built in the fifties is a blessing in disguise! You see, it shows that the engineering even back then, was sound.

On the other hand, it points to ineptness of successive Canadian governments that have failed to install better and more efficient nuclear systems.

To me, this *is* decay.

Re:How did we get to this? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680565)

How does this one site belonging to a single country generate two-thirds of the worlds radioisotopes? How is this possible?

These things happen.

Who are the other [major] suppliers? The world has so several nuclear powers and I wonder what these powers are doing.

Through Googling earlier today I saw there was a facility in the Netherlands [nrg-nl.com] (link has information about the moly and technetium cows they ship to hospitals.) I also saw mention elsewhere that Australia wasn't affected by the isotope shortage as they get theirs from South Africa. I expect there may be other facilities around the world producing these isotopes in limited quantities but none on the scale of the Canadian reactor.

I expect that these facilities and any others are doing what they can to help mitigate the shortage but I expect that they're limited in what they can do. I doubt one can just suddenly double or triple one's production of radioisotopes if one isn't set up to do so. You'd require more molybdenum, more packaging, more work to package, more paperwork, more personnel. You'd have to coordinate shipping outside your normal channels of distribution, etc.

On the other hand, it points to ineptness of successive Canadian governments that have failed to install better and more efficient nuclear systems.

Likely true. I saw that there is another reactor being built (presumably for this purpose) in Canada that is behind schedule. I didn't look into this much as I was only looking for information about the isotopes themselves. The political reasons why this particular reactor isn't completed were not what I was interested in.

Re:How did we get to this? (0, Flamebait)

Secret Rabbit (914973) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680621)

"""
On the other hand, it points to ineptness of successive Canadian governments that have failed to install better and more efficient nuclear systems.
"""

You're assuming that hasn't happened. Are you sure that's a good assumption?

Also, 50% of Ontario's power comes from nuclear power. Do you honestly think that this ONE reactor is providing all that power?

Please, look into things before you comment.

Re:How did we get to this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680749)

"""
On the other hand, it points to ineptness of successive Canadian governments that have failed to install better and more efficient nuclear systems.
"""

You're assuming that hasn't happened. Are you sure that's a good assumption?

Also, 50% of Ontario's power comes from nuclear power. Do you honestly think that this ONE reactor is providing all that power?

Please, look into things before you comment.

Do you honestly think that nuclear reactors designed for power generation are well suited for the production of radioisotopes in the same manner that a research reactor is?

Please, look into things before you comment.

Re:How did we get to this? (1)

jerw134 (409531) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680769)

Do you honestly think that this ONE reactor is providing all that power?
This reactor isn't providing any of that power. It produces medical isotopes, not power.

Please, look into things before you comment.
Good advice, you should follow it.

Re:How did we get to this? (1)

Chuck Chunder (21021) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680679)

How does this one site belonging to a single country generate two-thirds of the worlds radioisotopes? How is this possible?
Perhaps because they are expensive to build/maintain but one reactor can satisfy a lot of demand?
Australia has a research reactor [wikipedia.org] that is used to (among other things) produce medical isotopes, I have no idea what sort of volume it produces compared to that Canadian one though or whether we even export them.

Re:How did we get to this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680743)

Hey hey. One, this is a research reactor, not a power reactor. Two, nuclear power has not changed that much in the last 50 years. The chalk river plant is a Candu reactor, as such it uses a modest amount of heavy water as a moderator and is designed to use natural uranium, not enriched stuff. This "lack of fidelity" means it can process a wide bearth of "lower-grade" radioactive fuel. The different design approach likely allows for the generation of the medical isotopes, in the same way that the plants can be used to reprocess weapons-grade plutonium.. which Americans love to ship north, given the lack of American facilities. :)

Cheers

Ironic. (0)

RealGrouchy (943109) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680441)

(Hey, with all these Canadian stories we've been getting lately, when will we get a Canada icon to display with stories?)

I find it rather ironic that this nuclear plant is only about 100 miles upstream [google.com] from Ottawa and Parliament Hill, yet parliament is so eager to get it back started up.

I'm not saying there is a high risk of something going wrong, but there's certainly a risk involved. I guess it's kinda refreshing to see stupid political decisions threatening the very people who are making those decisions. Too bad it could affect me, too!

- RG>

Re:Ironic. (1)

Cadallin (863437) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680973)

Or maybe they, unlike you, have a proper understanding of the risks involved. That the worst-case Doomsday scenario for this facility, is a repeat of the "disaster" that occurred in 1958 at the same facility. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/National_Research_Universal_Reactor [wikipedia.org] A breakdown occurred, the facility got shut down for a few months while clean-up and repairs take place. Total fatalities: 0. Ultimate impact: Imperceptible, monitoring of staff involved over subsequent decades showed no sign of harm.

Like it or not, "Nuclear Stuff" just isn't that dangerous. Nuclear Bombs went off on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and people still LIVE at both sites, those bombs were primitive and dirty too (although not intentionally dirty, just a consequence of being the 2nd and 3rd nuclear warheads ever built). Despite all the detonations that were set off by the US military on, in, and over Bikini Atoll, the islands are even barren. Shit grows there. Trees, plants, and even animals. The Reef is actually a major SCUBA diving destination, for its rich ecosystem. If 1% of the fear associated with Nuclear Power were justified, that island would be as barren as Mars, but it's not, and it was subject to orders of magnitude worse events (repeated direct Thermonuclear fireballs) than Chernobyl.

Which isotopes? (1)

Wilson_6500 (896824) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680459)

I have to wonder which isotopes Chalk River produces. We don't talk much about the production side of things here, so I honestly can't say. Following links on the wikipedia page for the reactor, I can say that it produces Mo-99 and Co-60--as I could've guessed. 99m-Tc (made naturally from Mo-99 decay) is literally indispensible to nuclear medicine as we know it today--from what I've seen, if nuclear pharmacists could use 99m-Tc for everything, they would. Co-60 is still important for some applications (Gamma Knife, and some other teletherapy units). So, I would say having a steady supply of these radioisotopes is pretty important.

Anyone know which others? Ir-192 (or precursors?)? Radioactive iodines?

Green Party of Canada press release (2, Informative)

the_other_one (178565) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680483)

12.12.2007
Green Party demands inquiry into AECL negligence

OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper should save taxpayers money on the Mulroney-Schreiber inquiry and instead perform a useful inquiry, says the Green Party. The party is calling for a full inquiry into the behaviour of Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., focusing on safety concerns arising from AECL's severe lack of accountability, its repeated failures to comply with instructions from its regulator, radioactive dumping practices and other environmental transgressions along with the recent incident at Chalk River, where AECL ignored licensing conditions.

"It is apparent that AECL has become a rogue force and pays no heed to safety instructions from its regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). Mr. Harper must look into this serious situation at once to gain control over AECL," said Green Party leader Elizabeth May. "We urgently need answers. Why was AECL operating the NRU reactor in violation of its license and why did the Harper government allow this to happen?"

The CNSC ordered the installation of a backup power supply system at the Chalk River reactor as a crucial safeguard, yet AECL operated the reactor without the backup system until it was caught red handed last month.

"Canadians also deserve to know why the government was unprepared for the shortage of medical radioisotopes when the Chalk River facility was shut down for routine maintenance. The government saw this coming from a mile away, so why did the Harper government fail to source the isotopes from other reactors? Why is he only now scrambling to do something about the situation? How is it that AECL is years behind schedule and at least $160 million over budget on bringing online the two Maple reactors which could have prevented this shortage?"

Ms. May said the inquiry should also investigate AECL's former practice of dumping thousands of litres of radioactive waste into Chalk River daily.

"We know that AECL continued to dump up to 4,000 litres of radioactive waste a day into Chalk River despite repeated commitments to stop. Furthermore, does AECL have a plan for the decontamination of Chalk River? We demand to know how AECL was allowed to get away with dumping radioactive contaminants into the river and what have been taken to clean up this mess."

In 2003, AECL told the CNSC that the cost of a clean up would be at least $2 billion.

"For too long, the AECL has been permitted to operate as it pleases - defying orders from its regulator, keeping its practices secret and avoiding accountability. Mr. Harper must rein in this rogue force for the safety of all Canadians."

It's not as terrifying as it sounds (5, Insightful)

WoTG (610710) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680527)

Personally, I have to agree with the forced reopening of the reactor. It sounds terrifying, and it's a disgrace that we're in this situation, but the risk is very minimal. The story has been playing in the media here in Canada for a few days now.

This is not a large-scale power generating reactor. It's a relatively small "research" reactor and it is more or less middle of nowhere [google.ca].

From what I recall from the news stories, the current hold up is the backup power to the second pump is offline. The backup power to the first pump is online, and only one pump needs to be operating at any one time. The truly disgraceful thing is that the plant has been improperly operating without any proper backup power lines for months and months. The current unexpectedly long shut-down occurred because the improper backup systems were discovered by the regulators during a shorter planned down time.

On the flip side, critical medical scans are being canceled by the thousands across North and South America. You can't point at any specific case, but given the large number of procedures being delayed, I'd bet that someone out there is going to die on a daily basis because a scan is postponed.

Blame the regulators (1)

the_other_one (178565) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680615)

The current unexpectedly long shut-down occurred because the improper backup systems were discovered by the regulators.

Should AECL have been more diligent in hiding the improper backup systems from the regulators?!!!

What happens if the only working pump fails?

Re:Blame the regulators (2, Informative)

mr_matticus (928346) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680877)

Well, first the TWO working pumps have to fail, and then the backup has to fail, and by that time I would think they'd shut down the reactor.

As it is, it's working fine, and a pump is not a thin red line separating "life goes on" and "catastrophe"--this isn't even a big power reactor.

If both of the main pumps were to go offline, it would be a bad call not to shut down the reactor at that point, but even if they waited for the backup to fail (three pump failures in a row? What are the odds?), it's still possible for them to shut down the reactor and do a controlled release within safety limits if necessary. Hardly the end of the world, or even a town.

Re:Blame the regulators (1)

ductonius (705942) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680899)

What happens if the only working pump fails?

There are two pumps on primary power but *backup* power only works for one at the moment. The reactor only needs one pump to operate.

Re:It's not as terrifying as it sounds (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680667)

Wow, is it just me or is Canadian Google Maps way behind the technology curve compared to maps.google.com?

Re:It's not as terrifying as it sounds (1)

jacquesm (154384) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680819)

> I'd bet that someone out there is going to die on a daily basis because a scan is postponed.

someone is going to die at most once, not on a daily basis :)

Also, they'll likely only die *earlier*, I seriously doubt they were going to avoid being at their own funeral in the first place.

This is all the fault of Linux (2, Funny)

GwaihirBW (1155487) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680573)

Observe the current quote at the bottom of the page:
"Real Men don't make backups. They upload it via ftp and let the world mirror it. -- Linus Torvalds"

Unfortunately, this doesn't work for generators, nor does it for reactors.

My friend works on one of the reactors out there (1)

Bob_Geldof (887321) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680619)

It isn't very big/powerful. I'm not too concerned. I also live MANY miles away. Up wind. On the other side of the Rockies. What could possibly go wrong?

Last I heard from my buddy, they kept blowing out power converters/relays/Jeffry's Tubes? or something (he's an EE, not a nuke tech) and that was occupying his time. I guess he's been busy trying to get things online. Might explain him falling off the face of the earth.

It's pronounced NU-Cu-lar (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#21680737)

About 16 yrs ago I was a younger physicist looking for work. I found a job conducting/directing neutron activations at a reactor making medical materials, testing samples at a major facility. Measured 92 of the elements, even down to ppb. (Needed x-ray facilities for more, across town...) We generated the second-highest amount of low-level waste in my state. My job was to bag-and-tag all the isotopic waste, too.
My boss tried to get me to dump it all into the dumpster, so he could pocket the ~$75000US instead. One day, walking through the adjacent building, a safety guy from the NRC cornered me and asked who's side I'd be on when called to testify: "Put me on the top of the list"! I said. Meaning, in no unslashdotted terms, I'd serve up the sob. Funny but I had to stand in for him to teach the nu-cu-lar safety class he was supposed to have instructed.

This is why I'm not a politician (2, Insightful)

Minupla (62455) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680739)

Gotta love it, behind door number 1:
Leave the reactor closed, definitely kill people.

Behind door number 2: Violate safety regs on a reactor, possibly kill people.

Politics is definitely a game more fun to play from the bleachers. For what it's worth, I live in the country and I agree this is the best of a bad situation.

Min

What happens...... (1)

Overkill Nbuta (1035654) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680815)

When something with this Reactor goes wrong? What would /.'s Reply be? Something about how the government shouldn't interfere with safety. Or will they say. Atleast we saved people with those Isotopes. Really If this reactors been off line for this long apparently its not that CRITICAL since its hasn't been on the news till now or at least not that iv heard. Get the backup systems online ASAP then put it back online. If its that important it cant be that wrong to spend money to insure its safe running.

Too many grasshoppers, not enough ants (1)

Bones3D_mac (324952) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680823)

This whole thing sounds a lot like that old tale of the diligent, hard-working ant and the lazy, procastinating grasshopper. If these isotopes are so important to preserving human life, why the hell don't we have more reactors in place to produce them? Even if we didn't need to keep such reactors constantly active, there's no excuse for us not having at least a couple back-up facilities on hand in the event the primary facilities would even become unusable or inaccessible.

(Of course, this argument could apply to almost any limited resources mankind continually depends on...)

Why Aren't There More? (1)

Petersko (564140) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680955)

"these isotopes are so important to preserving human life, why the hell don't we have more reactors in place to produce them?"

Because they are VERRRRRRRY expensive. And for the U.S.'s part, they haven't put a reactor online since 1996. Maybe they'll build some appropriate reactors after 2013 when Watts Bar 2 goes online (hopefully).

Re:Too many grasshoppers, not enough ants (2, Interesting)

compro01 (777531) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680963)

we do (the Petten reactor in the Netherlands and the OPAL in Australia), but these things are relatively expensive to build and run, as they don't produce power. beyond isotopes and some heavy water, these things are for nuclear physics experiments, so these things have very low return on investment and thus most aren't real interested in building/running them.

Re:Too many grasshoppers, not enough ants (1)

compro01 (777531) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680975)

hate replying to myself, but i forgot to mention that the OPAL has been down since July and isn't expected to be back up until sometime next year, making this reactor that much more important.

Re:Too many grasshoppers, not enough ants (1)

Bones3D_mac (324952) | more than 6 years ago | (#21681053)

If they aren't making any sort of return on their investment on these vital isotopes, then something is seriously out of whack with the system of supply and demand here. Given how notoriously expensive the rest of the medical industry is, you would think part of those costs would go to the production and distribution of these isotopes.

Second-sourcing radio-isotopes (1)

golodh (893453) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680903)

Well ... I have no idea whether the shortcomings (no auxiliary power supply for the backup pumps) are sufficiently serious to prevent taking the reactor into production again. It might sound more scary than it is.

However I have found that there is at least one other reactor in the world that produces the at least one of the isotopes (molybdenum-99) as the Chalk River reactor, and it's in The Netherlands (Europe) (see http://www.nrg-nl.com/public/medical/valley/node6.html [nrg-nl.com]). I gather that some of the other isotopes needed (technetium-99) are decays products of mo-99. I really wonder if all possibilities have been exhausted. After all ... Europe produces that particular isotope as well, and Russia and China must be doing the same; if not Japan as well.

Apparently the DOE proposed to build a domestic source for mo-99 in 1995 (see http://www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPA-IMPACT/1995/December/Day-22/pr-377.html [epa.gov]) but apparently this hasn't been implemented yet. The note identifies a number of existing reactors which could be modified:

"Annular Core Research Reactor and associated hot cell facility at Sandia National Laboratories/New Mexico and the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory to produce Mo-99 and related medical isotopes. The Draft EIS also analyzes the environmental impacts of producing Mo-99 using the Omega West reactor at Los Alamos National Laboratory, the Power Burst Facility at Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, and the Oak Ridge Research Reactor at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, as well as the impacts of not establishing a Mo-99 production source (the No Action alternative)".

Apparently the DOE noticed the problem in time (1995), but it appears that a solution wasn't implemented quick enough.

"world supply" (3, Interesting)

locust (6639) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680961)

According to yesterday's interview on CBC's As It Happens, its not the world's supply, but rather the North American supply. In the past when the reactor has been down, the company that supplies the isotopes (Atomic Energy Canada Ltd runs the place, but another company produces the isotopes) buys isotopes from reactors in australia, south africa or Europe (holand I think). Its just this time they decide to make it a big issue. (so they don't have to pay for the isotopes). The interview in question is, I think, in part two of the broadcast... see: http://www.cbc.ca/radioshows/AS_IT_HAPPENS/20071212.shtml [www.cbc.ca] The segment is: "ISOTOPES: KUPERMAN"

The ad says they have two sources (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#21680985)

Let's take a look at the advertising from the company that actually sells the medical isotopes made at Chalk River:

MDS Nordion [nordion.com] is the global leader in the supply and distribution of short-lived medical isotopes. It's what sets us apart.

  • Our world-renowned rapid, reliable and customizable distribution, and logistics system ensures shipments are where they're needed, when they're needed - anywhere in the world.
  • Our capacity to respond rapidly and effectively to routine orders as well as unexpected requests and emergencies is a hallmark of our operations.
  • Our four cyclotrons and access to two reactors located in North America and Europe guarantee an uninterrupted supply for research and manufacturing.

There's a "Molybdenum-99 Shortage Resource Center" [snm.org] page which has more useful background on the subject. There are about five places in the world that make this stuff, and not much excess capacity.

The U.S. Department of Energy started a project [comcast.net] in 1995 to convert a research reactor at Sandia to medical isotope production. This was done after the last US commercial producer, in Tuxedo, NY, shut down. The Sandia effort was canceled, after it was working and able to produce isotopes, on July 30, 1999, by the Office of Isotope Programs at DOE.

There's a startup that claims they will start making this stuff with a linear accelerator in early 2008, but they sound flakey.

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