OTTAWA — Canada is getting out of medical isotope production, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Wednesday as the world struggles with the shutdown of an aging Canadian reactor that makes a big chunk of the global supply.
“We anticipate Canada will be out of the business,” Harper said at a joint news conference with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.
The prime minister’s comments confirmed speculation the federal government’s decision to split up and sell off Crown-owned Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. was a prelude to a pull out.
The government plans to spin off AECL’s profitable nuclear reactor business as part of a major restructuring that will also mean private-sector management for the company’s research facility in Chalk River, Ont.
AECL shut down the Chalk River reactor May 15 after discovering a heavy-water leak. Officials estimate it will be at least three months — and likely longer — before it’s up and running again.
The shutdown has sparked a worldwide shortage of isotopes, used in scans for cancer and heart ailments.
The Chalk River reactor makes about a third of the world supply of medical isotopes. A Dutch reactor kicks in another third, with lesser amounts coming from reactors in France, Belgium and South Africa.
Harper said he plans to keep the Chalk River reactor running as often as possible, while working with other countries and provinces to develop alternative sources of treatment.