Chalk River reactor down for months

OTTAWA — The Chalk River reactor will be down until the end of year.

OTTAWA — The Chalk River reactor will be down until the end of year.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. says it needs at least that long to figure out how to repair the leaky and aging reactor.

“We are now able to advise that the NRU will not return to service before late 2009,” company president Hugh MacDiarmid said Wednesday.

The 52-year-old reactor supplied a third of the world’s medical isotopes until AECL shut it down in mid-May after it found it was leaking radioactive water.

The Crown company’s last status update suggests the aluminium reactor vessel was still leaking 0.5 kilograms of heavy water every hour.

The reactor was supposed to be down for a month, then three months, and now even longer. MacDiarmid said the end of the year is the earliest the reactor could be repaired and restarted.

“We don’t know the ultimate length of the (shutdown’s) duration,” he said.

AECL says it can still repair the reactor. Others aren’t so sure.

“My gut feeling is telling me that this reactor may never be reactivated,” said Dr. Jean-Luc Urbain, head of the Canadian Association of Nuclear Medicine.

AECL expects the actual repairs will take about two months and another two months to restart the reactor.

The shutdown has curtailed the supply of isotopes used to detect cancer and heart ailments. Doctors and governments are scrambling to find alternatives to the radioactive isotopes that are in short supply.

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