Clinics still waiting for Aussie isotopes

OTTAWA — Canadian clinics are still waiting for medical isotopes from Down Under.

OTTAWA — Canadian clinics are still waiting for medical isotopes from Down Under.

A fledgling Australian nuclear reactor isn’t yet making enough isotopes to cover for a downed Canadian reactor produced a third of the world’s supply.

Doctors say Australia’s OPAL reactor could still be a few months away from running at full speed.

“That’s longer than first hoped.

Health Canada and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, in anticipation of the Australian reactor getting up and running sooner than expected, approved isotopes from OPAL as safe to use in June.

Around the same time, Natural Resources Minister Lisa Raitt told the House of Commons the Australian reactor would start making isotopes more quickly than first thought.

And Lantheus Medical Imaging, a Massachusetts-based company that supplies clinics with ’generators’ used in medical imaging, said recently it expected to receive isotopes from the Australian reactor starting this month.

The company said it expected shipments to begin around now and ramp up over the next few months.

But O’Brien said production problems seem to have slowed delivery.

“They’re having volume-of-production issues,” he said.

“They have to get their processing unit up to speed to produce more than they have been. . . . So it’s a matter of just getting more in the pipeline.”

No one from the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organization, which operates the OPAL reactor, was immediately available to comment.

Five reactors built a half-century ago supply most of the world’s isotopes, which are used to diagnose cancer and heart ailments.

Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd.’s reactor at Chalk River, Ont., used to make a third of the world’s supply.

But the Crown corporation — which the Conservative government plans to break up and sell off — shut down its 52-year-old reactor in May after finding a radioactive water leak.

So it has fallen to the four remaining reactors — and eventually the Australian facility — to pick up the slack.

The two-year-old Australian reactor would have helped ease the burden on its aging peers.

O’Brien said an August start-up may be been wishful thinking.

“That was a pie in the sky hope,” he said. “Some things take a little longer than anticipated.”

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