Sask. premier eyes new reactor to produce isotopes

REGINA — Building a small reactor that focused on nuclear research and medical isotope production would be costly, but it could also be the answer to the isotope shortage, says Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

REGINA — Building a small reactor that focused on nuclear research and medical isotope production would be costly, but it could also be the answer to the isotope shortage, says Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall.

Wall put a price tag on the idea for the first time Wednesday, saying such a reactor could cost half a billion dollars or more.

“It depends on the sort of reactor you’re proposing,” he said.

“If we wanted to test other reactor technology that comes along you get into some pretty big numbers. My understanding — and it’s a very general sort of 50,000-foot-view understanding — is over a billion, but maybe half of that if you’re looking at a research reactor that focuses on nuclear materials science and isotope production.”

The premier said Saskatchewan will pitch a plan for medical isotope production to an expert panel appointed by the federal government to look at supply options.

A new partnership will make the proposal by the end of July.

“I learned this morning that progress is being made in a new partnership between the (University of Saskatchewan) and the government to have a submission from our province to the federal government to provide long-term solution to medical isotopes.”

“A research reactor could make us a leader in nuclear materials research, materials science and isotope production.”

But Wall was quick to note that if a research reactor were built, it would need some federal funding and public approval. Public meetings were held across Saskatchewan last month to give people a chance to comment on uranium development, but a report on the findings isn’t expected until the end of August.

The premier said the proposal can’t wait.

“We can always withdraw from the process after we get the report . . . but what we can’t do is submit when the timeline lapses. When the timeline is done, we can’t then decide to get the toothpaste back in the tube and submit our proposal.”

Wall’s comments followed word earlier Wednesday that Ontario’s Chalk River reactor, which had been supplying isotopes used to detect cancer and heart ailments, will be shut down until the end of the year.

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

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