Thursday, June 11, 2009

Isotope Crisis: Right Hand Hanging Left Hand Out to Dry

Whooee! Well, friends an' foes, seems like these here Conservative ministers is their own worst enemies. Instead of throwin' a lifeline to their flounderin' colleagues, they sit on their hands and watch 'em splash an' drown. Instead of pullin' out the rabbit they got in their hat, they play dumb... or, are they actually just as uninformed as they let on?

While Ministers Raitt and Aglukkaq continue to demonstrate their incompetence, real progress is being made in the field of isotope production. While Prime Minister Harper tells us Canada is throwing in the towel on future isotope manufacture and supply, Canadian research and technology is moving forward achieving just what Harper says is not feasible.

One wonders why Raitt, Aglukkaq and Harper seem unable to even attempt to fend off opposition questions with real answers that would put their government in a much better light. Although it seems improbable, it appears that none of the politicians are up to speed on what is happening under their very noses.

Back in November 2008, TRIUMF : Canada's National Laboratory for Particle and Nuclear Physics, the University of British Columbia and Advanced Applied Physics Solutions, Inc. (AAPS) released a report “proposing a uniquely Canadian method for producing select medical isotopes which avoids using weapons-grade uranium and nuclear reactors.”

More recently, MDS Nordion, the same company that purchases and distributes all of the Chalk River isotopes, entered into a commercial agreement with TRIUMF “to study the feasibility of producing a viable and reliable supply of photo-fission-produced molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) used globally for diagnostic medical imaging.”

While Harper and his crew of liquidators are intent on selling the farm at bargain basement prices and abandoning Canada’s formerly respected role in the field of nuclear medicine, Canadian researchers and business interests are working outside the AECL framework to deliver much-needed isotopes using a safer, cheaper technology. While Harper and his nuclear grease monkeys are applying duct tape and Bondo to Chalk River’s 52 year old clunker, forward thinking scientists are developing an alternative source of Molybdenum-99.

While Harper and his inexperienced cabinet ministers sputter about securing isotopes from international sources, UBC, TRIUMF and MDS Nordion are forging ahead on a highly promising plan that, incredibly, was the subject of an announcement by Ministers Raitt and Aglukkaq less than two weeks ago.

Federal Gov't Takes Forward Steps on Medical Isotopes

29 May 2009

Yesterday, Canada's Minister of Natural Resources Lisa Raitt and Minister of Health Leona Aglukkaq announced the Government's plan to establish an Expert Review Panel for Long-Term Isotope Supply Solutions. TRIUMF, Canada's national laboratory for particle and nuclear physics, supports these steps and looks forward to contributing to the process.

Why, one wonders, did neither Raitt nor Aglukkaq point to this development when they faced tough questioning in the House? Is it possible that the announcement, though seemingly made jointly by their own offices, was unknown to the ministers?

Now, let’s move along to part two of the ministers not knowing what’s happening under their noses. This time, we have former Health Minister and current Industry Minister Tony Clement remaining silent in the House while his hapless colleagues Raitt and Aglukkaq squirm under questioning about what they are doing to ease the shortage of isotopes.

Odd, since it was just about a week earlier, on June 1, that Clement announced $22 million in new funding to upgrade McMaster University’s research reactor, part of which was designated “to expand Canada's isotope research and production capacity.” Although $22 million is a piddly amount by nuclear standards, Clement could have come to the aid of his fellow cabinet members with at least one concrete example of what Canada is doing to increase domestic isotope production. Additionally, unlike Chalk River’s NRU, the Mac reactor is currently operational and presumably could be producing some of the needed isotopes while the repairs to the NRU are being carried out.

When PM Harper told us yesterday that Canada is getting out of the isotope business, did he not know that his industry minister, just 10 short days ago, had doled out $22 million to expand Canada's isotope production capacity.

Don't these ministers talk to one another? Don't they even read their own press releases?


Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Secret, Schmecret -- AECL's Incompetence Further Revealed

Whooee! Well, friends an' foes, everybody's talkin' 'bout dumbass Lisa Raitt leaving secret papers behind at CTV. Par for the CPC course. Their talent pool's pretty shallow, after all. While the fact that another of Harper's Ministers can't keep tabs on secret stuff is damning, what is more interesting is the stuff itself.

Underlying all of this security breach stuff is the fact that AECL is as incompetent as the minister in charge. The AECL refurbishment up at Bruce is now known to be more than 400 days behind schedule and hundreds of millions of dollars over budget. Par for the nuclear course, I realize, but how can Ontario even consider AECL's unproven ACR-1000 design for its ridiculous $26.6 billion commitment to unneeded new nuclear builds?

That $26 Bn will undoubtedly turn into 10's of billions more and we all know who pays for these cost overruns.

Of course, Ontario could choose France's Areva to build the new reactors. They're 42 months behind schedule on their only contract to build the same new generation EPR reactor that is being considered for Ontario. Areva's Finnish project is running 60% over budget. On top of that, Finland was depending on Areva to be on time so that Finland would not face multi-million dollar penalties under Kyoto. In addition to the cost and time overruns, the Areva build also has safety shortcomings.

Governments need to face up to the fact that nuclear is the most expensive and least reliable option for meeting energy needs. We dole out lavish corporate welfare to these nuclear giants and, in turn, they use that money to lobby governments and mount public relations campaigns aimed at convincing decision makers and the public that they are selling a viable product.

The secrecy surrounding nuclear costs is only the tip of the iceberg. What are we not being told about lapses in safety and nuclear security? We are creating stockpiles of highly radioactive spent nuclear fuel without any permanent storage solution. These stockpiles are guarded by paramilitary swat teams who must constantly upgrade their capabilities to stay ahead of terrorists and rogue states. We are saddling countless future generations with these security costs all so we can continue to waste energy like there's no tomorrow.

As far as the isotope crisis goes, watch for Harpoleon to pull a rabbit from the hat. The research reactor at McMaster Universty is to be upgraded with a paltry $22 million and part of that sum is intended isotope production.
In a statement, McMaster University said, "As Canada's only nuclear reactor outside of Chalk River capable of producing medical isotopes, the funding will be used to upgrade McMaster's physical infrastructure to expand Canada's isotope research and production capacity, to enhance research activities and train personnel for the nuclear industry and health care sectors."
There's just one little problem. The Mac reactor, like the Chalk River dinosaur, is 50 years old. Throwing good money after bad seems to be the singled-minded goal of both the federal Conservatives and the Ontario Liberals.

What is somewhat surprising, though, is that when Minister Raitt was being grilled in QP the other day, she seemed to know nothing about the plans to upgrade the Mac reactor. More incompetence? Tony Clement failing to step up and defend his collegue? One hand unaware of what the other hand is doling out?