Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Update on Chalk River; Action by Lisa Raitt

Things appear to be getting back to normal over at the Chalk River NRU. If by 'normal' you mean 'coming apart at the seams':

Ont. nuclear reactor running despite 'significant' leak

OTTAWA - The nuclear reactor that is the source of more than half of the world's medical isotopes was back to full production Monday, even as engineers and technicians at the Chalk River, Ont., facility were making plans to fix a "significant" leak in one of the key pieces of machinery that is part of the reactor's core.

"The reactor is operating normally and safely," said Bill Pilkington, chief nuclear officer for Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., the Crown corporation that operates the National Research Universal reactor at Chalk River.

...The leak in the NRU's reactor circuit first showed up several months ago, an AECL official said. The reactor circuit is a massive metal vessel that surrounds the reactor's core, which itself occupies an area about three metres in diameter.

Canwest News Service has learned that the hole in the tank is growing and is now about six centimetres wide. Sources say about 7,000 litres of water a day are leaking out.

The leaking water is not radioactive and is being recycled back into the tank.

I feel so much better. Although when I showed this story to my husband (who used to be a physics engineering student with a part time job at the accelerator lab at McMaster) said, "It's not radioactive yet". Something to do with contamination of de-ionized water...?


In the interests of fairness, I must give a tip of the hat to our new Minister of Natural Resources for the actions she is reportedly taking on the AECL/Chalk River front.

Government officials and AECL, for example, are working on a process to extend the operating licence of the NRU past 2011. That process began under Raitt's predecessor, Gary Lunn.

But Raitt is embarking on her own initiatives, as well.

At Canada's request, an international meeting of governments and industry will take place in Paris in January. The meeting will focus on the security of isotope supply.

"This is a global issue which warrants a global response, and I will ensure that Canada plays a leadership role in the planned discussions," Raitt said in a statement.

She has also ordered an internal review of government-funded research to see if there are alternative methods to conventional medical isotope production.

Finally, Raitt and Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq have asked their departmental officials to assess alternative medical and diagnostic procedures that could alleviate demand for medical isotopes.

"Ensuring that the Canadian medical community receives a consistent and reliable supply of medical isotopes has been of critical importance to me," Raitt said.

Fair enough.

(cross-posted from HaltonWatch)


  1. Alternatives to medical isotopes? Nuclear medicine isn't going anywhere any time soon. Who is she kidding?

  2. Really?? You're letting them off way too easy. The track record for this old clunker of a facility deserves to be shut down for good in my opinion.

    From the Nuclear Awareness Project:

    Canada's "hottest" landmark!

    The Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories property is likely the most contaminated piece of land in the country. Toxic radioactive pollution is seeping from several nuclear waste dumps into aquifers, bogs, streams and lakes on the property, and ultimately into the Ottawa River. Nuclear wastes on this property include:

    "reactor pits" or simple landfills containing the original NRX reactor, which had a meltdown in 1952, as well as other sites used for direct dumping of all liquid and solid waste from the clean-up following the NRX meltdown;

    "high level" radioactive waste in several forms, including intact fuel bundles in wet storage and in dry storage, as well as liquid high level waste (fuel bundles dissolved in acid) in huge underground tanks;

    "dispersal areas" where liquid high level wastes were dumped directly into the ground in the 1950's;

    landfills with "low level" and "intermediate level" radioactive wastes brought in from other areas of the country where clean-up of contaminated properties has been carried out;

    landfills for radioactive wastes accepted on a commercial basis from hospitals, universities, government and industry;

    several hundred drums of radioactive, PCB-laden oil.

    Current waste handling practices at AECL still involve some direct dumping of liquid wastes into the ground. Solid wastes are now being stored in lined trenches and other engineered structures. Routine releases of radioactivity to the air and water are carried out from the facilities that still operate at Chalk River, including the NRU reactor. Some of the radioactive pollutants of concern include tritium (a radioactive form of hydrogen), strontium-90, cobalt-60, carbon-14, iodine-125, iodine-131, cesium-137, radium-226 and americium-241.

    What's the problem?

    Living downstream and downwind of Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories can mean your health is being compromised. Any and all exposure to radioactivity increases the risk of developing cancer and of birth defects in off-spring. The Chalk River property needs to be cleaned up to protect human health now and in the future, and to restore the environment so that the risks to other species are reduced as well. This 50 year old disaster area must not be left for future generations to cope with.

    What's AECL doing about this toxic mess?

    AECL is taking an irresponsible approach to their radioactive waste problem. The crown corporation insists, in fact, that it's not a problem at all. Because much of the ground water and surface water contamination is still within the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratories boundary, AECL believes that there is no need for public concern. AECL has refused to estimate what it will cost to fully clean up the Chalk River property. For three years in a row, the Auditor General of Canada has noted concern about AECL's unwillingness to account for the inevitable future costs of cleaning up the mess -- a burden that AECL expects future Canadian taxpayers to carry.