Thursday, June 11, 2009

"MAPLES never produced a single isotope... oh, wait... you mean THOSE isotopes?"

Ever since the latest Chalk River isotope debacle started reaching crisis proportions, the folks at MDS Nordion has been trying to tell people that those supposedly fatally flawed MAPLE reactors - the ones the Conservatives mothballed a few months ago - might just be salvageable after all.

Lately, they've been saying it to the Natural Resources Committee:

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Stephen Harper repeated that defence of the government's decision, saying, "after hundreds of millions of dollars and years and years of investment, not a single isotope had been created and the expert assessment we received was that there was no realistic reason to believe there would be any isotope production for years and years to come, if ever. So it was not a viable project."

But Jill Chitra, a vice-president and professional engineer at MDS Nordion told the House of Commons Standing Committee on Natural Resources that is incorrect.

"From 2000 to 2008, the MAPLE reactors ran numerous times at various power levels, up to 80 per cent power," Chitra said. "(Isotope) targets were inserted in the reactor for a number of those tests. When targets are inserted in the reactor and it operates at power, isotopes — Moly-99 — is created."

Chitra said that the targets were simply not processed or harvested.

"Those targets could have been removed and processed and you'd have had medical isotopes for sale," Chitra said. "It's one of the reasons we think MAPLE has potential."

This flies in the face of what we have previously been told about the MAPLE reactors, which is that they are fatally flawed and cannot be operated safely. And of course, one cannot forget that MDS has a considerable financial stake in the MAPLE reactors.

So what is the truth?

I found this article to be particularly informative, in that it explains what a positive energy coefficient is and why it can be bad, but isn't necessarily always bad. In fact, the only time when it would be bad is if all primary and backup power to the reactor suddenly shut off AND the entire crew at the reactor had either died, disappeared, or ascended in the Rapture at that same exact moment, preventing them from conducting a safe manual shutdown.

Yes. That would be bad.

On the other hand, the odds of that happening are so utterly astronomical that it makes the whole Rapture thing seem plausible. And if some unforseen catastrophe were to cause a complete power shutdown and the deaths of every person at Chalk River (a 10.5 quake? a meteor?), I would imagine we would be dealing with a significantly bigger problem than a melting reactor.

Far be it for me to suggest that anyone compromise safety when it comes to a nuclear reactor - even a little one. But given the near certainty of people actually dying from undiagnosed cancers sometime in the forseeable future if this situation isn't rectified, maybe it's time to reconsider our options. Preferably with the help of someone without a financial or ideological interest in the outcome.

(H/T to David Akin, who is going to have to write a book about all this someday.)

1 comment:

  1. So if I understand what you are saying; is that Harper has a buddy in the back ground, or someone at maple does that may be willing to buy a dysfunctional reactor and as soon as they get it someone will have a laying on of hands and cure it so that it will become functional and make the new owner who took such a chance on this dysfunctional piece of crap a hole lot of money?