Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Wednesday Morning Notes: Isotopes, Game Theory, and the PBO

Lazy mid-week blogging:

1) McMaster Reactor Steps Up.

I think I've mentioned before that my husband used to work at the accelerator lab at McMaster University as a nuclear safety technician way back in the late 70s (I'll have to dig up a copy of his 'Nuclear Bunnies' 'zine for you some time). Anyway, apparently Mac has now done the math and determined that the University's reactor can, in fact, produce enough Tc-99m needed to supply about 20% of the North American market. They just need (you guessed it) a biggish pile of cash to do it.

I did find this statement particularly interesting:

The president of the Society of Nuclear Medicine, Dr. Robert Atcher, is saying the long-term solution to the worldwide isotope shortages isn't necessarily in building new reactors.

"It turns out that our real problem isn't that there aren't enough reactors to make medical isotopes," Atcher told CTV on Tuesday.

"It's the production facilities that we use when we take those targets out of the reactor and process them to remove the medically useful isotopes -- that capacity around the world is very limited. So we don't need necessarily to build any more reactors; we need to build those processing facilities."

UPDATE: The Natty Post picked this up this morning, quoting the McMaster facility's manager as saying that all they need is the non-weapons grade uranium and the trained staff and they're good to go.

2) 'Parliament Without a Cause'

A brilliant essay by Andrew Steele in yesterday's Globe & Mail on the application of game theory to this week's political showdown. He comes to some interesting conclusions about the pros and cons of a summer election for each of the four federal parties, but really - just watching someone draw parallels between the political brinksmanship in Canada's current multi-party minority government and the 'chicken' scene in 'Rebel Without a Cause', is just... wow.

Go read.

UPDATE: CalgaryGrit liked it too.

3) Kevin Page Vindicated

The Library of Parliament Committee has finally reached their verdict:

Parliament's budget watchdog is woefully underfunded, the Library of Parliament committee said in a report released Tuesday. The committee recommended his 2009-2010 budget be raised to $2.8 million from $1.86 million.

Parliamentary budget officer Kevin Page's current budget is $323,000 short of his projected spending for the fiscal year and well short of the $2.75 million he was supposed to get before his budget was cut.

"Even with a $2.75-million budget it was virtually impossible to provide scrutiny of departmental estimates [planned expenditures] representing over $240 billion per year," the committee said.

"The reduction will mean that the scope for the PBO to fulfil the legislated mandate will be further reduced."

Assuming anybody is actually planning to act on the committee's recommendations, this is excellent news for our much beleaguered Paliamentary Budget Officer - who, BTW, recently looked at Jim Flaherty's numbers and concluded that there is no way in hell the government will be able to dig itself out of the deficit hole any time soon without severely cutting programs or (gasp!) raising taxes.

Kevin Page: the Last Honest Man in Ottawa.

OR NOT: The Toronto Sun is spinning this as putting Page on a "tight leash", insisting that he not hold press conferences or release his reports to anyone besides MPs an Senators. They also reference to Page's release of the Afghan War cost analysis during the election - a move which, they forget, was agreed to by all four parties.

This is the actual quote from the press release on the report:

The report proposes 10 recommendations aimed, among other things, at increasing funding for the Parliamentary Budget Officer, consistent with his following existing procedures at the Library of Parliament and respects the confidentiality of the work of parliamentarians and committees; and permitting the publication of independent reports as long as they are presented first to parliamentarians.

That doesn't sound like a spanking to me - that sounds like they're saying, "Carry on".


  1. Seems to me that that the Library committee would like to leave the impression that the PBO got the restoration of funding and everybody is happy. But in reading the committee recommendations, it's clear that the money is highly conditional and only for the current year. So, any perceived mis-steps in the eyes of the government, speakers or chief librarian and "poof" goes the funding. We know how that has worked out for the guy in the past. Call me a skeptic but I'm waiting to hear from Page before I decide if this is good for me as a citizen and taxpayers.

  2. So we actually make something that the world wants, and apparently we used to make it GOOD and we're shutting that down. There are only so many trees we can sell to the world, after that it's the water... I'd rather sell isotopes than billions of liters out of Hudsons Bay.

    Take care, Elli