Monday, August 31, 2009

Ignatieff Supports McMaster's Bid to Produce Isotopes

Michael Ignatieff spoke out on the isotope issue today, stating the Liberal Party's support of McMaster University's proposal to start producing Moly-99 medical isotopes at its research reactor. Ignatieff's statement comes after months of fairly continuous nagging by local media on why the government has been deaf to the University's repeated offers of help throughout this growing crisis.

Maybe now, finally, we'll get a straight answer out of Lisa Raitt on this.

In case you haven't been keeping up, McMaster initially proposed this plan the first time Chalk River went down almost two years ago. It would cost a relatively modest $30 million over 5 years (now they're saying $44 million) and wouldn't require building anything or developing any new technology. In fact, if they had gotten the money and the go-ahead back when they first approached the government, they would be producing all the isotopes Canada needs right now.

The lack of government interest in this seemingly obvious and non-controversial solution is absolutely baffling. So baffling, in fact, that the Hamilton Spectator published an editorial a couple of weeks ago questioning the government's silence.

For two years, McMaster has been lobbying the government to make the university a backup producer. It had previous experience in that role back in the 1970s during a previous Chalk River shutdown. But for reasons no one can explain, Ottawa has been deaf and dumb on the McMaster proposal.

Considering the current crisis, and absolute lack of a backup or any other plan, Ottawa and Atomic Energy Canada Ltd. look very foolish, and inhumane to boot, especially considering the presence of a viable backup option in their own back yard.

That editorial actually provoked a response from Lisa Raitt. Well, sort of. Actually, it reads more like a collection of briefing book talking points strung together in more or less random order:

The government of Canada has made it a priority to work with other countries, nuclear reactor operators and isotope suppliers to improve collaboration on a global scale and to reduce the impacts of the Chalk River nuclear reactor outage on Canadians.

The way the product moves through the supply chain -- how it is purchased, sold and arrives at hospitals -- is the realm of the private sector.

No government can guarantee distribution of specific quantities of product to users at a guaranteed price.

The government of Canada is working to promote market responsiveness and transparency to achieve better, more predictable supply.

In large measure, the system has been coping during the global shortage.

blah blah blah...

Curiously, the word "McMaster" is not mentioned once in her response.

If Lisa Raitt ever does another interview or takes questions at a press conference, I suppose one could ask her point blank what the government intends to do about McMaster's proposal. If she ever decided to do another town hall I'd ask her myself. I've sent her an email, but I'm not holding my breath.

C'mon, Lisa - surprise me. Give me a straight answer. I promise I'll let everybody know.

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