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Canadian PM to wind down isotope-making

June 11, 2009 at 10:28 AM

OTTAWA, June 11 (UPI) -- Canada will gradually phase out its major international role in the production of medical isotopes, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced in Ottawa.

Political tensions are running high over the closure of the Chalk River nuclear facility in Ontario, shut down in May after a small radioactive water leak. The 52-year-old facility produces about a third of the world's medical isotopes used in cancer and heart treatments.

However, it could be three months or more before it reopens, officials said. Harper also shuttered two near-complete backup reactors at the site last spring after scientists couldn't guarantee their performance under certain conditions, the National Post reported.

Wednesday, Harper appeared to close the doors on all three reactors.

"Eventually, we anticipate Canada will be out of the (isotope) business," Harper told reporters.

The loss of the Canadian reactor has one in Petten, the Netherlands, trying to fill the gap, but that 48-year-old reactor is scheduled for a month-long maintenance shut-down in mid-July, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. reported.

In the absence of the Canadian and Dutch reactors, facilities in Belgium, France and South Africa that produce the remaining third of isotopes will be working overtime, the CBC said.

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