Nuclear Outlaw: Open discussion

Michael Burns, the CEO of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) has resigned. He was the fellow who assured the House of Commons that before the reactor at Chalk Lake was up and running it would be safe.” Now that he’s decided to leave, does it mean that the Chalk River facility is not safe? Nearby residents are wondering if they should leave town.

Harper’s assurances that there will be no nuclear accident are ringing rather hollow right now. I can’t help but wonder if Parliament has been hoodwinked. I wonder if Parliamentarians are feeling the same way. AECL shut itself down. Someone suggested that AECL lied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC), saying that the upgrades (a condition of license renewal) had been completed. CNSC kept it shut down because the upgrades had not been completed. Harper blamed the CNSC for keeping it shut down, grilling Linda Keen in the House as though she was wrong for doing the job she is supposed to do.

So, one of my questions is WTF is Harper up to, besides the obvious partisan stuff? The other is, how do we encourage research into alternatives for nuclear isotopes and begin the move away from what could quickly become a nuclear incident on Canadian soil?

Please chime in!

(Go here and here and here and here and here if you are looking for additional information.)


Harper consults Homer



6 thoughts on “Nuclear Outlaw: Open discussion

  1. I have to wonder if Harper’s aim is at least as much ideological as partisan. Now that there’s a prominent example of all-party agreement to overrule the CNSC within the core of its mandate – with far too little public presentation of the countervailing factors – Harper may well claim the precedent as a basis to start gutting federal regulators generally.

  2. Alternatives to 99mTc are being researched all the time, but it’s tough to tough to find a one-tracer-fits-all option, since it isn’t really the radionuclide (e.g. 99mTc) that does the ‘tracing,’ but rather the moiety it’s bound to, e.g. sestamibi for cardiac perfusion/viability or HMPAO for dementia. Current nucmed labs are kitted out w/gamma cameras (and associated hardware and software) that are optimized for a particular energy window, characteristic of the photons emitted by 99mTc (140 keV +/- a certain percentage). I mention this, only because one of the advantages of Tc-99m-sestamibi, for e.g., is that its photon energy is high enough to escape the body and hit the camera’s detectors. In cardiac imaging, Tc-99m-sestamibi was brought in as an alternative to 201Tl, which emits very low energy photons (~70 keV), such that too many of these photons wind up being blocked by intervening tissue, never making it to the detectors to produce high-count images.

    Both 99mTc and 201Tl are what you’d call ‘Single Photon Emission Computed Tomography’ (SPECT) radionuclides. There is another class of nuclear med radionuclides known as ‘Positron Emitters’ (PET). Positron-emitters are produced in a particle accelerator known as a cyclotron. These emitters are characterized by extremely short half-lives (approx. 2 min-110 min), so the cyclotron has to be located on-site (or very near the hospital). Cyclotrons and PET radiochemistry is extremely expensive right now. This is too bad, as the combination 13N-ammonia/18F-FDG PET scan is considered *the* gold-standard for the assessment of cardiac perfusion & viability. To make matters worse, cardiac PET isn’t even reimbursable by OHIP (Ontario’s health insurance program). In fact, the last time I checked, only PET scans that are deemed billable by OHIP are for cancer metastasis (18F-FDG). OHIP blames Health Canada for this, but I must admit that I’ve never investigated what the billing circumstances are in other provinces.

    Aside from the nucmed tracers, in terms of imaging techniques, you’re left with CT (basically multiple X-rays), ultrasound, or MRI. These each have their advantages and disadvantages, as you might expect. If we’re just talking about heart disease, for example, then contrast-enhanced MRI is quickly becoming the best alternative to nucmed. Again, not yet widely recognized in Canada, but quickly becoming the ‘new gold standard’ in Europe and the States. The problem is access to MRIs here: not so much the number of machines (a problem, but not the biggest problem), but in terms of staffing and hospital resource allocation.

    Cardiac ultrasound (“echocardiography”) is also enjoying a renaissance of sorts (forgive the expression), particularly the new 3D techniques w/contrast bubbles, which allow for both perfusion + functional assessments. There’s a guy at UofT doing amazing work on this stuff right now.

    CT is still problematic, w/the X-ray dose required to do multislice imaging. Contrast-enhanced CT uses Iodine-based tracers that can induce allergic reactions in some people. There are allergy issues with MRI-contrast, too, but they’re *much* more rare than w/CT contrast.

    Eek! I’ve rambled. Would be glad to discuss imaging research with you anytime, Berlynn! Cheers!

  3. Missed this earlier. From the G&M:

    Mr. Alghabra told the House it is ironic that the Conservatives are calling Ms. Keen partisan when one of the independent inspectors they consulted to determine whether the reactor could be safely restarted is on the executive of a Conservative riding association.

    But Bob Strickert, who is the vice-president of the Conservative riding association in Durham, east of Toronto, pointed out in a telephone interview that he has 31 years of experience in the nuclear industry, including stints in management at the Pickering and Darlington plants.

  4. Whooee! The facts are slowly emerging. As they do, we’re seeing something ugly. The shortage/crisis that put thousands of live at risk was completely avoidable without restarting NRU. European suppliers were already preparing to increase production to meet MDS’s demand. MDS engineered the crisis. Outsourcing would have hurt MDS’s bottomline. The crisis was manufactured. Harper sold Parliament onteh idea that the only way to mitigate the crisis was restarting NRU, in spite of safety concerns. The outsourcing option was apparently never considered.

    The shortage crisis was handled by MDS’s man on Parliament Hill, Steve Harper.

    But wait. There’s more. Underlying the whole fiasco, AECL is up for sale. Harper is ideologically opposed to crown corps. He appointed Burns over a suggested, more qualified candidate. Burns screwed up and resigned. AECL looks like it’s a mismanaged loose cannon crown corp. Public sentiment is massaged into a willingness to rid ourselves of AECL.

    AECL is worth billions. Public perception of mismanagement at top levels devalues AECL and effectively lowers its sale price. The fluctuation could be in the millions. Commissions are always involved when things are bought and sold. Manipulating pre-sale market conditions is SOP for these big players.

    The truth is out there. 😉


  5. Hundreds of thousands of medical patients made uncomfortable, tens of millions of dollars in costs, and losses, and what it comes down to is a battle of egos heedless to any sense of accountability to the public. Ms. Keen is faulted for failing to consult outside her narrow regulatory world view when facing a global medical emergency. Mr. Burns gets low marks for management and an apparent inability to see this freight train coming down the track in broad daylight. Details at Idaho Samizdat.

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