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A Political Meltdown via The Walrus

◇ Medical use of radiation: “a sort of peacekeeper of the nuclear world.”
For decades, Canada has been a world leader in the production of medical isotopes. So why did the government announce that it was dumping the entire program?
ScienceFrom the April 2011 magazine
f you’ve ever had a cardiac perfusion test to see how the blood was flowing in and around your heart or a bone scan to determine whether your cancer had metastasized, then you, like some thirty million people around the globe every year, have been the beneficiary of medical isotopes. What makes these unstable atoms so handy is that they can be injected, swallowed, or inhaled, and once inside the body they emit radiation from predetermined places. From there, their radioactivity can be used to kill off cancer cells or, far more often, to etch a detailed picture of your innards.

Canada is the world’s largest single producer of medical isotopes. In fact, they were practically invented here. Most of the world’s isotopes are made inside nuclear reactors. In Canada, they’re produced in one in particular, at the Chalk River Laboratories nuclear facility, northwest of Ottawa. And when, in November 2007, that reactor was unexpectedly shut down, large parts of the world faced their first real “isotope crisis.” Their entire supply had suddenly been cut off.

This was when isotopes punctured the national consciousness. Doctors offered daily updates like sports scores about the thousands of patients who would be forced to forgo tests and what dire consequences this might have. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission said the reactor, which is owned by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, couldn’t be turned back on until a coolant pump was installed. Then parliamentarians stuck their noses in and voted unanimously to restart the reactor without the pump, overruling the nuclear regulator.

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