On Campus

McMaster wants to produce medical isotopes

Mac’s 49-year-old reactor could alleviate future isotope shortages

Canada could avoid another medical isotope crisis by giving McMaster University money to staff and license its nuclear reactor to produce the vital diagnostic and treatment tools.

The Hamilton university’s director of nuclear operations says the previously rejected idea is back on the table and being discussed with Health Canada and Natural Resources Canada.

Chris Heysel says that the McMaster reactor did the job for four years in the mid-1970s during a planned shutdown of the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. Chalk River reactor.

But Heysel says a later proposal to put it on permanent standby was not approved.

That was before an unplanned shutdown of the Chalk River reactor resulted in an international isotope shortage late last year.

The 49-year-old McMaster reactor is used principally for education and research, but also produces iodine125 for prostate cancer treatment as well as small supplies of a few other short-lived medical isotopes.

“We’ve certainly given the government information regarding our capabilities and they’ve asked questions back and forth,” Heysel said.

“There is some interest, but whether it will be an option the government looks at to maintain valuable isotope production for Canadian patients remains to be seen.”

Heysel said staffing and licensing are now geared to those mandates, “and we would need more money to be in a position to be isotope-ready” on a larger scale.

While it’s easy to calculate the cost of extra fuel and staff, it’s harder to determine the cost of gaining added licences from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, Heysel said.

-with a report from CP 

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