Medical isotope generation resumes at Chalk River

After more than a year-long shut down, the nuclear reactor at Chalk River , Ontario has resumed operation. That means the reactor’s by-products can once again be used to create medical radioisotopes which are used by Saskatoon Health Region and health regions and hospitals across Canada and around the world to conduct medical tests.

Diagnostic scans like this one use medical isotopes

The 53-year-old reactor was shut down by Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. in May 2009 because of a heavy water leak.

The Health Region expects to receive isotopes from Chalk River’s generation within the next month.

“The Health Region is optimistic that this is the light at the end of the tunnel,” says Corey Miller, Director of Nuclear Medicine for Saskatoon Health Region. “We hope to finally be able to see a more steady stream of medical isotopes. That being said, we have been managing well through this shortage.”

During the 16 month shutdown of Chalk River, the Health Region postponed and rescheduled about 656 clients, but to date, has already rescheduled and completed 349 of the scans.

“We have followed a provincial process for prioritizing the most urgent patient scans during this time,” adds Miller. “And throughout the process, we have worked very closely with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency to ensure that no tests for cancer detection, treatment or follow up have been postponed or rescheduled.”

The staff in the nuclear medicine department have utilized different methods and radioisotopes to conduct diagnostic scans as a result of the isotope shortage. “The staff needs to be commended for their extra efforts and expertise to assist us in minimizing the impact that this isotope shortage has had on the community and the clients we serve,” says Miller.