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Nuclear commission to have input

Hoping to make repairing and restarting the NRU reactor as smooth a process as possible, AECL has signed an agreement with the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which outlines what has to be done in order to get the nuclear regulator's blessing.

The "Protocol for the NRU Restart Licensing Activities" was signed jointly by CNSC President and CEO Michael Binder and AECL President and CEO Hugh MacDiarmid last week.

While most aspects of the repairs anticipated for the NRU are covered under its current operating license, the CNSC has determined the company needs its approval before refueling the reactor.

To smooth this approval process out, and speed it up as much as possible, the protocol was developed so each party knows what is expected of them before the reactor is refueled and reactivated.

The protocol covers the following phases of the work to return the NRU to service; assessing the condition of the NRU nuclear vessel, repairing the vessel and completing a post-repair inspection, and reestablishing the reactor's fitness for service.

The AECL staff will have to present a safety case for restarting the reactor to the CNSC staff and the commission itself before it can proceed.

All of this has to be documented and submitted to the CNSC, which in turn will review the case within 15 working days of receiving it and pass on its assessment to AECL.

If everything is OK, it will submit its final recommendations to the CNSC Secretariat within 10 working days of receiving AECL's formal application.

AECL has been working very closely with the CNSC, and CNSC safety inspectors are directly involved at the Chalk River site.

The NRU reactor, the source of a third of the world's medical isotopes, has been off-line since mid-May due to a number of small leaks discovered in the vessel surrounding the reactor.

It has been determined it will be at least the spring of 2010 before the reactor is repaired and ready to go again.

Stephen Uhler is a Daily Observer reporter