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Renfrew County council wants NRU operational until 2021

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Sean Chase/Daily Observer
CNL vice-president of operations Dave Cox explains the NRU reactor using a model during ceremonies in November marking the reactor's 60th anniversary. Renfrew County Council has passed a motion supporting an extension of the NRU's life past its slated March 2018 closure date.

Sean Chase/Daily Observer CNL vice-president of operations Dave Cox explains the NRU reactor using a model during ceremonies in November marking the reactor's 60th anniversary. Renfrew County Council has passed a motion supporting an extension of the NRU's life past its slated March 2018 closure date.

 

The County of Renfrew is calling on the federal government to extend the life of the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at Chalk River for another three years.

As it stands now, the NRU will begin shutdown and decommissioning procedures on March 31, 2018 when its operating licence expires. However, County council passed a resolution last week seeking an extension so the NRU can continue producing medical isotopes.

“We urge the Canadian government to decide now to continue operating NRU until at least 2021, and use that time to order a new reactor vessel and plan refurbishment for 25 years,” said Petawawa Mayor Bob Sweet, chairman of the development and property committee, as he introduced the motion.

Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL), the corporation that manages Chalk River under the Government-owned, Contractor-operated (GoCo), has applied to the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) for a 10-year renewal of its operating licence. Recently the NRU/CNL Alumni Network has forwarded a proposal to keep the NRU running, while working with South Africa in terms of isotope manufacturing and nuclear research. Canada and South Africa signed a nuclear co-operation agreement in 2016 setting out the transfer of Canadian-supplied nuclear material, equipment and technology. Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon pointed out that the alumni network’s proposal hits on themes presented by the county back in 2015 when stakeholders were asked for their opinions on how Chalk River should be managed under GoCo.

“We were of the opinion that the NRU could last longer and there should be a plan to replace it,” said Renfrew Reeve Peter Emon noting that the reactor, which just marked its 60th anniversary, is still in good shape. “There is a viable market that should not be shutdown by the federal government.”

The county resolution also calls for Ottawa to consider continuing to operate the Canadian Neutron Beam Centre and design a new business model for the production of Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), which is used for diagnostic nuclear medical imaging. Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) should also lead a consortium that would replace the inefficient and unfair supply chain model with an industrial radiopharmacy model centred at Chalk River, the resolution added. That consortium would work with South Africa on the design and construction of a fully-integrated Mo-99 production facility at a CANDU reactor site. Finally the resolution calls for the launch of an international trade organization to deal strictly with the export of Mo-99.

Deep River Reeve Glen Doncaster conceded that the eve of the NRU shutdown was not the most opportune time for the NRU/CNL Alumni Network to unveil this ambitious proposal adding it should have commenced five years ago. He explained that the NRU and the 52-year-old South African reactor, Safari-1, which is also slated for shutdown, were the world’s largest producers of medical isotopes.

“The NRU has produced many outstanding science and technology achievements over its lifetime,” said Doncaster.

Despite breakdowns and safety concerns, AECL has said that NRU is safe to operate until at least 2021. He explained that AECL had been producing isotopes for MDS Nordion, a leading provider of medical isotopes and radiopharmaceuticals, at a loss financially. The shutdowns in 2007 and 2008 forced the government to look at the NRU, Doncaster added, and decide to get out of the isotope business. However, if even parts of the resolution are implemented Doncaster feels it will be good for a nuclear industry that accounts for 110,000 jobs in Canada.

“Being able to continue that technology using the NRU reactor or a similar type reactor to continue to advance that science and to perform safety case experiments in relation to CANDU technology is important to this country,” he said.

SChase@postmedia.com