Canadian Coalition
for Nuclear

Regroupement pour
la surveillance
du nucléaire

Nuclear Medicine, Radio-isotopes
and Nuclear Reactors

by Gordon Edwards, Ph.D.

[ Version français ]

October 1991

In 1991, the Campaign for Nuclear Phaseout played a key role in fostering Parliamentary debate on nuclear issues through the inroduction of Bill C-204 -- a piece of legislation that would have ended all licensing of new nuclear power reactors in Canada for a period of fifty years, without affecting those already in operation.

One of the arguments used by the industry against the Bill was that, if approved, the legislation would hurt nuclear medicine and scientific research, by eliminating an important source of radioactive isotopes (some of which -- notably cobalt-60 -- are produced in Ontario Hydro's nuclear reactors). But this argument is fallacious, as the following document explains.

(See the Annex for a chronological account of a related controversy -- the SLOWPOKE controversy -- including comments from a number of independent people in the field of nuclear physics and nuclear medicine.)

Canadian nuclear industry proponents are misleading people when they maintain that Bill C-204  [ a proposed piece of legislation calling for a 50-year moratorium on nuclear power expansion in Canada ]  would have a sudden and drastic negative impact on nuclear medicine and on the use of radiation in industry and in scientific research.

In summary, it is seriously misleading to state that nuclear medicine or the use of radiation in industry and in scientific research depends in any "essential" way upon nuclear reactors. Such uses existed long before the first nuclear reactors were built, and will continue to exist long after the last reactor is shut down.



taken from the handbook
"Beware of AECL Bearing Gifts -- A Slowpoke Journal"
published in 1989 by
la Coalition pour la surveillance du nucléaire (COSUN)

In the late 1980's, the debate over radio-isotope production in relation to nuclear reactors came to head in Québec, when Atomic Energy of Canada Limited offered to give a large "Slowpoke" reactor, free of charge, to the University of Sherbrooke Hospital complex, known as the "CHUS"  [pronounced "Shoe" ~ this is an abbreviation for the Centre hospitalier de l'université de Sherbrooke. ]

Originally intended only to provide hot water to heat the buildings of the Hospital complex, the Slowpoke "District Heating Reactor" -- designed for unattended operation, with no on-site operating staff -- was also touted by AECL as an inexpensive way to produce radio-isotopes for medical uses, even though the necessary design work had not been carried out for this function. In fact, even the District Heating function had never been demonstrated in practice or even approved in principle by the licensing agency (AECB : The Atomic Energy Control Board). Thus -- if it had been built -- the "Slowpoke" would have been an experiment in more ways than one.

After being turned down at Sherbrooke, AECL tried to give the same type of Slowpoke reactor to the University of Saskatchewan. Again, AECL ran into strong opposition from many quarters. Meanwhile, the (much smaller) protoype Slowpoke District Heating reactor that had been built at AECL's Whiteshell Nuclear Research Establishment in Manitoba was never allowed to be operated at full power because of unresolved safety questions. Eventually AECL scrapped the entire Slowpoke District Heating concept as a non-starter.

The following abbreviated chronology makes for an interesting and instructive story. A fuller account can be found in "The Slowpoke Journal", available for purchase on request.

In the Autumn of 1987, behind closed doors, and with no public notification, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) begins negotiations with authorities at the University of Sherbrooke Hospital Centre (the CHUS : Centre hospitalier de l'université de Sherbrooke) to provide free of charge (i.e. at federal taxpayers' expense) a new generation prototype nuclear reactor for heating the Hospital complex.

With a population of over 75,000 plus about 10,000 university and college students, Sherbrooke is the largest city in the Eastern Townships of Quebec.

The offer is welcomed by Hospital officials, particularly Dr. Etienne LeBel, former director of the Department of Nuclear Medicine, who -- much later -- will claim that the 10 Megawatt SLOWPOKE District Heating reactor proposed by AECL will also put the CHUS at the forefront of nuclear medical technology through the production of radio-isotopes.

taken from the handbook
"Beware of AECL Bearing Gifts -- A Slowpoke Journal"

published in 1989 by
la Coalition pour la surveillance du nucléaire (COSUN)

[ AECL's Isotope Business ] [ Use of Weapons-Grade Uranium ]