Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) said on Sunday it had reopened the only nuclear reactor in North America that makes radioactive isotopes, after it was closed for maintenance causing significant delays in medical tests.
'The National Research Reactor (NRU) was safely returned to service at 3:44 am on Sunday,' the AECL said in a statement, adding that medical isotopes will start being collected from the reactor for processing and distribution 'within four days.'
The NRU, on Chalk River, Ontario, is the only nuclear reactor in North America that supplies medical isotopes for molecular imaging, radiotherapeutics, and analytical instruments.
It was closed for maintenance on November 18, causing major delays in medical diagnosis, including thousands of cancer tests in Canada and the United States.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's administration on December 12 pushed an emergency measure through Parliament to turn the NRU back on for a period of 120 days, despite objections by Canada's nuclear watchdog, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.
The AECL chief resigned a few days later over the issue.
'While we recognize the importance of the reliable production of medical isotopes, our first and foremost commitment is to safety,' AECL's President, Research and Technology Division, David Torgerson, said Sunday in the company statement.
'The NRU reactor has operated safely for the past 50 years and is safer now than ever before,' he added.
Canada's Health Minister Tony Clement told CTV television on Sunday that the AECL chief's resignation was merely a 'coincidence,' and defended his government from Liberal Party charges of partisanship in its handling of the NRU crisis.
'Sometimes you've got to fire a couple shots across the bow to make sure the opposition knows that you're serious about the issue,' he said.
'It appeared to us, on the outside, as a lot of sound and fury over something that affected potentially the lives and wellbeing of many, many Canadians and people around the world,' Clement said.