Feature | Nuclear Imaging | April 02, 2018 | Dave Fornell

Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission renewed Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ operating license for the Chalk River isotope reactor

The Chalk River nuclear reactor license has been renewed, but will be decommissioned by 2028.

The Chalk River nuclear isotope reactor license has been renewed, but will be decommissioned by 2028. The reactor supplies about 50 percent of the world's supply of Tc99m.


April 2, 2018 – The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) announced March 29 that it renewed Canadian Nuclear Laboratories’ (CNL) Nuclear Research and Test Establishment Operating License for the Chalk River Laboratories (CRL) site. It was previously the world’s largest production reactor for medical nuclear imaging isotopes. However, the decision includes a plan to transition to shutdown and preparation for decommissioning by 2028.  

The decision followed a public hearing Jan. 23–25, 2018. The new license will be valid from April 1, 2018 until March 31, 2028.

CRL is the largest single science and technology complex in Canada, located near Chalk River, Ontario, about 160 km northwest of Ottawa. The National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at Chalk River has been operating at CRL since 1957. Until Oct. 31, 2016, the reactor produced a large percentage of the world's medical isotopes, used in both the diagnosis and treatment of life-threatening diseases. In late 2016, it ended production of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the precursor to the making of technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the most widely used radioisotope for single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) imaging.

The 61-year-old nuclear reactor has had safety concerns requiring shutdowns to make repairs and updates over the past decade. Each time the reactor has shut down, there was a shortage of Tc-99m.  This has prompted the United States government to support plans to create a domestic supply of medical isotopes. In February 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) took steps to ensure a stable and secure supply of Tc-99m. The FDA approved the NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes' RadioGenix System used to produce Mo-99. 

Read the FDA approval article “FDA Clears Path for First Domestic Supply of Tc-99m Isotope.”

With the new Canadian reactor licensing agreement, CNL will present a mid-term update in 2023 on its licensed activities at CRL during a public commission meeting within the community. Members of the public will have the opportunity to intervene orally and in writing. CNSC staff will also report annually on CNL’s performance at CRL at a commission meeting with public participation.

The record of decision is available on request to the Commission Secretariat and will be posted on the CNSC website at nuclearsafety.gc.ca. 

For more information: https://www.canada.ca/en/nuclear-safety-commission/news/2018/03/canadia…

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