Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Law of Unintended Consequences: Medical Isotope Edition

In the mid 1970's, there was much concern about the size of the world's nuclear arsenal. India had just detonated it's first nuclear device using plutonium derived from reprocessed nuclear fuel waste. The US and the Soviets were in talks (ultimately unilateral on our side) to further reduce the number and the yield of their nuclear arsenals as well as the delivery platforms. Then there was the Three Mile Island partial meltdown that occurred just weeks after the release of a movie about a nuclear meltdown called "The China Syndrome", Starring everyone's least favorite traitorous bitch, Jane Fonda. This led to President Gerald Ford issuing a presidential directive temporarily banning all reprocessing in the United States. President Carter made the ban permanent. President Reagan lifted the ban in 1981, but by that time the industry did not have the money to restart production.

This has had several unfortunate side effects. It has caused nuclear waste that could be turned in to new nuclear fuel, to be stacked like nuclear cordwood outside nuclear reactor facilities, it has halted all new reactor development in this country, and it has led to us depending on Canada for our medical radioisotopes.

But there is a small problem with that picture, Canada has also let it's nuclear industry die on the vine. The result is that there are only six reactors in the world that can make a vital radioisotope used in the diagnosis of cardiac artery disease, bone cancer, breast cancer, and kidney disease: Technetium 99m. One in Chalk River Ontario Canada produces 40% of the Technetium 99m produced worldwide, another is in Petten, The Netherlands, it produces 25% of the world's production. The remaining 35% comes from three reactors in France, Germany and South Africa. The two major sources in the world are old and prone to safety problems and are in danger of being shut down permanently. Both Petten and Chalk River are shut down for repairs, and it looks like Chalk River may not be restarted.

All those tree hugging hippies who destroyed the nuclear power industry in this country are about to reap Karmic justice. They are getting older now and are suffering from heart, kidney, breast and bone disease, and now they are being tossed back into 1960's level care because of their actions. Unfortunately the rest of us must suffer a similar fate.

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