In its decision, the CNSC concluded that AECL "is qualified to return the NRU to service and to carry on the activity authorized by the current license. The Commission is satisfied that AECL, in carrying on that activity, will take adequate provision for the protection of the environment, the health and safety of persons, and the maintenance of national security and measures required to implement international obligations to which Canada has agreed."
In a written statement, AECL noted that today's CNSC approval "marks an important milestone in the NRU return-to-service project."
"We still require a couple of weeks of work before we can actually restart the reactor," AECL spokesman Dale Coffin told AuntMinnie.com. "We are on track to resume isotope production by the end of July."
In the meantime, AECL's return-to-service activities will continue, including reactivation of the NRU’s auxiliary operating systems. A work plan has been developed for all maintenance, testing, system configuration, and training activities, as well as progress on completing tests and system configurations prior to NRU's restart.
AECL's current license remains unchanged and is valid until October 31, 2011, unless suspended, amended, revoked, or replaced.
The CNSC's ruling also directs AECL to provide updates "on the progress and effectiveness" of its corrective action plan every six months after NRU's restart. The commission requires annual inspections of the reactor, and an inspection will occur no later than nine months after NRU resumes service.
The nuclear reactor supplies approximately half of the medical isotope molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) to North America and has been offline since May 2009 due to a major water leak. Repairs, which began last December, were recently completed.
AECL officials appeared before the CNSC on July 5 to request permission to resume operation, saying that the NRU reactor passed all safety inspections following repairs. During the one-day hearing, the commission received and considered CNSC staff recommendations and the submissions from AECL and four interveners.
AECL has said that it could resume Mo-99 production by late July once regulatory approval was received. The CNSC decision to allow NRU's restart also is good news for the nuclear medicine community, which has battled a shortage of Mo-99 and technetium-99m for more than a year, prompting imaging facilities to postpone or reschedule exams.
The resumption of service at Chalk River would coincide with the return of the High Flux Reactor in Petten, the Netherlands, by the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group. The Dutch reactor has been shuttered for maintenance and is scheduled for its restart later this month.
AECL plans for late July restart, July 2, 2010
AECL start-up hearing rescheduled, June 30, 2010
AECL proceeds with restart plans, June 28, 2010
AECL completes Chalk River repairs, June 17, 2010
AECL requests NRU restart hearing, June 14, 2010
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