In a potentially tragic manifestation of the old saw, "the thigh bone's connected to the hipbone; the hipbone's connected to the backbone," a local power outage shut down the Chalk River nuclear reactor in Ontario, Canada; the shut down led to a heavy water leak at the world's oldest nuclear research reactor; the leak caused officials to close the plant indefinitely; the closing has obliterated the availability of certain nuclear isotopes used in both diagnosis and cancer treatment throughout the world, even at Damariscotta's Miles Hospital.
Lana Brandt of Boothbay Harbor, who manages the diagnostic radiology department at Miles, described the lack of isotope availability as serious and global for both patients and doctors. She said the 52 year-old Chalk River reactor's shutdown "brings the world to a standstill." She said the plant supplies more than 50 percent of the world's nuclear diagnostic material.
Though cardiac scans can be done with an alternative isotope, anyone who needs a bone scan is simply out of luck, she said, until either Chalk River goes back online or a new source is found. Patients and doctors wanting to check on spreading bone cancer or see other fine details in bones will probably find the wait, "very worrying," said Brandt.
The aged nuclear plant also closed in late 2007 for several weeks and Canadians have scrapped plans to replace it. Brandt said that before the 2007 closing, she had never seen anything like the sudden lack of availability of the atomic tools of her trade in her 30 years in the field.
Locals used to our small regional hospitals not having every single technology often head to larger hospitals in New England for specialized care. In this case, no one can help, said Brandt. "You can't just go down to Maine Med," she said. "We're all in the same boat."
Canadians have been fighting over this plant's safety for years and it continues to inflame. Political intrigue has plagued regulators and politicians since the head of Canadian Nuclear Safety Linda Keen was fired for refusing to sign off on Chalk Rivers' re-opening in 2007. Parliament opened it over regulator's objections citing the world's need for the isotopes.
The current Canadian closing creates particular concern because of the four plants supplying medical isotopes two others closed recently for maintenance. Netherland's HFR reactor, the single remaining open plant supplying about 30 percent of the world's medical isotopes, primarily contracts with countries outside of North America.
8 months ago