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Reactor shutdown to bring increased waits for medical scans

The planned shutdown of a European nuclear reactor later this summer will bring increased waits for non-essential medical scans, said an official with Medical Imaging Consultants (MIC), which operates a location in St. Albert.

The planned shutdown of a European nuclear reactor later this summer will bring increased waits for non-essential medical scans, said an official with Medical Imaging Consultants (MIC), which operates a location in St. Albert.

A planned shutdown will close one of the Edmonton area’s main suppliers for the last two weeks of July and the first two weeks of August. This could reduce supplies of radioisotopes by half, said Jonathan Abele, nuclear medicine leader for MIC.

“It means a longer wait time for some people. The urgent cases we should still be able to do urgently but the less urgent cases will have to wait a few weeks longer than they otherwise would have,” Abele said. “It’s not an ideal situation.”

The company’s facility at the Summit Centre uses isotopes to detect cancer or fractures in bone. It also does heart imaging to detect coronary artery disease or clear patients for other surgeries. These procedures are usually not urgent but it’s best to get them done within a few weeks, Abele said.

The global supply of medical isotopes is already being pinched by the shutdown of Ontario’s Chalk River reactor on May 15 due to a water leak. Edmonton-area medical facilities haven’t been hit as hard as some because they get about 70 per cent of their supply from overseas reactors in the Netherlands and Belgium.

Up to now, MIC has experienced periods where their supply is reduced about 20 per cent but has been able to work around it by using less material per patient and performing scans of longer duration, Abele said.

“We haven’t had to reduce the number of patients scanned to this point. We’ve just had to change how we do the tests a little bit,” Abele said.

The isotope shortage isn’t affecting services at the Sturgeon Community Hospital as there are no procedures there that use isotopes, said Alberta Health Services spokesman Bruce Conway.

Dr. Wayne Daviduck, a St. Albert family doctor, said he hasn’t had trouble getting patients in for scans.

“There’s a huge wait list for most of the procedures anyway,” he said. “So far I haven’t seen it change or affect the wait lists.”

Daviduck hasn’t heard anything about further supply issues down the road.

“I haven’t received any bulletins on it that have given us a heads up,” he said.

Last week, safety officials with Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., which operates the Chalk River reactor, said they’ve detected erosion in a number of areas in the reactor and don’t know when it will be back in operation. Since the reactor was shut down workers have been conducting visual inspections by lowering cameras through small holes at the top of the reactor.