Canada's Chalk River Nuclear Reactor Up and Running Again, but Safely?

Linda KeenLinda KeenThe fifty-year old nuclear reactor at Chalk River in Ontario, Canada, is running again after the Canadian Parliament overruled the president of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. The facility is owned by Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, which is a public-owned corporation of the Government of Canada. Then-Commission President Linda Keen has since been fired from her position. But she still testified in front of the House of Commons' Natural Resources committee Tuesday, saying, "When it comes to nuclear facilities, ignoring safety requirements is simply not an option – not now, not ever." At issue was the lack of adequate safety systems at the plant. "Ms. Keen said that without the backup system in place, the risk of a nuclear accident stood at one in a thousand -- 1,000 times higher than the international standard of one in a million." The reactor produces nuclear isotopes for medical use, and the members of the Conservative party in Parliament claimed that keeping the reactor shut down was leading to a medical emergency in Canada and worldwide. Others have disputed this, and point to the lag in time between the plant's shutdown and the government's sounding the alarm with other isotope producers. Regardless, Keen pointed out: "Under the law, the commission did not have the authority to take the issue of isotopes into consideration." She also added that "the Chalk River reactor, which is more than 50 years old, would not be licensed today by any nuclear regulator in the world."