Sunday, June 27, 2010

Medical Isotopes are still an issue?

CLS may produce medical isotopes

It shouldn't but it never ceases to amaze me how stories evolve from major issues to back burner problems that nobody sees or hears from again.

Medical isotopes are one of those issues. When Chalk River was shut down, it was the end of the world. "Where are we going to get these extra isotopes from? How are we ever going to survive?" were the tone of the questions being asked. Of course, I wondered at the time, why is this just a Canadian issue, and why are these isotopes so special that they can't just be done by any old nuclear reactor. And then I saw the reaction to the idea of doing ANY nuclear development in Saskatchewan.

Now, I might as well lay my cards out on the table right now. I'm unabashedly pro-nuke. I don't equate nuclear reactors with nuclear weapons, nor am I particularly concerned about the issue of nuclear waste and how to store it. I know that nuclear material eventually breaks down into more stable and less radio active substances over time, and I also know that eventually the "waste" from the reactors can be recycled into reactor fuel again. I know that the nuclear fission process in a nuclear reactor uses only a small amount of the total energy of the material, leaving "spent" fuel rods that can be reprocessed and reused in the future.

There's one thing that puzzled me about the whole mess, however. Why is it only in the government's hands to create these isotopes, and why is it that the Americans haven't built their own reactor(s)? Then I read this paragraph:

"(Ottawa) wants some view of how these isotopes will be made commercially," de Jong said Friday afternoon. "Is it a business that makes sense? A lot of that is not clear right now."
I also read about how the federal government wants to privatize the process if it can, and I have no doubts that it might be feasible. I would point out that if the isotopes are truly necessary, then any attempt to commercially produce them will be viable, not because the technology works to make it so, but because the market price will rise to meet the real value of the isotopes and not the artificially low price that the isotopes have been sold under pretty much since inception. It's not that producing these isotopes have been commercially unviable all these years, it's that the government has been producing them, and thus hasn't been charging enough for the service. Not only that, they have created a monopoly on the market through regulation and restrictions which has forced us into the shortage we are currently in.

I can't help but look at the numbers being thrown around - $10 million is what the CLC figures it needs to determine whether the process is viable, but I have a thought, and it's a crazy one - I know:

$10 million is chump change for anyone looking to raise capital to invest in a project such as this. If it comes to fruition, $50 million would likely be the amount of capital needed to put something like this into play in the private sector. So why doesn't the government let the private sector do just that? Why does it have to put money into commercializing a process that can currently be done when the companies who will ultimately benefit from the research could just as easily raise the funds any do it themselves. This is like the government researching Viagra and then handing it off to Pfizer to produce and sell at a large profit.

Of course, this is just a thought.

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