Old reactors like old people often become incontinent.
This is certainly the case with NRU. It had some minor leaks in early December 2008 which just made the headlines last week. At the outset I should commend the operators of NRU for doing a wonderful job of keeping that old and leaky reactor running. It was widely recognized twenty years ago that it needed to be replaced and but for the failure of the MAPLE project would have long since been retired.
If the politicians want NRU to continue producing isotopes then they will have to accept that there will be continuing problems of this type until it is finally shut down. To express outrage at not being informed each time it piddles a little bit is simply playing to the gallery. Similarly for the media to trumpet every incident as apocalyptic is a waste of public adrenaline. As for the nuclear medicine docs whose primary concern is for the welfare of their patients and certainly not for their wallets, they should know that knocking NRU is not going to help keep it operating.
Nothing significant happened at NRU in December but the incident was totally blown out of all proportion. This is a great example of my previous post on the corrosive effects of secrecy on the nuclear industry. In my opinion the solution for AECL is to issue a press release every time anything happens at NRU. This would go a long way to re-establishing the transparency and honesty that the nuclear industry so badly needs. As I see it, letting the media find out by reading reports to the regulator (CNSC) is dumb because it’s just asking for accusations of secrecy. Swamp the media with information and with their short attention spans they’ll soon get bored and move on to the next titillating episode in the life of Brittany Spears, Jessica Simpson or someone of that ilk.
In this vein, here’s an anecdote about the current head of a famous nuclear company. When protestors in a small town accused her of concealing leaks that endangered public health at a nearby nuclear facility she managed, she offered to give them any radiation monitoring equipment they wanted to take away to do their own measurements. All they had to do is to return it to the city hall when they were done. They took her up on the offer and the protests stopped. We could use that kind of imagination and the indications are looking more and more like that we might even get it, albeit indirectly, from the lady herself.