TORONTO – Canada’s House of Commons passed emergency legislation late Tuesday aimed at bypassing the Canadian nuclear safety watchdog and putting a swift end to a critical shortage of a radioactive substance used in diagnostic medical tests.
The bill would allow Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. to immediately restart a reactor in Chalk River, Ontario, that was shut down last week. The reactor is North America’s biggest source of the radioactive isotope that makes technetium-99.
The substance is used in at least 15 million medical scans a year in the United States, by one estimate. Those scans are used to diagnose and assess a wide variety of conditions including cancer, heart disease and bone or kidney illnesses.
The shortage has forced hospitals across Washington to limit nuclear tests – from cardiac tests at Deaconess Medical Center to brain scans at Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center, The Spokesman-Review reported Tuesday.
They are often crucial for guiding therapy, telling a doctor whether a woman’s breast cancer has invaded her bones, for example.
The reactor is not slated to reopen until mid-January and the Canadian Society of Nuclear Medicine estimates the shortage will cause delays in treatment for 50,000 Canadians each month that services are reduced.
The legislation would suspend for 120 days the oversight role of the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which found serious safety concerns with the reactor last month.
The bill still must be passed by the Liberal-dominated Senate, which will likely deal with it swiftly today. The Canadian Senate is unelected and rubber-stamps most legislation passed by the House of Commons.