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Former employee says nuke plant problems avoidable

CTV News: David Akin - Dec. 8 2007

A former employee of the Chalk River Nuclear Laboratory is speaking out about the plant's closure for repairs.

The employee told CTV News a delay in repairs that has led to the shortage of a vital medical component could have been avoided.

The publicly-owned plant was closed earlier this month for repairs, which will now take longer than expected. They may not be completed until the new year.

That's left medical facilities in Canada and around the world without radioisotopes that are necessary for diagnosing diseases such as cancer, heart disease, and bone ailments. Thousands of patients requiring possibly life-saving tests could be affected.

One former worker at the nuclear plant says that the news that the key reactor was shut down last week for violating safety standards came as no surprise.

"No, absolutely not," said the anonymous source in an exclusive interview with CTV News.

"I always thought it was not a question of if, it was a question of when and the when was now."

The former employee of Atomic Energy Of Canada Limited worked at its Chalk River facility in the 1990s. He said he had concerns over the years about the safety of the facility.

In 1995, AECL shut down one of two reactors at Chalk River. That left it with its current 50-year-old reactor without a backup for the past 12 years.

The former employee blames the delay in getting a backup on a-decades-old dysfunctional relationship between AECL and its federal regulator, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission. He says the acrimony led to ineffective communication between the two sides.

It may also have left AECL six years behind schedule -- and 300 per cent over budget- building backup reactors for the one that was shut down. It may still be at least a year before new backup reactors are in place.

A spokesman for AECL rejected the theory of a dysfunctional relationship, and the regulator declined to comment.

In the meantime, the employee says it will take political will to break the logjam.

"It's really incumbent upon the minister to intervene and say 'Clean up your act,'" said the former employee.

The federal government had already announced a broad review of the structure of AECL, setting the stage for partial or full privatization of the corporation.

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