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France To Shut Down Nuclear Reactor Osiris, Major Facility Producing Medical Isotopes

PARIS, Aug. 26, 2014 (EIRNS)—The French government confirmed its insane decision on Aug. 4 to shut down the small nuclear research reactor Osiris (70 MW) as of Dec. 31, 2015,.

Osiris, operating since 1966, is one of the nine research reactors in the world producing technetium-99 (Tc-99), the most used and irreplaceable radioisotope used in scintigraphy and other medical imaging techniques to diagnose, especially, cancer. Osiris is a key facility for the world’s health; the decision to shut it down is close to criminal.

For example, in Spring 2010, when medical isotope production was temporarily unavailable in both Canada and the Netherlands, Osiris produced 20% of world supplies. (Under normal circumstances, the plant produces 5 to 7% of annual world supplies.) In the first five months of 2013 alone, Osiris permitted 1.2 million medical procedures all over Europe. Closing it down now will create immediate shortages, since its replacement, the research reactor Jules Horowitz (RJH), under construction in Cadarache, France, will only begin operating as of 2018-2020.

Isotope production, in general, is merely a byproduct of nuclear research reactors whose main aim is to test and study the behavior of new materials by exposing them to radiation. New metal alloys under consideration for space missions, or nuclear fusion plants, notably for ITER, have to be tested first in such reactors.

Since the Japan mega-earthquake and tsunami in March 2011, nuclear regulatory agencies have been requiring that all nuclear power plants be reinforced in order to resist earthquakes and the impact of an airplane. To upgrade Osiris would require some EU50 million. But France's leading nuclear public operator, the Atomic Energy Commission (CEA), was unable to come up with the funding and called on the government for help while the government, itslf, is bankrupt.

Trade unions and local elected officials are furious over the shutdown. But the government, despite the fact that both the French Academy of Medicine and the French Academy of Pharmacology warned that the early closure of Osiris would threaten the quality of medical treatment for patients, went along with its decision. One of the arguments is, that, until RJH becomes operational, positron emission tomography (PET) is an acceptable alternative diagnostic procedure.

Professor André Aurengo, the head of nuclear medicine at Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris, blasted this lie and demonstrated that it is scientifically untrue. Certain illnesses that can be diagnosed by Tc-99 scan, can simply not be detected by PET. Further, according to the unions, very few medical facilities have access to PET, which would cost EU600 million to allow them to acquire the necessary equipment—ten times the cost to upgrade Osiris! Professor Aurengo underlined the government's "heavy responsibility," whose decision will cause "a real loss of chances" for cancer patients, especially children.