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Planned reactor shutdown likely to hit Nordion sales

The MAPLE reactor.


Nordion Inc. expects sales of its nuclear medical isotopes to be squeezed by a planned shutdown of Ontario's Chalk River reactor in 2012 and the company's Russian supplier won't be able to make up for the shortfall, chief executive Steve West said Wednesday.

West said he expects the Chalk River National Research Universal reactor to have another planned shutdown next summer as part of its relicensing requirements, noting these shutdowns are common among most major isotope-producing reactors.

"We expect this shutdown to have a similar impact on reactor revenues, as they have in Q3," West said, a day after Nordion reported a narrower third-quarter loss and sharply higher revenues.

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Nuclear medicine company Nordion is Canada's largest producer and seller of medical isotopes such as Molybdenum-99 that are used in cancer tests and treatment, medical imaging and other health therapies and technology.

The company, which also trades on the New York Stock Exchange, has 500 employees and sells its products to drug and biotech companies, medical device makers, hospitals, clinics and research labs around the world.

"The combination of this expected outage and the limited availability of the Russian supply during this time create an additional challenge for capturing Molybdenum-99 market share," West told analysts during a conference call.

There was a global shortage of medical isotopes when the Chalk River reactor was shut down in May 2009 because of a leak. That reactor in the Ottawa Valley produces half the world's supply of nuclear isotopes used in medical imaging and diagnostic procedures.

The shortage caused a political furor in the Commons and mounting concerns by doctors and other health professionals about the impact on the availability of medical tests for Canadians.

In the latest quarter, Ottawa-based Nordion said that due to higher sales of medical isotopes and sterilization technologies, the company raised its revenue by almost 50 per cent to $66.8-million (U.S.) from $47.9-million.

In its financial results, Nordion announced late Tuesday it cut its overall third-quarter loss to $4.1-million from $15-million.

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The company, which reports in U.S. dollars, said its continuing operations were profitable, earning seven cents per share or $4.7-million.

But that was more than offset by an $8.8-million loss from discontinued operations, Nordion said.

In the comparable period last year, Nordion's continuing operations lost $8.7-million or 13 cents a share and discontinued operations lost $6.4-million for a total loss of $15-million.

The improvement came from increased sale of medical isotopes ($21.4-million, up from $11.9-million) and sterilization technologies ($32.1-million, up from $21.1-million). Revenue from targeted therapies fell $1.5-million to $13.3-million.

Nordion emerged from the former MDS Inc., a drug research, high-end medical equipment and isotopes producer which restructured a few years ago. MDS employed 3,600 people in 2009 but sold its lab and technology businesses and renamed itself Nordion after its nuclear medicine division.

In Wednesday trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange, Nordion shares rose four cents to $8.81.

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