There was mystery and intrigue at Canada’s Bruce nuclear power station over the weekend as it was revealed that a highly radioactive metal part of the reactor was ‘lost’ by the company refurbishing the reactor.

We say ‘mystery and intrigue’ but farce and black comedy would be nearer the truth. Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd misplaced the part, a calandria tube insert ring, after removing it from the reactor in April. Under current regulations, AECL weren’t obliged to tell anyone that a piece of metal radioactive enough to give a maximum yearly dose of radiation in a few minutes was missing. That’s quite some regulations.

The piece was only discovered when it set off one of the plants workers’ radiation monitors. The only reason he didn’t receive a harmful dose of radiation was because he backed away ‘quickly’. That ‘quickly’ is probably the understatement of the year. Coming across such an item would probably lend the motivation to break the 100 metres sprint record.

A spokesman for AECL said that the metal hadn’t harmed anyone in the two months it was missing because workers weren’t in that area of the plant. That was more by good luck than good management, we say. That worker had an extremely lucky escape. Sooner or later, someone is going to be less fortunate.

The nuclear industry is fast coming resemble the nuclear power plant in The Simpsons. This episode in Canada compares with the bit at the beginning of the show when Homer goes home with a fuel rod down his shirt. Can three-eyed fish be far away?