The federal government is planning to bring in a private company to run Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd's medical isotope facility in Chalk River, Ont.

The government announced Thursday that in the coming months, it will begin a “competitive procurement process” to find a private company to take over managing AECL’s nuclear laboratories at Chalk River.

The facility will remain government-owned but become part of a GoCo model, or government-owned, contractor-operated model.

"To ensure the best possible management, we are restructuring the management of our Nuclear Laboratories by bringing in private sector rigour and efficiency," Minister of Natural Resources Joe Oliver said in remarks prepared for a speech he gave to the 2013 Canadian Nuclear Association Conference and Trade Show Thursday.

"We will ensure that funding is directed to national priorities, ensure cost recovery for services provided to users, and reduce the financial cost and risk for Canadian taxpayers over time."

The government says it will use the services of third-party financial and nuclear advisors as part of the process in awarding the contract.

Oliver said it would likely take two years to put a private operator in place.

Chalk River is home to an aging problem-plagued reactor, which remains Canada’s main source of the isotopes used widely in medical imaging.

In the spring of 2009, the NRU reactor at Chalk River was forced to shut down for more than a year because of leakage problems, leading to a worldwide shortage of medical isotopes.

Ottawa sold AECL’s Candu nuclear reactor business to SNC-Lavalin Group in October, 2011 for $15 million. The Montreal firm was the sole bidder for the business.

Since then, AECL has focused on its nuclear laboratories division, which manages nuclear waste, conducts research as well as produces medical isotopes.

Oliver also announced that the government has agreed to fund three institutions that are researching ways to create medical isotopes without the use of nuclear reactors.

Projects led by the University of Alberta, TRIUMF in British Columbia and Prairie Isotope Production Enterprise in Manitoba will receive about $21 million in funding, he said.

The three institutions are working on ways to use cyclotrons and linear accelerators to create new sources of supply of the key medical isotope, technetium-99m, or Tc-99m.

Oliver said the investment would allow Canada to remain a leader in medical isotope technology, meeting public health needs for Canadians, while supporting high-quality jobs at home and opening technology export opportunities.