Canada pursues new nuclear research reactor to produce medical isotopes

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Friday, July 10, 2009

The Saskatchewan provincial government alongside the University of Saskatchewan (U of S) have come together to establish a CA$500 million, 10 megawatts research nuclear reactor to produce medical isotopes.

"In 1949 … cobalt-60 treatment was tried for the first time here in Saskatchewan, where it saved a woman battling cervical cancer. Maybe we can lead again in terms of nuclear medicine," said Brad Wall, the Premier of Saskatchewan, "Governments should be involved in pure research. We're dealing with some circumstances as they present themselves"

"We've had faculty that are interested in this. We have an issue of national importance, We see a reason why the U of S and the province could assist in this national issue. We see how it could help the country. We see how it could build on the university's research strength," said Richard Florizone, U of S vice-president of finance and resources.

The research conducted at the Canadian Light Source Synchrotron on campus would be enhanced by a research reactor.

"In the case of a power reactor, in Saskatchewan we have much better alternatives. In the case of a medical isotopes research reactor, this may be a circumstance where the benefits outweigh the risks," said Peter Prebble, director of energy and water policy for the Saskatchewan Environmental Society.

U of S located in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan (red star on map)

The nuclear reactor at Chalk River, Ontario in Canada was shut down on Thursday, May 14 by the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) due to a leak of heavy water and will not re-open until late 2009 or spring of 2010.

The repairs of the NRU are complex and challenging. "I've heard it described as . . . trying to change the oil in your car from your living room. We're faced with conducting remote investigations in a radioactive environment with high radiation fields, conducting the examinations and inspections through small openings in the top of the reactor and accessing over great distances," said David Cox, director of the NRU engineering task force.

"The unplanned shutdown of the NRU will result in a significant shortage of medical isotopes in Canada, and in the world, this summer," said Leona Aglukkaq, Minister of Health and Lisa Raitt, Minister of Natural Resources.

The Petten reactor in the Netherlands is another of the six extant nuclear reactors globally. It must also be shut down between mid July and mid August.

Medical isotopes are used in diagnostic procedures for cancer, heart disease and other medical conditions. When radioactive isotopes are injected into the body, radiologists can view higher radiation via medical imaging, enabling them to make a more accurate diagnosis.


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