Monthly Archives: April 2016

CNA2016

The Nuclear Connection to Combating the Zika Virus

A team of experts at the IAEA is launching a new fight against Zika and it’s totally nuclear.

It’s an astonishing fact. One million people have already been affected by the Zika virus, a number that could quadruple by the end of this year.

zikavirus

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a global emergency on the virus and recent reports indicated that it has spread its way into North America. Reports of over 100 cases have already surfaced in the United States.

The Zika virus is not new. It was first discovered in Uganda back in the 1940s and is named after the forest in which it was found. The virus is spread through a mosquito known as Aedes aegypti.

Symptoms can include mild fevers, skin rashes, joint pain and headaches. But far worse, the virus has been linked to brain damage in babies and, according to French researchers, can also lead to brain infections in adults.

The procedure is called the sterile insect technique (SIT) and it’s been around for over 50 years. Very effective in addressing insect pests, the technique requires using a small dose of radiation to make insects infertile. It has been proven successful in other pest insects, suppressing or eradicating them all together. However, this will be first time that the SIT technique will be applied to fight human disease.

“Think of it as a method of birth control. We produce sterile male mosquitos using radiation that sterilizes the sperm in the male mosquito,” says Rosemary Lees, a medical entomologist with the IAEA. “When we release a large number of these males we flood a region with sterile males so that the wild females are more likely to mate with them.”

Since female mosquitos usually only mate once, mating with infertile males would stop the further reproduction of Aedes mosquitos.

The SIT technique relies on something known as Cobalt-60, a radioactive isotope that is currently used to sterilize 40 per cent of the world’s medical devices. In Canada Cobalt-60 is harvested from Bruce Power and processed by Nordion.

“Cobalt-60 from our reactors already plays a major role in keeping single-use medical equipment safely sterilized, and with it now helping to stop the spread of diseases like Zika virus the world’s population continues to benefit from it,” said James Scongack, Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Bruce Power. “We look forward to working with Nordion to continue safely harvesting Cobalt-60 during our planned maintenance outages so it can help prevent disease across the world.”

The second half of the program involves understanding the wild mosquito environment through trapping mosquitos. The idea is that if researchers know how many wild mosquitoes there are, they will know how many to release. The hope is that if enough wild mosquitos are trapped and sterile ones breed, that the spread of the virus will cease.

“We are trying to remove the vector. Think of Zika transmission as a triangle. People, virus and the mosquito. By removing one of the three you can stop the transmission,” according to Jeremie Gilles, head of the mosquito group with the IAEA.

The WHO has declared the Zika virus a public health emergency and has advised all pregnant women to avoid affected areas. This is only the fourth time in history that this has happened since International Heath Regulations (IHR) came into place in 2007.

The work being done at the IAEA through the use of nuclear technology may be able to stop the spread of what could soon be a global pandemic in its tracks.

CNA2016

Small Reactors: Big Questions, Big Opportunities

By John Stewart
Director of Policy and Research
Canadian Nuclear Association

An Ontario politician asked me this week what I thought the prospects were for deploying nuclear energy in Alberta.  He seemed surprised when I said I thought Ontario was an equally big opportunity.

He shouldn’t have been. Yes, there’s a great future for low-carbon power in Western Canada (and I argued that Saskatchewan and Alberta should be viewed more or less together for this purpose). But I drew the politician’s attention back to his own province. While Ontario’s economy has had some challenges in the past decade-at times looking like a “have-not” compared with Alberta-its growth story is probably far from over. Managed well, it could generate enormous income and wealth for all Canadians in the century ahead.

Nuclear energy has been powering Ontario since 1962 and provides 60 percent of the province’s electricity, and a core part of its science, engineering and manufacturing capacity. But still, nuclear technology is young and its potential applications have barely been tested.

Efficient, ultra-safe small reactors look set to deliver a lot of those applications. The obvious one is making low-carbon power to displace fossil fuels wherever we use them-particularly by expanding the use of electric vehicles. There’s also processing minerals and other natural resources, driving ships, making medical isotopes, researching new materials and desalinating seawater.

There’s a huge amount we don’t know about how these opportunities will unfold and how big the market will be. We can’t see the future. But Ontario can do things to raise its already healthy changes of being part of it. Some of these are electrifying transportation, driving with this low-carbon generation (including new nuclear), and nurturing small reactors that can get our northern, native and remote communities off dirty diesel.

I explored prospects for SMR deployment in a presentation to the Ontario Power conference in Toronto in April. You can see that presentation here.