CNA2016

Nuclear at Sea: Floating Reactors

As the world demand for energy heats up, some in the nuclear industry are looking to the world’s oceans to provide sites for the next generation of power plants.

In January, China General Nuclear (CGN) announced an agreement with the Chinese shipbuilding industry to develop a floating nuclear power plant designed to supply electricity, heat and desalination of water and could be used on islands or in coastal areas, or for offshore oil and gas exploration. The plant is expected to begin power generation by 2020.

Russia, meanwhile, expects its floating nuclear plant to start powering the Arctic this year.

Scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on power plants that can be assembled in a shipyard and then docked at sea.

Professor Jacopo Buongiorno, the associate head of nuclear science and engineering at MIT and the director, Center for Advanced Nuclear Energy Systems (CANES), has been spearheading the project for two years.

“The idea is to integrate a nuclear reactor into a floating platform like the type used for oil and gas operations,” according to Buongiorno.

A whole plant, including the turbine and generator, would be built in a shipyard and then anchored a few miles offshore.

For the MIT team, floating reactors are the latest advancement in the field of nuclear technology.

“Economically, you can simplify the design and build it all in one place so you can build it faster,” says Buongiorno. They are more compact, so the amount of materials required for the construction would be less also keeping costs down.

With reactors out at sea, the threat of damage from weather events would be minimized. Waves from destructive storms are smaller out at sea than at the coastline. Also, having a nuclear power plant out at sea would mean a continuous supply of coolant.

“The reactor is under the water line so it becomes easy to use the ocean as a heat sink,” according to Dr. Buongiorno. “The heat exchanger discharges the heat into the ocean so you can’t run out of cooling.”

The group at MIT has a crowdsourcing page to help with the development of their power plant.

While the first floating power plant for this group of MIT researchers is still in the developing stages, Dr. Buongiorno and his team believe they can develop a new wave of floating nuclear plants that would be safe and cost effective in a variety of new applications.

CNA2016

MUGA: For The Health Of Your Heart

Chemotherapy for cancer can actually cause your heart muscle to weaken.  A nuclear medicine test can tell the condition of your heart muscle according to Dr. Terry Ruddy, a Nuclear Cardiologist at the Ottawa Heart Institute.

Cardiotoxicity is the presence of toxins in the heart, which can cause the heart muscle to weaken. Chemotherapy, or the process of killing cancer cells with pharmaceuticals, can also cause damage to your heart. The risk of damage increases as the cycles of chemotherapy go up. For example, a patient who is starting their first cycle of chemotherapy will be at a lower risk for heart damage compared to a patient who is undergoing a fourth cycle of chemotherapy.

“The heart always has blood in it” according to Dr. Ruddy. “Think of it as a balloon, it has a collection of blood or a blood pool. Blood goes in, fills the heart, heart squeezes and blood goes out into the body. When hearts get weak, it doesn’t pump as well so it pumps less blood out into the body.”

HEARTHEALTH

According to Dr Ruddy, under normal conditions, the heart will empty about 50% of the blood inside of it into other parts of the body before refilling again. The portion of the blood that is emptied is known as an ejection fraction.

A test that can help to determine the health of your heart muscle is called MUGA. The term was trademarked by Siemens when it was introduced in the 1980s; it stands for multi-gated acquisition scan.

In the world of nuclear medicine the more popular term is RNA or radionuclide angiogram.

A MUGA looks at the pooling or collection of red blood cells.

The test takes pictures of the heart when the heart is filled with blood and again once the blood has been squeezed from the heart and into outlying areas. Then doctors calculate the difference.

Ruddy goes onto say, “We measure weakness or strength by this fraction. If you have a weak heart muscle with a low ejection fraction we call that heart failure. People with heart failure die within 5 years. Mortality is directly related to how low the fraction is. Lower the ejection fraction the higher the death rate.”

There is hope however for those with a weak heart. Medications can make a big difference and improve ejection fraction.

A device, known as an internal cardiac defibrillator can be placed into patients who have weak heart muscles. Wires extend from a battery pack that is inserted near the heart which can both help the heart beat more uniformly and see if the heart is beating irregularly. These devices can shock the heart from inside the body.

The Ottawa Heart Institute does about 1,000 tests per year to help determine a treatment course for those patients already diagnosed with weak hearts. Thanks to advances in technology, a MUGA can be administered with a lower radiation dose than in the past.

“It’s a Heart Institute first, says Ruddy. We have reduced the radiation by 50% for all our nuclear tests.”

 

CNA2016

Nuclear Medicine And Your Pet

For 153 years, since 1862, the Ontario Veterinary College, has led the way ini Canada for animal medicine, improving the lives of four legged friends and their humans.

OVC ranks fourth in the world for veterinary medicine and includes a nuclear medicine division.

Dr. Alex Zur Linden is an assistant professor in the Diagnostic Imaging department at OVC where he assesses patients using tools such as Computed Tomography (CT) scans, a nuclear technology tool. The scan allows physicians to get a 360-degree snapshot of what is happening inside the animal.  But as Dr. Zur Linden points out, the work poses some unique challenges.

“Prior to a scan taking place the animals are sedated. We do this so that they won’t move off the table and to minimize their respiratory motion because unlike humans you can’t ask them to hold their breath,” says Dr. Zur Linden.

Cat&Dog

Another area of veterinary nuclear medicine is in the treatment for cats with hyperthyroid. A condition in which the thyroid overproduces a hormone known as thyroxine, this can cause the body processes to speed up.

Signs of hyperthyroidism in cats include faster heart rate, vomiting and diarrhea. If left untreated it can lead to blindness.

Once diagnosed, usually following a blood test, treatment can begin. A common method of treatment is something known as radioiodine therapy. A non-invasive procedure, patients do not have to undergo the stress of sedation or an operation.

Instead, radioactive iodine is injected into the cat where it is absorbed by the thyroid. The radioactive iodine is able to destroy the infected cells and patients usually see a return to normal hormonal levels with a week or two of treatment.

The cross over applications between research amongst humans and animals has meant the ability to better diagnose and treat patients. One such application is a procedure known as microwave ablation (MWA). Primarily used in humans, due to its expensive cost, MWA involves using microwave energy to heat and destroy tumors.

“One promising area is with cancer in the lungs. Right now there is not much we can do, however, with microwave ablation, you can kill the tumor. It’s been done in people,” Zur Linden goes onto say, “it’s likely palliative therapy but has the potential to be curative as well.”

As outlined in The National Research Council’s Committee on the National Needs for Research in Veterinary Science it was through work with chickens that the cancer causing virus, sarcoma was discovered. An immune suppressing virus in cattle was discovered years before HIV or AIDS would be diagnosed in humans. Advances in one stream have had numerous benefits in another. However, according to Zur Linden,while in the past advances were often made in the animal world first, that is changing.

“Nowadays veterinary medicine is catching up to the technology which is tested in people first and then applied to animals.”

 

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.

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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.

CNA2016

Lightweighting Vehicles With Nuclear Technology

A big change is coming to a car dealership near you. It’s called light-weighting — producing vehicles that weigh less and leave money in their owners’ pockets.

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By 2025, a typical passenger car in both Canada and the United States will require 5.1 litres of gasoline for every 100 kilometers, down from 7.4 litres for 2016 models. That means less pain at the pump – and a cut of nearly 50 percent in climate-changing carbon emissions.

It’s a big deal for industry. Most of Canada’s GHG emission increases between 1990 and 2013 were driven by the fossil fuel industry and transportation.

The approach to reduce CO2 by making vehicles lighter is no easy feat.  It means swapping out steel parts for lighter aluminum ones. But aluminum parts are weaker than steel, and get failing grades from the crash-test dummies.

carmanufacturing

This is where the power of a nuclear research reactor comes in.

A reactor produces subatomic particles called neutrons. The scientists at Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) can channel these invisible particles into a beam of energy that can penetrate objects without breaking or destroying them. It’s like turning on a light that can shine through things, like engine blocks in cars.

“When we look at an engine of a car or a frame for a vehicle, we can tell the automotive company where the part will fail, and provide them with solutions on how they can fix it,” according to Elliott Gillespie, director, international business for CNL.

While nuclear technology helps automakers build the next generation of wheels, it’s also helping today’s drivers right where the rubber meets the road. “Almost 92 per cent of the radial tires produced in the world use radiation technology at some stage in the processing,” according to Sunil Sabharwal, a radiation processing specialist with the IAEA in Vienna. Turns out that radiation toughens rubber, helping your tires last longer!