CNA2016

Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI)

It is the largest environmental remediation effort and the first of its kind in Canada. A massive clean-up and restoration is underway an hour and a half east of Toronto along the shore of Lake Ontario in the community of Port Hope.

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During the depression, there was a high demand for uranium ore. It meant money and jobs. The community of Port Hope was selected as the location to refine the ore that was shipped in from the North West Territories.  The rock was mined primarily for its usefulness in the field of medicine, for X-rays and cancer treatments. However, the knowledge about radium, chemical contamination and environmental impacts wasn’t well known in the 1930s.

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“Knowledge was different back then,” says Glenn Case, senior technical advisor with the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI). “The depression was on and there was a thirst for radium. Now there are radioactive elements in the soil and chemical contamination associated with the old ore from 1932-1954.”

 

From his home in Port Hope, Case talks frankly about the problems caused by the ore refining process during the Great Depression. He knows the project well, because his involvement with the Port Hope Area Initiative (PHAI) began almost 40 years ago, after his graduation.

In 1976, Case was hired to work in Port Hope on a two-month assignment addressing the situation of low-level waste found in properties in the area, fragments of uranium left in the soil. He has been part of the team responsible for developing a solution to removing the contamination.

Well known to the energy industry, the President at Women in Nuclear-Canada and a senior program manager for Bruce Power, Heather Kleb has spent 20 years working on environmental assessments and she was the lead for the PHAI environmental assessment.

“The PHAI is a big project with big expectations, 600,000 cubic meters of soil to be properly disposed of it took almost a decade to complete the regulatory approvals,” says Kleb.

“We needed to do comprehensive studies. We have knowledgeable communities because industry is here and there are ongoing consultations,” says Kleb. “Because it’s a nuclear project you also have to get approvals from the CNSC following the environmental assessment.”

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Today the project is fully underway with an expected completion date sometime in 2022. For the community of Port Hope the harbor and ravines once cleaned up will be able to be enjoyed by the community. Development constraints will also be lifted and a new green space will mark the past as Port Hope looks to the future.

CNA2016

Radioactivity Fighting Cancer

Brachytherapy, or internal radiation, is proving successful in treating certain tumors.

Cancer is very complex. Curing patients without causing side effects means that the treatments must be very targeted.

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“Not all cancers are the same,” according to Dr. Michael Milosevic, a radiation oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Center in Toronto. “Cancer is not one diagnosis. Each individual cancer is different.”

For patients diagnosed with cancer, surgery, radiation treatment and drug treatment (chemotherapy) are frequently used. External radiation, a beam targeted to a tumor that travels to the tumor from outside of the patient’s body comprises 80-90% of radiation therapies.

Brachytherapy, on the other hand, involves inserting the radiation into the center of the tumor and irradiating the cancer cells from the inside out.  The treatment has proven successful in fighting prostate and cervical cancers.

“With brachytherapy, you can kill the cancer but spare the normal surrounding areas,” says Milosevic. “The likelihood of curing the cancer goes way up and the side effects way down.”

There are two methods of using Brachytherapy-temporary and permanent implants

Temporary implants use special catheters inserted into the tumor. They connect to a machine to deliver the radiation treatments. A temporary implant is a day procedure. The radiation is delivered over a very short period of time, usually a few minutes, and then the catheters are removed.

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Permanent implants directly insert small radioactive “seeds,” each about the size of a grain of rice, into the tumor. In the case of prostate cancer treatment, about 100 seeds are placed into the prostate gland, usually when the patient is asleep.  The seeds remain in the prostate gland for the remainder of the patient’s life and give off a continuous flow of radiation that is highest immediately after insertion and declines to zero over a few months.

The uses for brachytherapy continue to develop. It has proven useful in treating some breast, head and neck cancers. Perhaps one of the biggest developments, as Dr. Milosevic points out, is the shift to magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The Princess Margaret Cancer Centre  is home to three MRI units that help to deliver brachytherapy.

“With Brachytherapy you put the radiation in the center of the tumor so you can kill the cancer but spare the normal surrounding areas. The likelihood of curing goes way up and side effects go down.”

CNA2016

Neutron Beams & Airplane Safety

According to Statistics Canada, there were 5.4 million take-offs and landings at Canada’s ninety-two airports in 2014.

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Everything is made of materials, even people. And those materials can be examined through non-destructive testing (NDT). It is exactly what it sounds like, a method to test materials without breaking or destroying them.

“In the past, they’d make the part bigger. That works and it works if it’s on the ground, but with an airplane, when you have to move through the air you are sensitive to weight,” according to Michael Gharghouri, a research scientist at CNL with a PhD in materials engineering. “So you really want to design just what you need. You can only do it if you understand the material very well.”

When it comes to flying, NDT is an effective method that can pick up potential problems long before a plane takes off.

That’s where Nray Services comes in. This small company has a big job. For the last twenty years, its shop in Dundas, Ontario has been testing engine turbine blades for 95% of the entire aerospace industry using a neutron beam.

There are four phases to jet propulsion according to Rankin MacGillivray, President of Nray: Suck, squeeze, bang and blow.

Intake is the suck that draws air into the jet engine.

Then the air is squeezed by compression within the aircraft’s engine.

The bang occurs when the fuel and the spark are added.

The blow pushes air out of the engine at the rear, and pushes the aircraft forward.

It is these small rings of blades, approximately four or five inches high, inside the engine that Nray tests.

“The blades are operating at temperatures higher than their melting points,” according to MacGillivray.

To compensate for the high temperatures, the blades have hollow passages that allow cool air to circulate inside them. Within this ceramic core, any blockage greater than a ¼ millimeter could prevent cooling and cause the blade to break up in flight. So accuracy matters very much.

“Ceramic is a light material compared to the blade material. It’s fairly heavy and if you look at an x-ray for example it can penetrate but it can’t see behind it”, says MacGillivray. “Neutron rays can see light materials behind heavy materials.”

Neutron beams don’t just provide highly accurate measurements. They also provide an early warning system.

“Very early on when they are designing so they can get information up front to do an informed design.” Gharghouri goes onto say,”Then at the other end when problems crop up that are unexpected so that they can tell them the problem and where it is without actually destroying the part.”

CNA2016

Nuclear Science: Unlocking Answers To Malnutrition

A healthy diet begins with having enough food to eat, but we need more than that. A healthy diet provides a balance of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals which are critical to growth, development and disease resistance.

A deficiency in minerals and vitamins is called hidden hunger.  One might feel full but one’s growth and development can be stunted in the absence of necessary nutrients.

According to a 2014 report by the World Health Organization (WHO), hidden hunger and undernutrition affects nearly two billion people. That’s almost 1/3 of the global population.

In 2013, 6.5 million children died before five years of age. And 45% of these deaths are linked to maternal and child malnutrition.

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Relative risk of mortality associated with estimated low weight-for-age (Figure adapted from Caulfield et al. 2004, Am J Clin Nutr.)

Increased child mortality is not the only impact of undernutrition. A lack of food variety coupled with unhealthy environments and limited access to health care can increase the risk of disease, and hold back mental and physical development.

“165 million children are stunted or not as tall as they should be for their age. In some cases, they are stunted not because they are hungry but because the quality of their diets is poor or because they are frequently sick.” Christine Slater, nutrition specialist at the IAEA.

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Chronic infections and repeated illnesses in children, like respiratory infections, can be an indicator of a deficiency in essential nutrients.

Nuclear technology is one tool in the fight against malnutrition. A technique called deuterium dilution helps to determine body composition, or the percentage of fat versus fat-free mass.

Deuterium is a stable form of hydrogen that includes a neutron. It bonds with oxygen to make water that acts just like regular water, but weighs more because of the neutron.

Taken into the body through drinking, concentrated deuterium passes into the body’s water, and after a few hours is evenly distributed throughout the body water. Body water is sampled as saliva, urine or blood. From the amount of deuterium consumed, and the concentration in body water, we can calculate the amount of fat-free mass. If this is subtracted from body weight, we have an estimate of the amount of fat in the body.

Scientists think this measurement technique gives more reliable results—especially for children—than measuring skinfold thickness or body-mass index. It can be used to evaluate programs that provide children with nutrients to promote healthy growth while limiting the risk of obesity later in life.

Deuterium dilution techniques have been used for many years in high-income countries, according to Slater, and with the help if the IAEA Technical Cooperation Program, these benefits can be found in low- and middle-income countries as well.

There are many other applications. For example, cancer treatments often leave patients malnourished. This procedure could help provide doctors with better information on their patients’ nutritional status.

As Slater points out, malnutrition is a complex problem requiring a multi-pronged solution that includes a better diet and cleaner environment. An effective diagnosis helps makes the solution possible.

“Malnutrition is not just to do with food and quality of diet but environmental influences,” says Slater. “Children who live in dirty environments and don’t have access to good sanitation can get sick and we find in a lot of cases that their guts are damaged.  So even if they get good quality food they can’t absorb the nutrients.”

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.”

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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.”