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U.N. does not Expect Cancer Increase due to Fukushima Radiation

Thyroid scanWith little media coverage and even less fanfare, the United Nations released a report in April that dispelled one of the most popular myths regarding the 2011 Fukushima nuclear meltdown.

The United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) said in a report it did not expect “significant changes” in future cancer rates that could be attributed to radiation exposure from the reactor meltdowns.

“The doses to the general public, both those incurred during the first year and estimated for their lifetimes, are generally low or very low. No discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public or their descendants,” the report concluded.

While the report clears radiation from negative health impacts, it noted that those in the areas affected by the meltdown were not immune to other health impacts.

“The most important health effect is on mental and social well-being, related to the enormous impact of the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear accident, and the fear and stigma related to the perceived risk of exposure to ionizing radiation,” it said.

“Effects such as depression and post-traumatic stress symptoms have already been reported.”

So fear about the exposure to radiation was more of a health problem than radiation exposure itself.

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Nuclear Helping in the Fight Against Ebola

A nuclear-derived technology which allows for early detection of the Ebola virus has been developed by the IAEA and the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

The technology, known as Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR), can detect Ebola within a few hours, compared to other technologies which take several days.

RT-PCR will be made available to Sierra Leone, following a UN Security Council appeal, and support is expected to extend to Liberia and Guinea as well.

Early diagnosis of Ebola can significantly increase victims’ chances of survival, while limiting the spread of the disease by isolating victims and treating them earlier.

The full story is available on the IAEA website.

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By the Numbers: 3,000!

Twitter

by Romeo St. Martin
Communications Officer
Canadian Nuclear Association

In baseball, having 3,000 career hits is almost a guarantee to entry into the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

On Twitter, having 3,000 followers won’t get you into any Hall of Fame, but it is a milestone worth celebrating.

Having just reached 3,000, we would like to thank our followers and all those who retweet our tweets, spreading the good word about nuclear energy.

Part of the reason for a recent rise in new followers is our commitment to tweet what the people want.

By using social media tools, we have identified the themes that are popular with our followers and the best time of day to reach them.

At the moment, stories about nuclear power’s contribution to reducing GHGs, the growing number of environmentalists embracing nuclear and the fallout from Germany’s decision to close nuclear plants are very popular with our followers and are shared the most.

The CNA will continue to use Twitter to leverage more of its original brand journalism content and blogs on these themes and others. Expect more infographics in the future too.

Until we tweet again.

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Fukushima Fish Safe to Eat

Albacore Tuna

Albacore tuna.

You may have heard media reports about concerns regarding fish contaminated by the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant meltdown migrating to the North American west coast.

The truth is, scientists in British Columbia have found no noticeable radiation in fish on Canada’s west coast as a result of Fukushima and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency has found no cause for concern but continues to monitor the situation.

“The radiation levels we can attribute to Fukushima are essentially not visible,” Simon Fraser University nuclear scientist Kris Starosta recently told Global News.

“What I do see is effects from the weapons tests and natural radiation. That has been there before Fukushima.”

Even North American studies that have found some contamination related to Fukushima has found those levels to be negligible.

A study this year by Oregon State University made a comparison that put some perspective on the fish fear factor.

The researchers found that while Albacore tuna caught off the coast of Oregon had elevated levels of radiation as a result of Fukushima, the increase was so minute that you would have to 700,000 pounds of the fish with the highest radiation levels just to get the same dosage as you would going about your day-to-day life over a year.

“A year of eating albacore with these cesium traces is about the same dose of radiation as you get from spending 23 seconds in a stuffy basement from radon gas, or sleeping next to your spouse for 40 nights from the natural potassium-40 in their body,” Delvan Neville, a graduate research assistant in the Department of Nuclear Engineering and Radiation Health Physics at Oregon State University and lead author on the study, said in a press release.

“It’s just not much at all.”

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CNA Members Lead the Way in Aboriginal Relations

CCAB logo

Four CNA members were among 40 companies recently recognized by the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business (CCAB) for Progressive Aboriginal Relations (PAR) for 2014.

The PAR program is the only corporate assurance program in the world with an emphasis on Aboriginal relations.

Bruce Power achieved the highest possible certification with Gold Standing, becoming one of only 12 companies in Canada to receive the designation. The gold designation indicates that certified companies are good business partners; great places to work, and are committed to prosperity in Aboriginal communities.

Of the new companies, SaskPower received certification with Silver standing (one of just three companies in Canada to receive that ranking), while Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP and Hatch joined at the Committed Level.

The PAR program supports improvement and best practices in Aboriginal relations. The designation is made by a jury of Aboriginal business people who examine employment, community investment, business development, and community engagement based on company reports, on-site visits and interviews with Aboriginal stakeholders.

The names of the companies were announced at the CCAB’s 12th Annual Vancouver Gala on September 25, 2014 at the Pan Pacific Hotel in Vancouver.

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Possible Solutions to a Shortage of Medical Radioisotopes

Submitted by François Couillard
Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists

The Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CAMRT) has identified the risk of a global shortage of medical radioisotopes as an emerging issue of concern in the near to medium term, particularly for the international community of nuclear medicine specialists and their patients.  Technetium-99m (99mTc) is used in over 80% of nuclear medicine procedures- more than 30-40 million examinations worldwide yearly. This is the “bread and butter” of nuclear medicine. Ongoing reliable supply of this critical isotope appears to be questionable.

The CAMRT is working with a number of stakeholders to define the issue more specifically and propose    solutions that mitigate the impact of a diminished supply of medical isotopes, to provide decision makers with the details they need to make an informed decision.

Defining the issue

In order to understand the issue, it is necessary to understand the current supply chain:

Uranium –> Reactors –> 99Mo processing facility –> 99mTc processing facility –> Hospitals

Uranium targets are irradiated in a nuclear reactor. They are then processed to extract 99Mo. This product is shipped to facilities where “generators” are assembled. These generators are then sent to hospitals all over the world. The two most critical steps in the process are the irradiation of uranium target in reactors and the processing of these targets to produce 99Mo. Any disruption can hurt the supply chain downstream.

There are several issues that threaten the supply of this critical isotope:

  • Demand is expected to continue to grow at a rate of about 2% per year worldwide until at least 2020 (ref. NEA-OECD report).
  • 2 of the 9 reactors used in this supply chain are scheduled to stop production in 2016 (the Canadian NRU and French OSIRIS reactors). Together, they account for over 25% of the potential annual production capacity.1 The Canadian government has indicated that it will not extend NRU production beyond 2016.
  • All other major existing producing reactors, except for OPAL in Australia, are aging and scheduled to shut down by 2030.
  • OECD countries have agreed to substitute the use of High Enriched Uranium (HEU) in reactors with Low Enriched Uranium (LEU) (HEU can be used to make nuclear bombs). The transformation is proving technically challenging and expensive in light of the short expected life of existing reactors.
  • The 99Mo processing capacity in the world is at high risk of being insufficient to meet demand. One of the largest processor, Nordion, will cease 99Mo processing after NRU stops production, creating a gap until new projects like Australia’s ANSTO new facility are fully operational.
  • The future price of 99mTc is likely to rise due to the above challenges and the exit of Nordion.

Possible solutions:

There are 3 ways to address these issues:

  1. Increase production capacity
  2. Optimize distribution and utilization
  3. Substitute tests with other tracers or modalities

The last major disruption in supply forced health providers to collaborate to find creative ways to share limited 99mTc supplies. It also encouraged substitution to other modalities, often at higher cost and/or with compromised quality. Most health jurisdictions in Canada now have contingency plans in place.

The ideal situation would be to have new irradiation and processing capacity in place by 2016 to ensure a seamless transition away from the NRU and OSIRIS reactors and associated processing facilities. There are over 11 new irradiator projects underway (mainly reactors) and almost as many new processing facility projects. Canada is also experimenting with 3 cyclotron/linear accelerator schemes to replace reactor supplied 99mTc. These Canadian projects are promising but they are still years away from full approval by Health Canada and pricing and distribution scenarios remain uncertain.

At this point we have been unable to get industry reassurance that a sufficient number of these projects will be fully operational on time to ensure a steady and reliable supply of 99mTc. Getting a clear picture of the situation post-NRU is proving very challenging. The best information available is from the April 2014 OECD report which concludes that “clearly, insufficient processing capacity will be a major risk for secure supply in the next 5 years”. Capacity should stabilize after 2020, provided additional capacity is added to replace the 6 reactors scheduled for shutdown between 2024 and 2030.

 Progress to date

The CAMRT is monitoring the situation closely, and coordinating ongoing investigation of the situation through dialogue and information sharing with CAMRT members, international colleagues and other national healthcare associations.

We are currently engaged in discussions with Health Canada, with provincial and territorial government representatives, and various industry players.  Our goal is to monitor the situation closely and stimulate the emergence of mitigation strategies, if required, through constant engagement with our members, producers, governments and other stakeholders.

We welcome partners, questions, suggestions and any new information you would like to share with us.

References

[1] The supply of medical isotopes; medical isotope supply in the future: production capacity and demand forecast for the 99Mo/99mTc market,2015-2020. April 2014 NEA/SEN/HLGMR(2014)2 www.oecd-nea.org