Author Archives: Erin Polka

Nuclear Science: A Window to Heart Disease

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, 50,000 Canadians are diagnosed with heart failure every year.  It is estimated that half of all Canadians will be touched by heart failure, costing the health care system close to $3 billion annually. Globally, heart disease is responsible for over 30% of all deaths.

Enter cardiac nuclear medicine.

Instead of performing surgery, doctors, by using small amounts of radioactive material, can look inside the human body to diagnose diseases like heart disease. This noninvasive procedure involves injecting small amounts of radiation and looking at the heart at a molecular level, providing accurate and early diagnosis, which is key to treating and saving lives.

Argentina is increasing investment in nuclear medicine to help patients with cardiovascular disease, as recently highlighted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Through a collaboration between the Argentinean government and the National Atomic Energy Commission (CNEA), the IAEA is offering up training and equipment in order to provide increased access to nuclear medicine services.

“The multimillion-euro investment involves building six new centres across the country that will offer high-quality nuclear medicine and radiotherapy services. The new centres will be operating in the Argentinean provinces of Río Gallegos, Río Negro, Santiago del Estero, Formosa, Entre Ríos and La Pampa,” according to the IAEA.

There are two different types of tests that can be used to scan the heart. The main difference between the two is the type of radiotracer used. In a PET (Positron Emission Tomography) scan, positrons work with a tracer to take pictures of a patient’s heart. The pictures can detect blood flow; identify heart attack scars; and even detect if arteries are narrowed.

The second test that relies on nuclear medicine is a SPECT (Single Photo Emission Computed Tomography) scan.  It allows doctors to get a 3D image of a patients heart in order to determine overall heart health, including blood flow; whether or not a patient has had a heart attack; and to diagnose coronary artery disease or a build up of plaque inside the heart’s main arteries.

Investments in early cardiac detection and treatment are key. According to the World Health Organization (WHO); “Ischaemic heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive lung disease and lower respiratory infections have remained the top killers during the past decade.” In Argentina, it is the leading cause of premature death.

Managing your diet, sleep and even stress levels can all lower a person’s risk for developing heart disease. Early detection can help to identify risks in time for treatment to save lives. Thanks to nuclear medicine this can be done. And before it’s too late.

CNA response to Power Technology magazine story

The following letter from the Canadian Nuclear Association is in response to a recent story in Power Technology magazine.

https://www.power-technology.com/features/most-dangerous-jobs-in-the-energy-sector/

Your story “What are the most dangerous jobs in the energy sector?” (Sept. 6, 2018) greatly overstates the risks associated with working in the nuclear industry.

When you consider death rates from air pollution and accidents related to energy production, nuclear has by far the lowest number of deaths per terawatt hours.

In Canada, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) limits the amount of radiation nuclear workers can receive when they work in a job where they may be exposed to radiation. The effective dose limits are 50 millisievert (mSv) per year and 100 mSv over 5 years. According to the CNSC, studies to date have not been able to show any excess cancers or other diseases in people chronically exposed to radiation at doses lower than about 100 mSv.

The average dose for workers at uranium mines and mills in 2007 was about 1 mSv, significantly below the regulatory nuclear energy worker limit of 50 mSv per year, and well below typical Canadians’ natural exposure of 2.1 mSv.

Concentrations of radon in uranium mines, mills, processing facilities and fuel fabrication facilities are strictly monitored and controlled. Controls include sophisticated detection and ventilation systems that effectively protect Canadian uranium workers.

For 50 years we have transported nuclear materials safely both internationally and in Canada. There has never been serious injuries, health impacts, fatalities or environmental consequences attributable to the radiological nature of used nuclear fuel shipments.

The nuclear industry is also one of the most strictly regulated and closely monitored industries in the world.

John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association
Ottawa, Ontario

NuclearPride

Self-described as a community of rainbow engineers and their friends, NuclearPride is an association for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer people within the nuclear science and engineering field. A national organization, NuclearPride coordinates resources and provides community support to their peers. Sam Brinton is the co-founder of NuclearPride and an MIT engineer.

“When I was in college and going to conferences, I thought there is no way anyone else here was LGBT. But as I started being more out and finding friends, they felt in turn, comfortable to come out,” Brinton explains. “Once I knew there was a critical mass of us, we decided to start NuclearPride to be visible.  To clearly say you aren’t alone.”

NuclearPride’s mission is to help students and employees to ensure supportive environments and to advocate on behalf of its members to ensure that there is open dialogue between members of the nuclear community and ensure that all members of humanity are represented.

The first person to testify before the United Nations Committee Against Torture on conversion therapy, Brinton is also continuing the push to end conversion therapy in his other role as Head of Advocacy for the Trevor Project, a leading national organization focused on crises and suicide prevention efforts for LGBT, queer and questioning youth.

Conversion Therapy allows mental health professionals to engage in practices such as behavioral and cognitive practices to alter a minor’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

“It is still legal in 40 states and all but two provinces in Canada and thousands of kids are put through it every year,” stresses Brinton.

Apart from his advocacy work, Brinton uses his background as a nuclear engineer to look at improving acceptance of nuclear waste and available technologies that help to safely store such waste.

“Acceptance of nuclear waste requires understanding of nuclear waste. I think there are a lot of people who don’t even realize what is going on with nuclear waste so one of the things that I have been talking about is the need to have a national public dialogue on the issue,” stated Brinton.

Brinton would like to see more millennials stepping up their awareness of nuclear waste management and is working on a nuclear innovation bill to further raise public awareness. He has also created a campaign, Stand With Science, bringing together thousands of people to push for federal funding for science and engineering research.

Nuclear: Challenging Our Notion of Risk

Risk surrounds us daily. We are constantly making decisions based on our perceptions of it. Our travel plans, our commute to work, our relationships and even our perceptions on social and political issues, all relate back to our perceptions of risk. Parents try to mitigate the risk that surrounds their children and of course there are the messages circulating around risk which can often be contradictory or too complicated to be easily understood.

Investigating risk and risk assessment is the latest project by documentary filmmaker Robert Lang, who sought out the world’s experts on the subject for his latest project, “Risk Factor”. “It’s complicated. We are all exposed to risk and we react to it whether we know it or not. And we hear about it in the news practically every night, whether it’s Zika or a terrorist attack or some health issue like the benefits or the dangers of drinking coffee, etc.”

The concept of risk also includes our perception of climate change and the risk behind certain energy sources such as nuclear.

“I have been an environmentalist for decades and for most of that time was anti-nuclear and wary of any form of radiation, because of the perceived threat of nuclear disasters …in general that’s in line with what environmentalists are supposed to think.” stated Lang. “But when you start looking at the facts and weighing relative risks and don’t lump all radioactivity risks into one basket, the picture becomes more nuanced. There are lots of benefits of radiation and nuclear power. I would say that the film made me confront some of my preconceptions and my understanding of what was going on in my hometown of Port Hope.”

The safety of nuclear power generation is often ignored. An analysis of the safety of each power source found that nuclear was one of the safest forms of generation. This analysis broke down fatalities by terawatt hour. Only rooftop solar had fewer deaths than nuclear, which was found to be safer than wind, hydro and even gas.

Misconceptions of safety around nuclear were highlighted in a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency that tracked the impacts of Fukushima. On March 11th 2011, the sea floor opened up causing a massive earthquake and tsunami with wave heights over 10 meters high. More than 15,000 people were killed with thousands more missing in the aftermath. However, no one was killed as a direct result of the accident at the Fukushima nuclear plant. In fact: the “United Nations Scientific Committee on the Effects of Atomic Radiation (UNSCEAR) found that no discernible increased incidence of radiation-related health effects are expected among exposed members of the public and their descendants.”

Lang is hoping that his investigation of risk will challenge us to rethink our preconceptions and separate fact from fiction. The filmmaker notes that how we perceive danger is connected to cultural affiliations. Our social networks and interactions are largely based on aligning ourselves with others that we believe to share a similar mindset.

Robert Lang will be a featured guest and will host the Public Affairs Workshop, at CNA2018 where his film “Risk Factor” will be screened. For more information go to: https://cna.ca/2018-conference/

Nuclear – Canada’s Clean Energy Future

When it comes to meeting the needs of global climate change mitigation efforts, nuclear technology plays an important role.

Partnering with other counties, our nuclear industry can help contribute to affordable and clean energy around the world, including countries such as Argentina, China, South Korea, Romania and India. Our industry’s investments in innovative nuclear technology have the capacity to provide a clean source of energy to remote communities, resource extraction sites and provincial electricity grids and provide desalination options. Canada’s nuclear future is clean, competitive and able to provide power to much needed communities while contributing in the fight against climate change.

For our part, Canada’s nuclear reactor technology and uranium exports have, over the last 30 years, contributed globally to the avoidance of at least a billion tonnes of CO2 (in displacing fossil fuel sources).  Uranium alone from Cameco, Canada’s largest uranium mining company, powers 1 out of every 18 homes in the United States and 1 of every 10 in Canada.  This represents an enormous amount of avoided GHG emissions.  Thanks to Canadian CANDU technology, our nuclear reactor fleet provides clean, affordable and low-carbon energy, powering approximately 60% of Ontario’s electricity needs and one-third of New Brunswick’s.

The federal government’s recent Mid-Century Long-Term Low-Greenhouse Gas Development Strategy included nuclear in all its models for achieving drastic GHG emission reductions by 2050.  Earlier, at COP21 in Paris, Canada joined 21 countries plus the European Union to create Mission Innovation, a pledge to double national investments in clean energy innovation over five years.

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 recommended tripling the amount of energy use from renewable energy and nuclear power to keep climate change within two degrees Celsius.  Meanwhile, in its 2016 World Energy Outlook scenario, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said limiting the increase in global temperatures to less than 2⁰ C would require global nuclear generation to increase by almost two-and-a-half times by 2040.

If mitigation pathways are to be on target, keeping a global temperature rise limited to 1.5 degrees while simultaneously staying on course to meet the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the international community must continue to promote and invest in low-carbon technologies, including nuclear.

Important breakthroughs are coming in the area of advanced reactor technology and more efficient fuels that will have exciting domestic and global applications. Hydrogen fuels, molten salt reactors and fusion energy are a small sample of the next generation of nuclear powered technologies.

Nearly all the value chain in our nuclear sector comes from, and belongs to, Canada – from mining to innovative reactor technology, all the way through to eventual decommissioning, giving Canada a highly valuable and skilled clean-tech workforce.

We need public policy-makers to support access to sufficient financing for Canada’s clean technology exports.  Important breakthroughs are coming in the area of advanced small reactor technology that will have exciting domestic and global applications.  This opportunity combines global growth potential with a climate-friendly technology.  Canada can have a competitive edge here, given timely policy and financing support. Our nuclear industry has the potential to provide more than just clean energy but affordable and sustainable options for Canada and internationally.

Let’s stop focusing on beliefs and really start communicating

By Milton Caplan, President, MZConsulting Inc.
Originally published at mzconsultinginc.com, August 23, 2018

How many discussions have you had today where either you or the other person thought carefully, and then said “here is what I believe….”? Believe is a strong word. It evokes personal values; and when something makes it to the level of a belief, it is often unshakeable.

There was a time when we didn’t talk like this. We gave our opinion, or our view on a topic. This was developed through learning, by listening to (hopefully) an expert or reading relevant information. An opinion meant this is what we think at the moment, and that should we learn more, we may change or evolve our position. Now our views on almost every topic need to be elevated to the level of “belief”. And as we know, we don’t change our beliefs easily.

In our world of nuclear power, we know that many have strong views on whether this technology is worthy of being a path to a better world with clean economic abundant energy, or as others believe, is a path to our eventual demise. We have written before about the need to ramp up our communications and work hard to increase support for nuclear power. The facts are on our side, but negative beliefs stand in our way. We are happy to see even more young people come out with supportive communications, from Jarrett Adams, to Eric Meyer at Generation Atomic and Bret Kugelmass with his podcast series, Titans of Nuclear; each using their own unique method to promote a nuclear future.

As it is the middle of summer, this is when we love to be a bit more philosophical. It is a time to do some deep thinking while enjoying the sunshine and sharing some more esoteric views based on our reading list so far this year. I have read a few books that I think are useful to both better understand the current environment for communications and provide some useful insights on how to better communicate going forward.

You may think these three books have nothing in common, but I see a common thread that should contribute to our thinking as we move forward.  They are “The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters” by Tom Nichols, “Is Gwyneth Paltrow wrong about everything: When Celebrity Culture and Science Clash” by Timothy Caulfield and finally, “If I understood you, would I have this look on my face?: My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating” by Alan Alda.

The first two books provide us with two different but complementary views of the environment we live in. Tom Nichols, in his excellent book, makes the case that America has taken freedom and liberty to an unrealistic extreme – that there is a common belief that everyone is equal and thus, so are their opinions. In fact, he goes so far as to suggest that it is cool to be ignorant. Experts are no longer respected and in fact, he states that “we actively resent them, with many people assuming that experts are wrong simply by virtue of being an expert.”

He talks about the changes to higher education, where young people think they are customers buying a service rather than students given an opportunity to learn. He talks about the changing news media, from provider of unbiased news to “infotainment” and notes that too many people approach the news not to seek information but rather confirmation of what they already know, avoiding sources they disagree with because they believe they are mistaken or even lying (“fake news”).

This book is a must read, with more good quotes than I can use in a short blog post. But if I can summarize in one quote, it would be as follows. “The death of expertise, however, is a different problem than the historical fact of low levels of information among laypeople. The issue is not indifference to established knowledge; it’s the emergence of a positive hostility to such knowledge. This is the new American culture, and it represents the aggressive replacement of expert views or established knowledge with the insistence that every opinion on any matter is as good as every other.” For everyone in the nuclear industry – sound familiar?

If we don’t listen to experts, then who do we listen to? That is answered in the next book. In his fascinating book on celebrity culture and how it influences us, Timothy Caulfield explores the massive power that celebrities have over our decisions and beliefs. This ranges from using beauty products endorsed by your favourite celebrity (costly but not likely harmful), to using their favourite health care products (costly and may be harmful), to taking bad decisions that can negatively impact the health of our children like avoiding vaccines (definitely harmful).

In summary, we have replaced “experts” who we no longer believe in, with celebrities, who are the ones we look up to. We long for fame rather than accomplishment and dream of achieving it without necessarily working to get there. Anything to be like our idols. Unfortunately, the outcome is often nothing more than an empty wallet and little in terms of being able to take decisions that positively impact our lives.

This takes me to the third book of the bunch, Alan Alda’s book on how to better communicate science. Of course, if we shouldn’t listen to celebrities, then why listen to Alan Alda? It tuns out that he has been involved in communicating science to laypeople for over 20 years, having hosted a show by Scientific American and then starting the Alan Alda Center for communicating science at Stony Brook University. So, what does this book have to say that you may not have heard before? It makes a strong case for communicating, which means having a conversation noting that “real conversation can’t happen if listening is just my waiting for you to finish talking.” It talks about the importance of having empathy for your audience, consistent with many who talk about better communications; but he goes further, saying empathy is not enough; we need to be able to “relate” to our audience. Only then are you really communicating. The book then makes the case for using theatrical improvisation techniques as a means to break down barriers to learn to relate to others.

What can we learn from these books that we can apply to the nuclear industry? Our objective is to change the paradigm on nuclear power and raise awareness of the many benefits it brings to society. To do that let’s first work to improve our approach to communicating. We need to avoid trying to change others’ deeply held beliefs nor try to impose our own beliefs on others. This is a path to nowhere.

Rather, we need to focus on communicating, i.e. having an open and productive conversation with others while working hard to keep open minds. It is a willingness to consider new information that is important for life long learning. Go beyond empathy and truly try to relate.  Developing a relationship is hard work but hopefully the outcome will be that we both understand each other better and learn something new.

Moving the needle on public opinion on nuclear power is important and also very challenging. Hopefully some of these perspectives will help us think of new and better ways to have the conversation.

Afterword

For those of you that are interested, the following are a few more quotes from The Death of Expertise. Powerful stuff.

“There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there always has been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way throughout political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.””

“These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had so much access to so much knowledge and yet have been so resistant to learning anything. In the United States and other developed nations, otherwise intelligent people denigrate intellectual achievement and reject the advice of experts. Not only do increasing numbers of laypeople lack basic knowledge, they reject fundamental rules of evidence and refuse to learn how to make a logical argument. In doing so, they risk throwing away centuries of accumulated knowledge and undermining the practices and habits that allow us to develop new knowledge.”

“Rather, Americans now think of democracy as a state of actual equality, in which every opinion is as good as any other on almost any subject under the sun. Feelings are more important than facts: if people think vaccines are harmful, or if they believe that half of the US budget is going to foreign aid, then it is “undemocratic” and “elitist” to contradict them.”