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Highlighting the Need for Nuclear

January 2017 was the third warmest January in over 100 years, according to scientists with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. As the planet continues to warm, temperature increases continue to wreak havoc. A United Nations report on weather-related disasters pegged the cost of extreme weather events like floods, storms and droughts at close to 300 billion US dollars annually. The impact of the climate crises on communities has been echoed time and time again.

“In the long-term, an agreement in Paris at COP21 on reducing greenhouse gas emissions will be a significant contribution to reducing damage and loss from disasters, which are partly driven by a warming globe and rising sea levels,” according to former head of the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR), Margareta Wahlstrom.

The impacts of climate change go far beyond the thermometer. Rising temperatures and erratic weather patterns will make the viability of growing and feeding an expanding world population even more challenging as stressed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations.

Then there are health impacts of these environmental changes. The Canadian Cancer Society recently set off alarms following the release of a report that stated that nearly half of all Canadians, 1 in every 2 people, will be diagnosed with some form of cancer in their lifetime.

But among all the chaos of melting ice caps, increasing cancer rates and concerns over global food supply, there lies a solution in an atom. One energy source, that alone, can provide solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems: nuclear energy.

Canada’s history with nuclear power dates back to the 1970s when the Pickering nuclear generating station came online. The benefits of nuclear power across Canada, and specifically in Ontario, have been profound. It is reported that 45 million tons of carbon dioxide is avoided every year, making nuclear one of the most important contributors to clean air in the province.

The public health impacts of carbon emissions have been well documented by Health Canada and others who have cited an increased risk for cancer, heart attack and stroke as a result of poor air quality. In fact, the Asthma Society of Canada stated that, “asthma exacerbations due to air quality have decreased thanks to carbon-free options such as nuclear, hydroelectric and renewables.” A statement that should come as no surprise when one considers that turning off the switch to coal fired electricity generation in Ontario meant reducing carbon emissions by a staggering 87%.

The importance of nuclear energy was highlighted by the International Energy Agency (IEA) in a recent article by Reuters that stressed the interconnectedness between meeting climate targets and investments in nuclear power. Without nuclear, climate targets could fall short by decades.

Then there are the other benefits. Nuclear science, has enabled huge leaps forward in medicine.  Through work with isotopes and Cobalt-60, a key ingredient in nuclear medicine, doctors can improve the quality and save the lives of millions of patients – from the diagnosis and treatment of cancers to treating other diseases and afflictions such as Alzheimer’s.

Nuclear science is also addressing pest populations and making plants more resilient to climate change, thereby protecting the agriculture lands we need to sustain a growing population.

Nuclear science and nuclear energy can address several the global challenges including the challenge of providing large amounts of power to communities without the high price tag. Nuclear power, while reducing carbon emissions is also cheaper than most other renewable energy sources.  The latest data released by the Ontario Energy Board in their Regulated Price Plan Report, shows that the cost for nuclear power is the second cheapest next to hydro; making nuclear a viable baseload (can run day or night) clean and affordable option for communities.

From fighting food insecurity to providing a low-cost and clean energy solution, further investments in nuclear are needed if we are to win the war on climate change and ensure a more sustainable future for all.

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Nuclear Imaging Revolutionizes Breast Cancer Research

Editorial - Breast cancerInnovative nuclear research may soon be able to tell in advance whether breast-cancer patients require specific hormone treatments – a breakthrough that could save a lot of time and money.

Scientists at the University of Saskatchewan, supported by the Sylvia Fedoruk Canadian Centre for Nuclear Innovation  is exploring whether radiopharmaceuticals can identify cancers associated with HER2, a protein that promotes cancer-cell growth.

HER2-positive breast cancers are less responsive than other cancer types to hormone treatment. Drugs like trastuzumab (Herceptin) and  lapatinib (Tykerb) are effective but costly. Other treatments get used first – and may not work.

The Fedoruk research, if successful, would help doctors to identify HER2-positive cancer more readily and to prescribe effective treatment – saving time, money and lives.

Dr. Humphrey Fonge, an adjunct professor in the Department of Medical Imaging at the University of Saskatchewan, is leading the research that will better identify the protein, or biomarkers, on therapy-resistant cells, like HER2.

“When a patient goes to a clinic, they would get injected with a radiopharmaceutical that would more accurately tell which protein is responsible for that cancer and that would allow the physician to more accurately determine treatment to a particular drug rather than a one-size-fits-all method,” he said.

The research is still in the animal-testing phase. Humphrey estimates it will take a “few years” before it goes to Health Canada for approval.

“It’s going to be revolutionary. It will save a lot of costs. If a patient goes to a clinic and is treated with a $70,000 drug and they don’t respond to drug, that’s a loss of $70,000.”

Not only will the imaging agent help to determine which drug therapy should be used, but it will also be able to monitor how patients respond to that therapy.

Neil Alexander, executive director of the Saskatoon-based Fedoruk Centre, said nuclear imaging is helping in cancer research as well in the fields of heart and brain research.

He calls it an area of expertise the Fedoruk Centre is developing through the Saskatchewan Centre for Cyclotron Sciences, which is leading to “great breakthroughs around the world.”

“The developments that are taking place in nuclear imaging will mean that our children will not be as terrified of diseases like cancer as we were because we will know so much more about them,” he said.

“Our ability to image them will give us that much more data both about the processes that cause cancer and how we can disrupt them and the ways that we can then treat them in order to minimize their consequences.”

Alexander said a large part of modern life would not be possible but for the development of innovative nuclear technology.

“The industry is hugely broad based and the innovations have led to the foundations of modern society,” he said.