CNA2020

New partnerships mean more medical isotope production

Image of Westinghouse and Nordion executives signing a letter of intent.
Westinghouse and Nordion signed a letter of intent to develop innovative isotope production technology that will allow cobalt-60 to be produced in pressurized water reactors.

According to the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council, the global isotope market was estimated to be US$9.6 billion. It is projected to grow to more than US$17.1 billion by 2023. Canada’s position in that market recently got stronger with two new partnership agreements.

Framatome and Kinectrics Launch Joint Venture to Produce Medical Isotopes for Lifesaving Cancer Treatment

At CNA2020 on Feb. 28, Framatome and Kinectrics announced the launch of Isogen. The joint venture will provide and support isotope production systems for Bruce Power’s nuclear reactors to begin the production of lutetium-177.

Lutetium-177 is used as a gamma emitter for imaging. It is also a beta emitter used for targeted radiotherapy for the treatment of a growing number of cancers, including prostate cancer, neuroendocrine tumours and bone metastases.

“We are proud to have established a new Ontario-based company, Isogen, with our partner, Framatome,” said David Harris, Kinectrics president and CEO. “Together, we will work with Bruce Power to produce life-saving medical isotopes, specifically lutetium-177, which will help to advance the global fight against cancer.”

“Partnering with Kinectrics to launch Isogen marks our commitment to advance isotope development as we continue to work with the team at Bruce Power in the fight against cancer,” said Bernard Fontana, CEO at Framatome. “Together, we are working with Bruce Power to maximize existing infrastructure, already known for producing reliable, low-carbon electricity, and making important, life-saving medical treatments available to patients around the world.”

The partnership will leverage the scale, redundancy and longevity of the eight-unit facility to anchor a new, global supply of isotopes. Following regulatory and other approvals, the plan is to begin isotope production in 2022. The goal is to allow scaling based on demands for lutetium-177 and other isotopes.

“As home to Ontario’s largest private-sector infrastructure project, we are not only extending our assets to provide low-cost, clean electricity for our families and business but are also ensuring that we are playing a leadership role in providing the global health community with access to isotopes that are critical to a modern health-care system and in the fight against cancer,” said Michael Rencheck, president and CEO of Bruce Power.

Westinghouse Partners with Nordion to Increase Future Supply of Life-Saving Cobalt-60

Two days before the Isogen announcement, Westinghouse Electric Company and Nordion (Canada) Inc. announced they signed a letter of intent to develop innovative isotope production technology that will allow cobalt-60 to be produced in pressurized water reactors (PWRs).

Cobalt-60 is the most common radioisotope used in radiation therapy. Hospitals also use cobalt-60 to sterilize medical equipment, such as gowns, gloves, masks, syringes and implants.

“Westinghouse, a leader in nuclear technology throughout the world, brings a strong set of operational experience, engineering skills and a robust safety culture to this collaboration. We look forward to contributing to the health and well-being of people around the world,” said Patrick Fragman, president and CEO of Westinghouse.

“This partnership will substantially expand future supply options for life-saving cobalt-60,” said Kevin Brooks, president of Nordion, a leading supplier of cobalt-60 globally. “Cobalt-60 is critical to our mission of Safeguarding Global Health, and we continue to invest heavily in maintaining a reliable, long-term supply.”

According to the World Nuclear Association, almost all the world’s supply of the radioisotope is produced in Candu reactors, mostly in Canada.

Expanding production to PWRs — of which there are nearly 100 in North America alone — will strengthen the diversity of the global supply chain.

Uncategorized

The Sound of Neutrons

The hills are alive, with the sound of… neutrons?

This March, “The Sound of Neutrons,” an original musical written and directed by Phyllis Heeney will be performed by the Deep River Players at the Childs Auditorium of Mackenzie Community School in Deep River.

Based on real events, the musical centres around a female physicist who was unable to get a job at Chalk River labs in 1945 to work on the ZEEP reactor because she was a woman.

The musical is written and directed by Phyllis Heeney, a retired Canadian Nuclear Laboratories employee. Phyllis took great care to base the story of her musical on the experiences of real women from the Deep River and Chalk River area: Maria, a physics professor from Bratislava who was unable to get a job as a physicist; Nancy, a woman who did get a job as a physicist but was never seen as equal by her male peers; Maraget, the first woman ever hired at Chalk River, whose desk chair was a keg of nails.

The musical celebrates the entry of women into the nuclear workforce and the strides they made for not only other female workers, but for Canada’s science and engineering fields as a whole.

The show runs on March 12 & 13 – takes a pause for March Break – and finishes its run on March 26, 27, and 28. Opening night, March 12, is also the kick-off of the Town of Deep River’s 75th anniversary celebrations. A catered reception will follow the performance on opening night, which will be attended by local area politicians, advocacy organizations, historical societies, and AECL and CNL employees (past and present).

Details regarding the purchase of tickets can be found on the poster above.

Op-ed

Guest column: Is Peterborough the right place to make nuclear fuel?

Head of Canadian Nuclear Association weighs in on BWXT’s request to expand local operations

Portrait of John GormanBy John Barrett
President and CEO
Canadian Nuclear Association

Originally published in The Peterborough Examiner on February 24, 2020.

In early March, the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) will hold public hearings in Toronto and Peterborough about the renewal of BWXT Nuclear Energy Canada’s operating licence.

The CNSC regulates every part of the nuclear industry in Canada, to ensure the safety of employees, the public, and the environment. So, BWXT needs this licence to continue its work. This includes producing natural uranium fuel pellets in its Toronto facility. These are shipped to Peterborough, where BWXT places them in zirconium tubes that it manufactured in its Arnprior facility. The fuel bundles made by companies such as BWXT and Cameco are then used in nuclear reactors, which provide about 60 per cent of Ontario’s electricity.

For its licence renewal, BWXT applied to keep operating for another 10 years, but also for the option to manufacture fuel pellets in Peterborough.

This last point has given rise to a lot more opposition from activists, who plan to turn out to the CNSC hearings in force. This is unusual for a fairly innocuous part of the nuclear supply chain, so it drew my attention. Opposition groups have been in the media lately, raising several concerns: that the Peterborough plant might emit uranium dioxide dust, or that contaminated water might be dumped into nearby waters.

However, one objection from the activists stood out: why Peterborough? Why, they said, allow the handling of nuclear materials so close to where people live, work, and play?

First, the CNSC ensures that Canada’s entire nuclear industry is safe — not just the reactors, but the mining, transportation, processing, and eventual disposal too. That’s why the total number of deaths from nuclear operations in Canada since it began in the 1950s is zero.

But BWXT takes safety to a level far higher than what is required by regulation. For example, the CNSC has set a limit for radiation exposure to the public at one millisievert per year — but the estimate for people living near the Peterborough facility was less than one thousandth of that in 2018. When one considers that we all get about 1.8 millisieverts per year naturally from the environment, BWXT’s almost-unmeasurable addition fades into insignificance.

But BWXT still takes any risks seriously. That’s why the Peterborough facility stores any waste water that could be contaminated with uranium in tanks, then filters uranium dioxide out, and sends water samples to an outside lab. The lab tests have to show that the water meets regulatory requirements before BWXT can release it. In Toronto, where BWXT makes fuel pellets, the emissions into the air are about one per cent of the limit CNSC sets, and the release into the water is about 0.3 per cent of the limit. The very small amount of dust created within the facility is dealt with by several layers of filters.

Still, ensuring that BWXT is safe doesn’t fully answer the question: why here?

The answer is: because Peterborough has the skilled workforce that BWXT needs. The Peterborough facility employs about 300 people, including about 120 engineers. The assembly of fuel bundles requires both rigorous training and understanding of safety procedures, but this is not the only work BWXT performs here, as Peterborough is also home to its reactor inspection and maintenance tooling teams.

These jobs are not only skilled, but also stable: BWXT’s operations help to supply Ontario’s nuclear power plants, which are now undergoing a mid-life refurbishment, and are expected to run for decades more. So, if a young engineer enters the nuclear industry now, he or she can expect a solid career. But there’s more: increasing concern about climate change, is making zero-emission nuclear power more attractive than ever. And, with the recent excitement about building new-generation small modular reactors, the nuclear industry could be headed for considerable growth. This could greatly benefit Peterborough and its surrounding communities, where the nuclear industry is responsible for over 3,000 direct and indirect jobs.

So, BWXT should continue operating in Peterborough because that’s where its highly skilled and educated employees are — where they send their kids to school, play hockey on the weekends, and shop after the workday. And they, like anyone else who works in Canada’s nuclear industry, know well that the air and water around their workplace is safe for them and their families.

The CNSC, which is independent of any industry group, will make a decision on the BWXT licence application after the March hearings. I am confident that the CNSC will base its decision on the available facts, and I hope that the hearings will reflect the interests of the Peterborough community as a whole.