Monthly Archives: September 2018


Nuclear Science: Addressing Marine Pollution

The International Marine Organization (IMO) recently imposed new regulations to limit the amount of sulphur used in the fuel of cargo ships by 2020. The limit will decrease the amount of sulfur used in fuel oil from 3.5% to 0.5% within the next 2 years, stating that the new regulations will “significantly reduce the amount of sulphur oxide emanating from ships and should have major health and environmental benefits for the world, particularly for populations living close to ports and coasts.”

When it comes to monitoring the oceans for contaminants, nuclear and isotopic techniques provide a unique source of information for identifying nuclear and non-nuclear contaminants and tracing their pathways in the environment, as well as for investigating their biological effects.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has worked for decades in this field with various United Nations environmental organization.

“To assist Member States in addressing coastal and marine pollution, the IAEA has developed a number of science-based tools and techniques that help decision-makers protect the marine environment,” according to the IAEA. “The Agency maintains environment laboratories in Monaco and Seibersdorf, Austria, that use nuclear and isotopic techniques to study pollution processes and fingerprint pollutants’ sources.”

Last year, the IAEA Environment Laboratories in Monaco held training courses for scientists on techniques to measure and monitor pollutants in the marine environment.

Since starting a collaboration with UN Environment in 1986, the IAEA has jointly organized to date 56 training courses and 34 Proficiency Tests with representatives from Mediterranean countries to strengthen pollution monitoring. In addition, 57 recommended methods for the analysis of trace elements and organic pollutants in marine samples were developed, in association with UN Environment and the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO (IOC-UNESCO).

“Over the past 40 years, the IAEA has jointly conducted 33 extended Quality Assurance missions to check and improve the quality of contaminant analyses, 93 instrument service missions, and installed new instruments for the analysis of contaminants in Mediterranean laboratories,” according to the IAEA.

As an IAEA policy study concluded, “Most major pollution problems facing the marine environment can only be investigated using nuclear and isotopic techniques, which offer the diagnostic and dynamic information needed to identify the source of contamination, its history of accumulation, its  environmental pathways and its impact on the environment.”


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 Responds

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.

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



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: