Nuclear Technology Saves Lives!


29 January 2020

2 minutes

The relationship between nuclear power and clean air is well understood.  Nuclear is a zero-emission energy source that does not generate any of the air pollutants emitted by the alternative fossil fuel power technologies. So, at a time of increasing energy consumption and the need to meet climate change goals, this is a good news story for nuclear.

How about the relationship between clean air and human health?  Again this is well understood and the health benefits of clean air are undeniable.  Hazardous air pollution from coal-fired power plants can cause a wide range of health effects that are well reported.  In addition to being highly undesirable, these health effects also have economic consequences such as increased medical costs and reduced labour productivity.

Now, let’s get personal.  How about when you injure yourself taking part in your favourites sport or you need a blood sample taken for analysis – nuclear contributes to this.  How about invasive surgery or cancer therapy – yes, nuclear contributes to this too.

The ‘secret sauce’ is Cobalt-60…
…and Cobalt-60 is produced in nuclear reactors.

Cobalt is mined, processed, encapsulated and assembled into adjuster rods that are installed into nuclear reactors.  Over a period of approximately 2 years in the reactor, the cobalt is activated by absorbing neutrons to become Cobalt-60.  This Cobalt-60 is then removed from the reactor and supplied to manufacturers that produce Cobalt-60 sources that are used by the radiation processing industry and in medical therapy.

Radiation processing is the industrial scale application of radiation to material and products that result in a beneficial effect.  Cobalt-60 emits gamma radiation and this can be used to sterilise single use medical supplies such as syringes, catheters, surgical gloves, wound care products and implants. Approximately 40% of these medical devices are sterilised using irradiation and demand continues to grow with greater access to healthcare and an ageing population with extended life expectancy.    

Medical grade Cobalt-60, also produced in nuclear power reactors, is used in the treatment of cancer.  During treatment, a high dose of radiation is delivered to tumours to control or kill cancer cells.  The radiation dose can be precisely focused, delivered with great accuracy and with minimal damage to surrounding healthy tissue. Whilst it’s not pleasant to think about medical treatment, it is comforting to know that you can receive treatment with sterile materials, low infection risk and radiation therapy solutions.  Actually, for many people this is just taken for granted because the nuclear and Cobalt-60 industries are quietly working behind the scenes to make it possible.

Cobalt-60 is currently produced in nuclear reactors in Canada, Russia, China, India and Argentina.  These reactors positively impact millions of people worldwide. So, this is why I say “nuclear technology saves lives”

Written by
Martin Comben

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