The industry’s wealth of material and human resources has been put to work to help Canada respond to the pandemic. Canada’s nuclear industry is home to some of the most incredible laboratories, equipment, and brain power. The industry is working collaboratively and has pivoted to redeploy R&D efforts, as well as rallying to donate protective equipment for frontline workers and maintain critical supply of isotopes to sterilize medical equipment.
Nuclear isotopes are used for imaging and therapies for a wide variety of medical conditions. There are over 40 million nuclear medicine procedures conducted each year — 36 million are diagnostic and four million are therapies.
Canada is a major supplier of the isotope Cobalt-60, which emits gamma rays essential for cancer treatments as well as for sterilization of medical devices. It is used in irradiation to sterilize items such as gowns, syringes, gloves and scalpels.
COVID-19 has increased the need for such protective items for front-line health care workers, making Canada’s Colbalt-60 supply an important asset in the global battle against the pandemic.
Close to 50 per cent of the world’s Cobalt-60 is supplied by Ontario’s nuclear reactors operated by Ontario Power Generation (OPG) and Bruce Power. And 40 per cent of the world’s single-use medical devices and equipment are irradiated and sterilized using Cobalt-60.Once it is “harvested” from reactors, Cobalt-60 is sent to Nordion in Ottawa, Ontario, where it is processed and shipped to 40 countries around the world for the sterilization of single use medical devices. Cobalt-60 allows sterilization of medical equipment within a day whereas other methods can take up to two weeks. This saves valuable time, especially when clean and safe medical supplies are urgently needed.
Bruce Power, which operates the world’s largest nuclear power plant in Tiverton, Ontario, harvested enough Cobalt-60 to sterilize 13 billion pairs of gloves in March. In September, they are planning a second harvest and they expect it will produce enough to sterilize 11 billion pairs of gloves. Cobalt-60 is also extracted from reactors at OPG’s Pickering Nuclear plant. Plans are underway to expand Cobalt-60 production to OPG’s Darlington Nuclear to ensure a steady supply as operations at Pickering wind down in 2024.
In addition, nuclear medicine services have been maintained, in particular for cancer patients, throughout the pandemic. People are still being diagnosed and treated for a…
Read More: How nuclear technology is helping in the battle against COVID-19