Sunday, March 28, 2010

The State of Nuclear Medicine and Research

Aside from energy generation, another useful aspect of nuclear fission is its ability to produce isotopes for many medical and industrial uses. Reactors that are designed to create these isotopes are typically called research reactors as they do not have much in the way of power output compared to their cousins, the dedicated nuclear power plants. However, isotopes such as technetium-99, chromium-51, gallium-57, etc. must be produced in research reactors by radiating parent isotopes and many research reactors are also used for nuclear scientific testing.

Unfortunately, many research reactors are badly in need of an overhaul as the world demand for radiopharmaceuticals has increased over the years and the number of these specialized reactors still operating has dwindled as many of them are shutdown over hysteria or age. The few that are still operating are running at full tilt and the increased stress on their components is causing them to wear out even faster and many research reactors are badly in need of major repairs. However, to temporarily shut down a research reactor usually means that it is depriving people of valuable isotopes that are needed for many medical procedures and tests. The shortage of research reactors across the world also means that ones that are still operational have to balance their obligations between isotope production, and the queues of researchers that have lined up to use the reactor for experiments and have been waiting for several years to do so.

The Depleted Cranium blog has an excellent post on the status of this phenomenon and the history of how the world came to be in this mess. Research reactors have not been immune to the same idiocy and short-sightedness that has surrounded nuclear power generation and they have also suffered because of it. The construction of new nuclear research facilities should be a world top priority because both science and peoples lives are being endangered with the status of our current situation. I whole-heartedly recommend that my readers visit the post on Depleted Cranium as it really does show how dire the situation is.