Canada’s cyclotron accelerator king of radioisotopes producers

The March 11, 2011 accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co., Inc.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power generating plant released a huge amount of radiation into the atmosphere, which is measured in terms of becquerels.

But nuclear power is used not merely to generate electricity.

Scientists and engineers have made it possible to utilize radioisotopes in diversified areas, including radiotherapy for cancer treatment, medical research and materials development.

Canada has long been a leading isotope producer. The symbol of its leading position in the field is the 520-mega-electron volt (MeV) Main Cyclotron at the Triumf national laboratory located in the University of British Columbia’s campus near Vancouver.

Federal science minister Kirsty Duncan joined the celebrations of the machine’s 40th anniversary of operations, which was commissioned by them-Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau on February 9, 1976, the World Nuclear News online newsletter reported February 11.

Duncan called Triump a “mecca” for researchers specializing in particle and nuclear physics, molecular and materials science and nuclear materials.

Japan Atomic Energy Agency’s (JAEA’s) predecessor started up its 50-megawatt (thermal) Japan Materials Testing Reactor (JMTR) at Oarai in Ibaraki Prefecture in 1968. One of its missions was replacing molybdenum-90 imports for medical diagnosis with local production. Canadians running Triump recently began bombarding molybdenum-100 to produce technetium-99m, which is used in around 80% of all medical radioisotope procedures, WNN said.

Japan’s ion irradiation facilities include JAEA’s Takasaki Ion Accelerators for Advanced Radiation Applications (TIARA) at Takasaki, Gunma Prefecture. TIARA is composed of four machines, including a 70-MeV cyclotron, two types of accelerators and an ion injection machine.

The Japanese Diet has approved plans to merge those and other research facilities of JAEA with medical functions of the National Institute of Radiological Sciences to form a new quantum science research center April 1, 2016. Its development targets include cancer treatment using heavy corpuscular beams and nuclear fusion.

The phrase “quantum beams” is a catch-all term, including beams of muon, neutron, proton, electron, ion, meson, synchrotron radiation and light quantum. These beams can be supplied by accelerators, powerful laser and research reactors.

Cobalt-60 has the lion’s share in use by Japanese researchers, while small amounts of molybdenum-99 and technetium-99m are being used, the Japanese government said recently. The amounts of these radioisotopes are also measured by becquerels.


By Shota Ushio, freelance writer based in Tokyo

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