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Canada: Progress with non-reactor isotope production

A research team at the University of British Columbia is making progress developing non-reactor methods to produce technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the isotope used in 70−80% of diagnostic nuclear imaging procedures. Using its Triumf cyclotron, they produced enough Tc-99m in six hours to enable about 500 scans, thereby creating a "viable alternative" to the NRU reactor which is scheduled to close in 2016.1

Clinical trials involving 50−60 patients are expected to begin this year to prove that the cyclotron-produced Tc-99m behaves in the same way as that from nuclear reactors. If the three-month trials are successful, the university says, one of Triumf's cyclotrons "would likely be dedicated to medical isotope production", possibly as soon as 2016.

Only a handful of research reactors around the world produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the parent of Tc-99m. The supply chain has been vulnerable to interruptions from unplanned reactor outages.

The Canadian government has invested around C$60 million (€43m; US$48m) in projects, including Triumf, to bring non-reactor-based isotope production technologies to market through its Isotope Technology Acceleration Program initiative.

Production of Tc-99m using cyclotrons does not require the highly enriched uranium targets that are commonly used in reactors to produce Mo-99 (and Mo-99 production has sometimes been used to justify the use of highly enriched reactor fuel). Instead, Tc-99m is produced by bombarding a Mo-100 target with a proton beam.

Another technique that is showing some promise uses the Canadian Light Source in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.2 The accelerator bombards a target of enriched Mo-100 with high-energy X-rays, which knock a neutron out of some of the Mo-100 atoms to produce Mo-99. If all goes to plan, two or three accelerator systems like the Canadian Light Source facility could produce enough isotopes to supply Canada's domestic needs. Production of the parent isotope Mo-99 is preferable to direct production of Tc-99, as its longer half-life (66 hours vs. 6 hours for Tc-99m) facilitates more widespread distribution.

Numerous non-reactor methods of Mo-99/Tc-99m production have been proposed over the past few decades, and some methods have been proven on an experimental scale.3 There is a reasonable chance that the looming closure of the NRU reactor in Canada will result in viable, affordable methods of large-scale, non-reactor Mo-99/Tc-99m production.

1. WNN, 9 Jan 2015, 'New record for cyclotron isotope production',
2. WNN, 17 Nov 2014, 'Canada ships first synchrotron isotopes',


Belgium not ready for major nuclear accident

Contingency plans for a major nuclear accident are not up to scratch and Belgium is therefore ill-prepared for such a catastrophe. This is the conclusion of a study commissioned by Greenpeace Belgium. The study was undertaken by the French Association pour le Contrôle de la Radioactivité de l'Ouest (ACRO).

Nothing has been learned from the Fukushima disaster in Japan. Emergency preparations are very limited and "would not suffice to protect Belgians if there was serious nuclear accident."

"Zones covered by current contingency plans are too limited and must be enlarged to cover the whole country. There is no mention of the evacuation of cities such as Antwerp, Liege or Namur, in spite of their location being less than 30 kms from a nuclear power station," said Greenpeace, which also highlights power stations in Gravelines, Chooz, Cattehom (France), and Borssele (Netherlands), all along the Belgian border.

For Greenpeace, the Fukushima disaster showed that contingency plans only work to protect populations if they have been developed and tested with a worst case scenario in mind. Everyone concerned – from emergency services to potential victims – must be trained in what to do in advance of an actual incident. "This is not the case in Belgium, where the case of only a limited nuclear incident with low radioactive contamination levels has been envisaged," explains Eloi Glorieux, energy campaigner for Greenpeace Belgium.

In view of the high population density in this country, and of the problems occurring at Belgian nuclear plants in recent months, the expected lifespan of Belgian reactors should not be extended, said Greenpeace.

"Will the Belgian government act responsibly to protect Belgian citizens? For now, it seems willing to run the risk and is ignoring any lessons that were learned from Fukushima and Tchernobyl. We call this culpable negligence".

The report (in Dutch) is posted at:


Global renewable energy knowledge hub

The International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has launched 'REsource' − an online platform that enables users to easily find country-specific data, create customized charts and graphs, and compare countries on metrics like renewable energy use and deployment. It also provides information on renewable energy market statistics, potentials, policies, finance, costs, benefits, innovations, education and other topics.


Renewable energy costs reaching grid parity

Maturing clean energy technologies, such as onshore wind, solar power and biomass, are reaching grid parity in many parts of the world regardless of whether or not they receive subsidies, a new report by the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) has revealed.1

IRENA states: "The competitiveness of renewable power generation technologies continued improving in 2013 and 2014, reaching historic levels. Biomass for power, hydropower, geothermal and onshore wind can all provide electricity competitively against fossil fuel-fired power generation. Solar photovoltaic (PV) power has also become increasingly competitive, with its levelised cost of electricity (LCOE) at utility scale falling by half in four years."

IRENA estimates fossil-fuelled power plants produce power at between US$0.07−0.19/kWh when environmental and health costs of carbon emissions and other forms of pollution are taken into account.

Deutsche Bank has released its 2015 Solar Outlook report.2 Deutsche Bank states: "Unsubsidized rooftop solar electricity costs anywhere between $0.13 and $0.23/kWh today, well below retail price of electricity in many markets globally. The economics of solar have improved significantly due to the reduction in solar panel costs, financing costs and balance of system costs. We expect solar system costs to decrease 5-15% annually over the next 3+ years which could result in grid parity within ~50% of the target markets. If global electricity prices were to increase at 3% per year and cost reduction occurred at 5-15% CAGR [compound annual growth rate], solar would achieve grid parity in an additional ~30% of target markets globally. We believe the cumulative incremental total available market for solar is currently around ~140GW/year and could potentially increase to ~260GW/year over the next 5 years as solar achieves grid parity in more markets globally and electric capacity needs increase."

According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, global investment in renewables jumped 16% last year to US$310 billion (€89b), five times the tally of a decade earlier. Solar investments accounted for almost half the total. China led the way with renewable investments increasing almost one-third to US$89.5 billion (€79.6b), while US investment gained 8% to US$51.8 billion (€46.1b).3

A November 2014 report commissioned by the Vienna Ombuds-Office for Environmental Protection compares the economics of renewables and nuclear power.4 Five different renewable technologies were analysed: biomass, onshore and offshore wind, small-scale hydropower plants and solar photovoltaics. Calculations were conducted for five different EU Member states (UK, Poland, Germany, France and the Czech Republic) and the EU-28 overall.

The report concludes: "Generating electricity from a variety of renewable sources is more economical than using nuclear power; this is clearly shown by the model-based assessment of future developments up to 2050. Across the EU end consumers can save up to 37% on their electricity costs – in some Member States even up to 74% – when plans to build nuclear power plants are shelved in favour of renewables. In order to achieve these goals it is vital that we act quickly, but with care, to create the infrastructure and regulatory framework this requires, or to adapt that which already exists."

1. IRENA, January 2014, 'Renewable Power Generation Costs in 2014', . For more of IRENA's ongoing renewable energy cost analysis, see
2. Deutsche Bank, 13 Jan 2015, 'Deutsche Bank’s 2015 solar outlook: accelerating investment and cost competitiveness',
4. Austrian Institute of Ecology / e-think, Nov 2014, 'Renewable Energies versus Nuclear Power: Comparing Financial Support',


Charlie Hebdo − an ally of the anti-nuclear movement

French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has been at the forefront of the denunciation of nuclear threats − from nuclear weapons and from the nuclear fuel cycle − since its creation in 1969; indeed since its predecessor magazine Hara Kiri was first printed in 1960.

Several Charlie Hebdo staffers supported anti-nuclear struggles, including murdered editor Stéphane 'Charb' Charbonnier. Staffer Fabrice Nicolino, who was wounded on January 7, was the author of a special edition of Charlie Hebdo in 2012 called 'The Nuclear Swindle' − with democracy the victim of the swindle.