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Medical Equipment Sterilization Gets Cobalt-60 from Bruce Power

Bruce Power has announced the completion of another cobalt-60 harvest from Bruce 7, a Candu reactor that has been producing electricity in Ontario since 1986. Cobalt-60 emits gamma rays, which are used to swiftly disinfect huge quantities of medical equipment and in hospitals for non-invasive treatments. Bruce Power was hailed by Ontario Premier Doug Ford for “offering this critical resource to the worldwide medical community,” and he related it to the need for medical supplies during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The stainless steel adjusters in the cores of Candu 6 reactors, like the ones at Bruce, optimise power production and assure efficient uranium fuel burn-up by shaping neutron flux. These can be replaced with replicas containing naturally occurring cobalt-59, which absorbs neutron radiation and converts to cobalt-60 without affecting reactor performance. The adjusters are removed after roughly five years in the reactor core and transferred to a Nordion facility in Ottawa to be turned into finished cobalt-60 sources.

They then travel across the world sterilising medical supplies, implants, and some food items. Cobalt-60 will be used to “sterilise up to 10 billion pairs of surgical gloves and single-use medical gadgets,” according to Bruce Power. Cobalt-60 is also utilised in non-invasive gamma knife treatments of breast cancer and brain tumours in 600 hospitals throughout the world, including five in Canada.

Bruce Power is also focusing on producing lutetium-177, which is used to treat prostate cancer and neuroendocrine tumours, as well as molybdenum-99, which decays into technetium-99m, which is utilised in a variety of medical imaging applications. Cobalt-60 is produced by Candu reactors at Wolsong in South Korea, Embalse in Argentina, and the Qinshan-III nuclear power station in China.

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