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Medical Uses of Nuclear Energy
Transcript of Medical Uses of Nuclear Energy
The benefits and disadvantages of nuclear energy in medical uses.
By: Amelia Campbell, Lara Fine, Meg Kanofski & Caitlin Plesek
Nuclear medicine uses small amounts of radiation to provide information about a person's body and the functioning of specific organs, biological processes, or a specific illness.
In nuclear medicine procedures, radionuclides are combined with other elements to form chemical compounds - radio pharmaceuticals. These radio pharmaceuticals, once administered to the patient, can localize to specific organs or cellular receptors.
PET (positron emission tomography) scans are common examples of the medical uses of Nuclear energy. A PET scanner is a large machine with a hole in the middle that the person is the put into. Multiple rings of detectors are in this machine the energy from a radiotracer in your body and it uses small amounts of radioactive material to diagnose patients. It can detect cancer, monitor cancer treatment and it can also see if it is coming back.
Overall, nuclear medicine is extremely beneficial and a positive use of nuclear energy, however a more environmentally assisting approach should be taken in the production of nuclear energy. Nuclear medicine in a PET scan is an effective and relatively safe and inexpensive way of detecting and controlling cancer.
Although side effects sometimes occur, it is our conclusion, based on the statements made in this presentation, that nuclear medicine will only continue to improve in the following years, helping to save more lives and create a better economy.
Thank you for watching!
A procedure is known as cost-effective if it's benefits are worth the additional costs that have been payed.
Although equipment needed for procedures using nuclear energy is expensive, around one-third of all hospital procedures (in modern hospitals) involve radiation and nuclear medicine, making nuclear energy highly useful and productive in relation to it's cost.
Nuclear medicine used for diagnosis or treatment generally have short half-lives.
(Australia and New Zealand Society of Nuclear Medicine, "Nuclear Medicine")
Medicine is a big use of nuclear energy and radiation has it has a lot of positive to it but it also has a few negatives too.
Radioisotope: a chemical element that
produces radiation as a result of a single element containing a differing number of protons to neutrons in the nuclei.
("Medicine & Scientific Research," 2014)
Figure 1- Sources of Radiation,
(World Nuclear Association, 2014)
Nuclear medicine is more economically justifiable in Australia than in most countries, as it is one of the only nations to produce the radioactive tracers that are essential for diagnostic nuclear medicine. (Ansto, "Nuclear Medicine," 2008)
If this were not the case, they would have to be imported from other countries, which would constitute to more money spent.
Although nuclear energy is used in medicine, high exposure to the radioactive material both in medical uses and from power plants in the environment can be deadly, causing health problems and cancer. This backfires the soul purpose of using the radioactive energy to improve health situations and assist in preventing cancer as well as greatly damaging the surrounding environments of nuclear power plants.
The production of Nuclear power produces large amounts of heat in the environment and water bodies, leading to increased global warming resulting in climate changes. Nuclear leads to low-level radiation leading to the damage of DNA, affecting plants and animals.
Nuclear power plants are commonly built near a water body. The image displays some of the short and long term impacts of the nuclear radiation on surrounding environments such as the dry, unhealthy, dead looking plants, dark skies, grey looking river water and a substantial amount of pollution being released into the air.
These factors would contribute to the death or harm of ecosystems in the area and people exposed to the radiation.
(Figure 2: Lorenzini, "Nuclear Energy Kills More Birds than Wind Energy?" 30 Apr. 2012)
Nuclear Energy is generated using a power plant, which requires a large area of land to set up, often near a water body. The set up of the plant alone requires the clearing of forests and lands, consequently disturbing the natural habitats of residential animals and upsetting the ecological balance of the region.
Furthermore, studies have shown that due to the heat emitted from the nuclear power plants, several species of fish living in the nearby water bodies have significantly dropped in population. The increased amount of sulphur dioxide produced by the power plant in the air is another significant effect as it results in the formation of acid rain, leading to contamination of the water along with reduction of soil productivity. (Jaffer, 2011)
Nuclear energy is the world's largest source of emission-free energy. The use of nuclear energy in place of other energy sources helps to keep the air clean, preserve the Earth's climate and avoid ground-level ozone formation. Of all energy sources, nuclear energy has perhaps the lowest impact on the environment, including water, land, habitat, species, and air resources. Nuclear energy is the most eco-efficient of all energy sources because it produces the most electricity relative to its environmental impact.
Globally, nuclear power is the only proven base-load energy option available that has low carbon-dioxide emissions, as well as being more ‘green’ and better for the environment than solar power. Many countries are either looking to establish nuclear power generation whilst others are expanding upon existing nuclear capacity.
(“Nuclear Energy,” 2013)
In 2012, ANSTO announced a $168 million plan for a nuclear medicine production plant and waste treatment plant to expand its production of Molybdenum 99 (Mo-99), which is used to diagnose heart disease and cancers, and safely dispose of the nuclear byproducts. Each year, 550,000 Australians are diagnosed with an illness using Mo-99 and more than 45 million doses are needed around the world.
There has been a global shortage of Mo-99 since 2009 and the new plant, creating 250 jobs, would allow ANSTO not only to meet Australia’s needs for Mo-99, but to sell the medicine around the world, earning $100 million a year. Sales of Mo-99 to the USA alone earned $29.6 million in 2012/13.
(Ansto, "ANSTO to supply nuclear medicine," 2012)
Complicating the political pressure to keep up supply of radioisotopes is a conflicting political pressure regarding what to do with nuclear waste. Australia is faced with the problem of where to keep the nuclear waste. Politicians are faced with the need to put nuclear waste somewhere but nobody wanting it in their backyard. It is practically impossible to find an agreed upon place to remove the nuclear waste.
There are two types of nuclear waste which must be dealt with if we are to use radioisotopes, the waste leftover from the isotopes themselves, and the waste from the nuclear reactor which generates the isotopes.
Radioisotopes decay almost totally in a few days. After this, they (being the radioisotopes) are classified as “exempt waste” or “EW”. Exempt waste is very safe and has practically no effect, therefore is able to be discarded into the general environmental waste systems. The majority of the remaining waste is then known as “Very Low Level Waste” or “VLLW”. This waste is quite similar to exempt waste in the way that it does not cause extreme harm to the environment (including humans). Most VLLW can be disposed of in landfill. A very small minority of the medical isotope waste is known as “Low Level Waste” or “LLW”. Low-level waste requires only shallow burial for it to be safe to the public. While the waste of the radioisotopes decays quickly, this also means they must be used quickly. This means there must be safe and reliable transport methods in place so the isotopes are not wasted.
More complicated, is the matter of reactor waste such as spent fuel. There are a number of isotopes in use for medical purposes, and many are produced using uranium or other harmful processes. The spent fuel from this process is very dangerous. In Australia, we only hold spent fuel until we have enough to ship. We ship the fuel to the United States, France or the United Kingdom for storage or processing. Some processed waste is then sent back to us as intermediate waste for storage. It is important to remember the reactor is used for things other than just medical isotopes, so the spent fuel cannot be called purely medical in nature.
We are not storing nuclear waste in Australia as dangerous as say the waste from nuclear power plants elsewhere in the world. The Lucas Heights reactor is also not as large as many other plants in places such as Canada, the largest supplier of radioisotopes in the world.
Australia’s new reactor, the OPAL reactor, will be larger and will make Australia one of the top 5 suppliers of radioisotopes in the world.
There have been plans developed for a National Radioactive Waste Dump in the Northern Territory. Supporters of the waste dump say that most of the nuclear waste would be from the production of Medical Isotopes. They also propose that without the removal of this waste our nuclear medicine system would be threated. However, others disagree saying,
“the incessant references to nuclear medicine to 'sell' the dump amount to nothing more than emotive propaganda − which is what critics of the proposed dump are routinely accused of.”
(Friends of the Earth Australia, 2011)
The supporters are using this to scare the citizens into letting them build a waste dump, when actually the amount of medical radioactive waste that would be put into the dump would only make up about 10 to 20% of the total amount of waste.
“ ‘If we don't have a site that is clear of any impediments by April  then by December 2006 Australia will not get access to radio pharmaceuticals that are essential to the early diagnosis of cancer and to deal with many cardiovascular issues in Australia.’ (13/10/05, abc.net.au/news/newsitems/200510/s1481671.htm)”
(Friends of the Earth Australia, 2011)
This “prediction” has been wrong, and clearly used to scare in the hope fear will solve the political difficulties. As shown in Figure 1 the citizens are clearly against this act of dumping waste.
So Where do We Put the Waste ?
(The Beyond Nuclear Initiative, 2013)
In addition, terrorism poses as a threat when it comes to nuclear waste and the disposal of nuclear waste. Terrorist expert groups have proven that when it comes to certain kinds of waste, nuclear weapons or “IND”-Improvised Nuclear Devices could be made. There have never been any official reports or claims of nuclear terrorism due to the nuclear waste if a highly trained terrorist group wanted to create a nuclear weapon; with the correct training they would most likely be capable of making a highly destructive nuclear weapon. This means there is political pressure to ensure high security of nuclear sites and waste. Australia only exports waste to the USA, France and the UK in an effort to ensure waste is not used for weapons. Worldwide studies have shown that although nuclear waste areas may have security, it is usually for the medical safety of the local citizens rather than concern for terrorism.
There is also an ethical issue when it comes to the removal of our nuclear waste internationally.
“It is stored at ANSTO until it is ready for shipment overseas for permanent storage, or for reprocessing to remove the valuable uranium and plutonium for re-use.”
If we are shipping nuclear waste overseas there are many problems that emerge. Even though it may be politically smart to just ship our problems away, political pressure exists to ensure there is safe handling at the other end, that no one is put in direct harm from our nuclear waste. When shipping our waste to other countries where does our responsibility stop?
The use of nuclear medicine allows for quicker, more accurate, less painful and less-invasive diagnosis and treatment of illnesses, reducing the need for surgery or other methods that can damage the body. Treatment can then begin more quickly, thus saving time and expense in the medical system. (Mann & Seminara, "Benefits of Nuclear Medicine," 2014)
Fewer tests and better targeted treatment means patients need to spend less time in hospital and can recover more quickly, returning to their normal lifestyle, including working and contributing to the economy. The economic benefits of nuclear medicine include the many thousands of medical specialists and health care workers, researchers and scientists and developers at ANSTO and other institutions.
To conclude, where we put our nuclear waste currently proves to be an on-going political challenge for our country and elsewhere in the world. However, when comparing the positives of medical uses of radioisotopes like early diagnosis, these clearly outweigh the political challenges with nuclear waste. Radioisotopes prove to be very effective and helpful to the Australian medical system and having to put up with nuclear waste is a small price to pay when it comes to saving lives. Vigilance of our politicians is required to ensure they do not sneak other nuclear issues in under the fear of losing our nuclear medicine.
The use of nuclear technology for PET scans is politically complex and challenging. These treatments use radioisotopes. Access to these treatments has become expected, creating political pressure to ensure continued supply of radioisotopes. The way in which radioisotopes are made can vary between two methods. ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) uses both. These methods are
“materials bombarded by neutrons in a reactor, or by protons in an accelerator called a cyclotron”
This takes place at a nuclear reactor. Australia’s nuclear reactor is found at Lucas Heights just south of Sydney and not only creates radioisotopes but also holds most of the nuclear waste.
The social effects of nuclear energy uses in medicine involves the fairness and safety to people. Nuclear medicine is a vital health care component that can diagnose and determine the severity of a variety of diseases including cancers, heart diseases, organ disorders and other abnormalities with the body. It is a vital part of health care that gives many the opportunity to live a healthy and full life for as long as possible.
Some of the positives of using nuclear medicine include:
1. Using a nuclear scanning system can help you avoid the need to use other procedures which may then have a more notable consequence and risk involved.
2. The reason nuclear medicine is safe is because the radio pharmaceuticals are quickly eliminated from the body through natural functions such as urinating. Approximately 20% of a dose is excreted through urine and it also has a very short half life. (“Health Physics Society”, Mike Bohan, 2013)
3. In most cases the amount of radiation given is very small. E.g. Having a lung scan would result in the same dose of radiation a patient would receive from two return flights between Sydney and London. Also, It exposes you to the same amount of radiation you would receive naturally over three years. (“Southern Nuclear Imaging”, Dr. Phillip Monaghan, 2005)
4. PET scanning is one of the most useful methods and offers the most potential to diagnose a patient in early stages of cancer or determine appropriate treatment. It also provides information that can be then used in further tests or procedures if needed such as radiotherapy.
Positives and Negatives
A last factor to remember it that nuclear medicine procedures have been used for more than five decades and at this point, there are no known long-term effects from such a small amount of exposure. This is why there is then no proven or valid reason to withhold from nuclear procedures at this point.
In all, the risk of the radiation exposure harming your body is small compared to the benefits you would receive through the scan because without this technology there would be a reduced quality of sufficient health and medical care.
Some of the risks involved with nuclear medicine include:
1. The radio pharmaceuticals used emit ionizing radiation and although they only travel a very short distance, the radiation can still cause harm if the body comes in contact with a high quantity of radiation. (“Better Health Channel”, Christian Nordqvist, 2013)
2. Allergic reaction to pharmaceuticals could also arise and could come in the form of slight pain, redness, itchiness or a rash. With this in mind you should always tell the doctor if you are allergic to anything so that they can be aware of it.
3. The radiation can be harmful to babies and so it is dangerous to get a scan when pregnant and it is advised that you should stay away from pregnant women or babies for a few hours after the exam to be safe. This is because the radiation could harm the fetus as their bodies are so small and young cannot handle the emissions. (“John Hopkins Medicine”, 2012)
4. The greatest potential risk from using nuclear energy in medicine is the development of cancer. There is no real evidence that a nuclear medicine exam has caused cancer but it is still a possibility that doctors warn you about.
5. Not only do the patients have risks but it is also risky to be the doctor and/or medical surgeon. Performing scans to 12 people a day does have its effects so doctors have to wear the right medical clothing to prevent being exposed to vast amounts of radiation.
6. The people who have to handle the patients waste also have to make sure they are prepared as although one patients waste may only give of a miniscule amount of radiation, it adds up and so the right protection gloves and bags are needed too.
Some argue that nuclear medicine is not successful or safe enough to justify the high cost of it's equipment and other features. It has, however, been found that the use of nuclear processes can be considerably cheaper than exploratory surgery, and can give a more precise diagnosis.
(RSNA, "General Nuclear Medicine," 2013)