Non-energy applications of nuclear technology – in healthcare, agriculture, industry 

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Atomexpo 2022 — the global nuclear industry’s leading exhibition-cum-business platform organised by the Russian state atomic energy corporation Rosatom – held in Sochi, Russia, on November 21–22, featured a roundtable discussion on the “Non-Electric Applications of Nuclear and Radiation Technologies”.  

The speakers at the roundtable, organised jointly by Rosatom subsidiaries Rusatom Healthcare and Rusatom Overseas, included Phan Việt Cương, Deputy Director of  Vinagamma R&D Center for Radiation Technology in Vietnam;  Andrey Sitnikov, Technical Leader for Nuclear Infrastructure and Competence Development at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA); Pyotr Shegay, Deputy Director General for Science at the National Medical Research Radiological Centre of Russia’s Health Ministry; Rusatom Healthcare Director General (DG) Igor Obrubov; Rusatom Overseas Vice President (Non-Energy Nuclear Projects) Dmitry Vysotsky, and nuclear medicine company Medscan’s Deputy Director General, Dmitry Fomin. The roundtable was moderated by the Director of Europium Pharma, Roberto La Forgia. 

The non-energy applications of nuclear and radiation technology are used in areas such as healthcare, agriculture and industry, while the roundtable participants discussed their use both for extending the human lifespan, as well as improving the quality of life. The speakers also analysed opportunities presented by peaceful uses of nuclear technology for achieving organisational goals on environment, social responsibility and governance (ESG). 

The discussion focused on global trends and Russian answers to the challenges facing humanity, particularly in the area of nuclear medicine. Rusatom Healthcare has emerged as a leader in providing cutting-edge solutions for diagnostics and therapeutics, leveraging Rosatom’s vast project experience worldwide and its expertise in nuclear technology and innovation. 

“Non-energy nuclear technologies, which Rosatom is developing, help achieve two major UN sustainable development goals by extending the human lifespan across the globe and contributing to food security”, the Rusatom Healthcare DG said.   

“In healthcare, Rosatom’s multi-pronged approach ensures that a full range of services can be provided, from isotope generation and preparation of radiopharmaceuticals to treatment at our clinics using nuclear medicine procedures”, he added.  

Nuclear medicine plays a pivotal role nowadays in healthcare and can help give early diagnosis for patients, as well as a more localised point for treatment. Owing to rapid innovations in technology, nuclear medicine is increasingly becoming crucial for diagnostics and therapy, particularly for diseases like cancer and thyroid.    

Rusatom Healthcare offers products and solutions under three broad categories – diagnostic, therapeutic, and integrated solutions for radiopharmaceutical production. In addition to off-the-shelf offerings, its solutions can be optimised and configured as per the needs of the customer, according to the company.   

Among diagnostic products, besides Positron Emission Tomography (PET) machines, Rusatom is also supplying Single Photon Emission Tomography (SPECT) scanners that provide medical imaging using gamma rays.   

In the area of therapeutics, Rusatom products are being widely used across the world for radionuclide therapy, radiotherapy, brachytherapy as well as proton and ion beam therapy.   

The company manufactures equipment such as cyclotrons, which produce radiopharmaceuticals. Isotopes are generated in cyclotrons, generators or nuclear reactors. Based on various isotopes, radiopharmaceuticals are produced for molecular imaging, radionuclide therapy and diagnostics. Radionuclide therapy can be used to treat conditions such as hyperthyroidism, skin cancers, and blood disorders.  

Rosatom holds 30 percent of global market share in the cobalt-60 isotope, while Rusatom Healthcare supplies isotope products to more than 50 countries in the world, enabling diagnosis and treatment of about 2.5 million people every year. 

Rusatom Overseas Vice President (Non-Energy Nuclear Projects) Dmitry Vysotsky said Rosatom is offering a wide range of non-energy nuclear solutions. “A striking example of such a project is the Centre for Nuclear Research and Technology in Bolivia, which is being built by Rosatom in El Alto, 4,000 metres above sea level”, he said.  

Pyotr Shegay, Deputy Director General for Science at Russia’s National Medical Research Radiological Centre, described the key nuclear medicine projects that are being jointly implemented with Rosatom.  

Rusatom also provides integrated solutions for construction of multifunctional treatment centers. Its turnkey offer includes financial, technological and equipment solutions, as well as the education and training of personnel. The company is constructing a cyclotron and radiochemical complex in Thailand under a contract signed in 2017 with the Thailand Institute of Nuclear Research.    

Phan Viet Cuong, Deputy Director of the Vinagamma R&D Center for Radiation Technology in Vietnam, described the current status and development plans of applied nuclear technology in the Southeast Asian nation. He also spoke about the Centre for Nuclear Science and Technology that is to be constructed in Vietnam with Rosatom assistance.   

In addition to nuclear medicine, Rusatom is providing project solutions for ionising radiation treatment of food, agriculture and medical products, as well as polymer materials. Ionising radiation treatment helps in reducing food wastage by extending shelf life, as well as through pest control. Similarly, the radiation treatment for medical products guarantees a complete biological inactivation of bacteria contained in them, with no residual radioactivity.   

As for industrial applications, nuclear technology is used for development of new materials such as radiation modified polymers necessary for production of electric cables, automobile tyres, thermo-shrinkable films and foamed polyethylene. A variety of amazing devices and gauges utilising extraordinary properties of ionizing radiation find application in industries such as construction, nuclear engineering, chemical production, gas and oil transportation and processing, among others. 

In the field of pest control, apart from radiation disinfection, a much more sophisticated tool has been known since the 1960s – the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT). Involving radiation sterilisation of selected species of insects, the SIT is well recognized both in the developing and developed worlds, and has been appraised by the IAEA and the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the most effective and environmentally friendly technologies for pest control.