Nuclear research: Contributions to improving health, environment and standard of living
Nuclear technology is vital for more than just providing reliable, low-carbon energy – it also has life-saving medical applications and improves manufacturing, mining, transport and agriculture. Canada is not only among the world’s leading nations in nuclear research, it is also a world leader in the production of medical isotopes.
Nuclear research facilities have a long history of powering research in Canada. They produce neutrons, which are used by a range of researchers to solve research problems in all five of Canada’s science and technology priority areas.
ENVIRONMENTAL AND AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH
Neutrons are used in research that furthers the understanding of plant nutrition. These findings provide essential information about advancing global food security in an era of climate change. Researchers also use neutrons for analyzing the flow of pollutants in ecosystems and evaluating their impact on soil, lakes, streams and organisms. Neutrons are also used to study the effects of radiation exposure on organisms at the cellular level.
HEALTH AND LIFE SCIENCES
The use of radiation and radioisotopes for screening, diagnosis and therapy of various medical conditions is growing worldwide. With a long history of using neutron-based medical isotopes to diagnose and treat disease, Canada’s ongoing research efforts include new medical isotopes and new pharmaceuticals using these medical isotopes.
Neutrons penetrate deep inside materials and provide information about interior structures at the atomic level. This makes them valuable for material science research and for developing advanced materials, for example, for clean energy technologies and information technology hardware. For the aerospace industry, neutrons are used to detect flaws in parts, which can lead to a better lifespan and safety of materials. Research that is examining the effects of cosmic radiation on aerospace components will inform the design of the satellites, space telescopes and interplanetary space probes.
NATURAL RESOURCES AND ENERGY
Neutrons are used to determine the composition and geological age of Canada’s landmasses – they are also used to identify deposits of resources, including gold and uranium. Neutrons are used to create the nuclear gauges used in the oil and gas sector to characterize underground wells and pipes, and to detect leaks. Emerging small modular reactor technologies have tremendous potential to power resource extraction equipment at remote sites and provide energy for remote communities in Northern Canada.