Nuclear technology is very important for our health. Using radioactivity and radiation to treat various types of cancer increases our chances of survival. Medical isotopes are also used to treat pain and diagnose diseases.
Nuclear medicine specialists use radioactive material to determine whether organs are functioning properly and to detect cancerous growths at an early stage. Medical isotopes emit radiation that is used to make diagnoses, for example by administering them to patients undergoing a PET or SPECT scan. It is vital that the right diagnosis is made so that the correct treatment for the patient can be established. In addition, therapeutic isotopes are used to treat cancer patients, for example with radiation or brachytherapy. In this therapy, the isotope is introduced to internally attack malignant cells.\
High Flux Reactor in Petten
One of the places where isotopes are made is the High Flux Reactor of the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG). This reactor can generate 45 million watts of power. This power is used to get the neutrons and the materials to collide with each other. This happens in the core of the reactor, which is in a basin filled with water about 9 metres deep with thick concrete walls. By placing raw materials in the core at the bottom of the water basin, they are exposed to these neutrons, and isotopes are formed. The layer of water shields them from the radiation released in the process. The water is coloured blue, because the loaded particles move very fast through the water. The HFR is due to be replaced by the PALLAS reactor in 2025.
Cyclotron (particle accelerator)
When making isotopes in a cyclotron, also known as a particle accelerator, it is not the neutrons but the protons in combination with a magnetic field and an electrical field that travel very fast to collide with certain raw materials. The life of most isotopes from an accelerator is very short. For that reason, accelerators are located very close to where the products are used, for example the hospital.
There is a great deal of innovation taking place in the nuclear industry. Researchers are continuously looking for better fuels for power plants, more efficient nuclear plants and new medical isotopes.