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.
Generation IV nuclear plants
Fourth-generation reactors make more efficient use of nuclear fuels and therefore achieve higher efficiency, creating much less radioactive waste. With the same quantity of natural uranium, the new reactors can produce up to 50 times more energy than the previous generations. These innovative reactors can even generate new energy from the existing radioactive waste.
There are six types of fourth-generation reactors. Three of these are thermal reactors and three are fast reactors. Thermal reactors use a moderator to slow down neutrons to thermal or slow neutrons, which have more chance of being captured in an atomic nucleus. Fast reactors can operate like a breeder reactor and can also transmute actinides into nuclear waste to less and less hazardous waste.
The Netherlands is a leader in the field of isotopes. Intensive partnerships between universities, hospitals and manufacturers have resulted in several innovative and very effective treatments with fewer side effects. Scientific developments continue apace.
Recently, an important new isotope was developed in Petten. This makes it possible to predict whether patients will benefit from specific chemotherapy treatments (with cisplatin). That chemotherapy is brutal: it stops the cell division. Which is important in fast-growing tumours. However, this treatment has its disadvantages: it is not effective for every form of cancer, and it can cause serious side effects, such as hearing damage and even severe kidney failure.
The new radioactive cisplatin has two important functions: to predict the effectiveness of the chemotherapy (what is the chance of success?) as well as the possible damage (how much damage do we expect to healthy tissue?). This makes it possible to make better judgements about whether to use chemotherapy. In Petten, an automatic facility has been developed with which the radioactive cisplatin can be produced in small batches for clinical trials.
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(Credit illustration: ©Ji Xing, Daiyong Song, Yuxiang Wu - CC BY 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org)