Good morning. It's a pleasure for me to be speaking with you today. As the new president of the Canadian Nuclear Association, part of my mandate is to give Canadians an honest, accurate account of Canada's nuclear industry. This is part of the CNA's mandate, but it's one of my personal missions as well.
The nuclear industry is one of Canada's real growth industries and a tremendous success story. We are recognized throughout the world as leaders in nuclear science and technology. Our CANDU reactor generates billions of dollars in export revenue. Our hospitals are on the leading edge of research and development of cancer treatments and other areas of nuclear medicine.
Canadians can and should be proud of their nuclear industry. Instead, our success and importance are well-kept secrets. The Canadian nuclear industry, and nuclear industries worldwide, contribute to Canada's economic strength and to the standard of living we all enjoy in ways that would surprise most people.
You are among the 100,000 people directly and indirectly employed by the Canadian nuclear industry. But I'm always amazed to learn that even people like you, who know a great deal about what we do, often don't know the big picture.
You may not fully appreciate, for instance, that you are involved in one of the most economically vital and life-enhancing industries in the world. And if you're not fully aware of how much our industry does to make life better, how can the millions of people not involved in our industry know? How can they know that, without us, life as we know it would be vastly different?
I've thought long and hard about how the CNA can best serve our industry. I believe that it's part of my job to do exactly what I'm doing here today. I'm here to spread the word.
Why are the success and importance of our industry such well-kept secrets? To some extent, it's because nuclear technology and radioactive materials attract controversy. So much controversy, in fact, that few people outside our industry realize how extensively the nuclear industry improves everyday life.
The peaceful and beneficial uses of radioisotopes are part of the fabric of daily life for millions of people throughout the world. Radioisotopes are used, for instance, to diagnose and treat illnesses. You or someone you know may recently have been helped to achieve good health through some medical test or treatment involving nuclear medicine.
Radioisotopes are used in smoke detectors, and to sterilize diapers, cosmetics, and bandages. These are all common, everyday items, whose effectiveness and purity are made possible through nuclear technology. Radioisotopes are used to scan luggage for explosives and to detect lead in paint. They make our homes, our communities, and our world, safer.
But for many, the very word "nuclear" means bombs and power plants. This gives our critics plenty of ammunition. Their platforms are not based on knowledge. In fact, they are, as a rule, woefully ill informed. Their trump card is their ability to arouse public emotion and outrage.
Tragically, this absence of accurate, reliable information doesn't seem to matter to the media who bring anti-nuclear stories to public attention. Mushroom clouds and children with disabilities are instant camera footage. They guarantee public reaction.
Facts from nuclear industry experts are lost amid the strident voices of antinuclear activists. The truth gets lost in the din. It's time to set the record straight.
Here at Chalk River, some of you are involved in developing radioisotopes and in research. Others among you design and build cancer treatment machines, food irradiation equipment, and other devices that use radioactive material. The fact is that radioactive materials are all around us. It would be difficult to name many industries or sectors of the economy that do not use nuclear technology and reap its rewards.
Medicine, science, agriculture, environmental protection, public safety and engineering all use nuclear technology. Industries ranging from quality control of foods to textile production and electronics depend on radioactive materials. They help us perform a vast array of jobs better, faster, cheaper, and more easily, than alternative methods. In some cases, there simply are no alternatives.
Probably the best known uses of radioactive materials are in the field of medicine. Their uses are particularly widespread and important in diagnosis, therapy, and research. One in three hospital patients benefits from some procedure using nuclear medicine.
No doubt some of you have personal knowledge or experience of the life-saving and life-giving properties of radioactive cancer treatments. Canadians can take pride in the fact that 85 per cent of the world's supply of Cobalt-60, primarily used in radiation therapy, is produced in Canada. But that's only part of the story.
Cobalt-60 is extensively used to sterilize surgical instruments and medical supplies. It's both low-cost and effective. Although other sterilization methods are available, they carry significant risks.
Chemical sterilization, for instance, may leave residues that are hazardous to health. Is that an additional risk we should expect patients undergoing surgery-or their doctors-to take?
Cobalt-60 is used to sterilize items pre-packaged in hermetically sealed packages. This makes them completely impermeable to any kind of contamination and gives them an indefinite shelf life.
Bone and skin graft tissue used for reconstructive surgery can only be sterilized using Cobalt-60.
Perhaps the most socially relevant use of sterilization by radiation today is for decontamination of disposable syringes. Prior to the use of radiation for sterilization, hepatitis was frequently passed on to patients through contaminated needles. With the growing concern over AIDS, proper sterilization of needles has become even more crucial today.
Radioactive materials are widely used for diagnostic testing. Short-lived radioisotopes, whose effects leave the patient within only minutes or a few hours at most, are particularly useful for giving doctors information about the human body and for early diagnosis of illness.
These procedures are used to create images of organs, tumors or other pathologies, and to study normal and abnormal functions. Tumors can be located, and blood, or even breath, can be tested for hormone, vitamin, enzyme, and drug levels.
Not only can these tests diagnose disease early, but they can also reduce, or even eliminate, the need for surgery in conditions such as prostate cancer, which can be treated using palladium-I 03. Iridium-I 91 is the radioisotope used to evaluate patients for coronary artery surgery. Strontium-82 is used in heart imaging, and thallium-201 is used for nuclear cardiology.
These radioisotopes help to assess treatment, and to increase medical knowledge and understanding of the causes and prevention of heart disease. We mustn't underestimate their usefulness in a society where heart disease is the number one killer.
Iodine-I 23 and iodine-125, produced here in Chalk River and at McMaster University, are used to diagnose thyroid and other metabolic disorders. These radioisotopes have significantly reduced the number of patients who need surgery. Iodine-I 31, as well as treating hyperthyroidism, may also be a cure for throat cancer, even after it has progressed.
New pharmaceutical products are frequently tested with radioactive materials to ensure their safety and effectiveness. Technetium-99 is the most widely used radioisotope in pharmaceuticals used for imaging.
And while it's true that you can't buy good health, it only makes sense in a responsible society to acknowledge that the use of radioactive materials in medicine significantly reduces health care costs. In these days of cutbacks and constraints, that can't be ignored.
Even more important, many of the procedures and treatments that depend on radioactive materials require tremendous levels of accuracy and sensitivity. No alternatives exist at any price. This, too, cannot be ignored. Ask a cancer survivor. Ask someone who's alive today thanks to early detection of a deadly disease.
The uses of radioisotopes in medicine are dramatic and impressive. But it's only part of their untold success story.
Radioisotopes are used extensively in almost every industry you can name. Virtually all industries use radioactive materials for a multitude of purposes, including measurement, research, quality control, testing and cost control. These applications began modestly more than fifty years ago, and have increased steadily over the past few decades.
Have you ever wondered how soft drink manufacturers get exactly the same amount of beverage into every can? Or how paper producers ensure than every sheet of paper is the same thickness from top to bottom?
One of the most significant and impressive uses of radioisotopes in industry is in radionuclide gauges. Not only are these instruments unequaled for accuracy and precision, but they are much less costly than alternative methods. Density gauges, which absorb gamma radiation, are used whenever control of liquid density is important. Both the oil and food industries depend heavily on these gauges.
The steel industry also relies on density gauges to evaluate the consistency of steel for a wide variety of purposes, including steel thin enough to be used in razor blades.
The tobacco industry-which is possibly even more controversial than the nuclear industry-was one of the earliest users of radionuclide gauges. Cigarette manufacturers use a density gauge to measure the thickness of every cigarette and to control the exact amount of tobacco in each one.
Who else uses radionuclide gauges? Farmers use them to measure grain levels in silos. Miners use them to count and control the movement of wagons. Textile workers use them to control the coating process in the manufacture of plastics, adhesives, artificial leather, and carpets, and to measure the wear of fabrics and garments. Construction workers use them to determine sand and cement levels in hoppers, mixers and crushers. Woodworkers use them to measure the mass per unit area of plywood and chipboard, and to measure the moisture content of wood. Food industry workers use them to measure foods produced in blocks or sheets, such as cheese and chewing gum. Paperworkers use them to produce paper and paper products of all qualities and thicknesses. And printers use them to measure coating thickness for printing plates, and thickness of ink and paper coatings.
This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope I've made my point.
Another extremely important industrial use of radioisotopes is in radiography. Radiography is an inspection method that maximizes quality control in such areas as aircraft maintenance and shipbuilding. Originally used by the U.S. Navy during World War II, radiography soon became the preferred quality control method of industrial builders who understood its value as a routing testing procedure. Today, radiographic inspections are used for all wing structures and jet engines on commercial aircraft, and to check welds on thousands of miles of high-pressure, large-diameter pipelines. Once again, cobalt-60 is a leader.
That leads me to the use of nuclear technology to ensure public safety. Radiation devices are used at airports to inspect luggage for hidden explosives and weapons. It is ironic that nuclear technology, so feared by many as a threat to global peace and security, is, in fact, used extensively to ensure public safety and security.
Californium-252 is the radioisotope used in luggage scanning equipment. Like most radioisotopes, californium-252 is hard-working and multi-purpose. This same radioisotope is also used as a cancer treatment, as part of a nuclear reactor's monitoring system, and to assess the moisture content of soil in road and building construction.
Even the police use radioisotopes. Law enforcement officers depend on the speed and accuracy of radiation devices containing nickel-63 to detect explosives and poisons. Nickel-63 is also used to regulate voltages, to protect electronic equipment from dangerous power surges, and to study metabolism.
Radioactive materials, such as americium-241, are the active agents in smoke detectors. These life-saving devices, widely installed in all types of residential and commercial building, are extremely sensitive and their reliability is unmatched. In the home, this useful radioisotope also detects lead levels in dried paint. Resource industries use americium-241 to help detect oil-drilling sites.
Tritium is a radioisotope added to glass bulbs filled with phosphorous, to produce a fail-safe, long-tasting source of light that functions over a wide range of temperatures. These are the bulbs that illuminate airplane aisles. They illuminate airport runways, clearly and reassuringly visible, even in dense blizzard and fog conditions. Less dramatic, but just as important to public safety, these lights find uses as exit markers in theaters and other public buildings, traffic control signs, highway dividing lines, and railway lighting. At home, they are used as appliance indicator lights on washers, dryers and stereos, and to illuminate liquid crystal displays in digital watches.
We take most of these things for granted. But stop and think about the comfort and security that you, your family, your community, and our world, would lose without them.
Nuclear technology plays an important role in scientific research and exploration. It helps us to know our world and our history better, and to expand our knowledge boundaries. Techniques using radioactive materials have been used to estimate the age of the earth, and to identify substances thousands of years old. They are used in prospecting for minerals and for oil.
Carbon-14 is a radioisotope that has revolutionized archaeology. Thanks to carbon dating, archaeologists have been able to estimate the age of the Shroud of Turin and to date the Dead Sea Scrolls. Carbon dating can successfully estimate the ages of substances like soil, shells, trees, bones and textiles. The Louvre Museum in Paris has made extensive use of carbon dating to authenticate works of art and to establish their age.
Even antique furniture can be authenticated using carbon dating by providing information about internal structure, nature and number of coatings, and dates and locations of repairs.
For many years, the use of chemical fertilizers has been a major health and environmental issue throughout our world. Not only are fertilizers expensive-a significant factor for those countries that must import them-but improper use or over-fertilization can damage both the environment and the crop. At the same time, fertilizers are essential and their use is expected to increase by 400 to 500 per cent over the next 20 years.
To reduce costs and protect the environment, fertilizer use must be reduced to a minimum. Fertilization methods and practices must be examined to learn more about how placement, timing, and type of fertilizer used, affect crops. Radioactive materials are ideal tools for measuring how crops use fertilizer and to ensure that they are deriving maximum benefit from it. Measurement techniques that use radioactive materials can also substantially reduce the need for pesticides, fungicides, and weed killers.
Water is often the most important factor in crop production. To maximize the efficiency of irrigation systems, constant monitoring of the soil's moisture content is needed. Radionuclide moisture gauges can reduce the water used in irrigation systems by as much as 40 per cent.
Radiation treatment can improve the quality and speed up the breeding of crops. These superior crops have greater nutritional value, higher yields, and improved resistance to disease.
Radiation treatment can also change crop maturing times. Earlier harvest may help crops to escape frost and pests, and to make room for more crops.
Radiation techniques are also used to increase the body weight of animals, increase their milk, and facilitate breeding by determining the stage of their reproductive cycle through hormone measurement. Radioactive materials are used to produce livestock vaccines that help eliminate diseases.
Pest control is another important use of radioactive material in agriculture. While some insects help to maintain the ecological balance, others destroy valuable crops. It has been estimated that crop losses caused by insects worldwide may exceed 10 per cent of the world's total harvest. That's equivalent to the total harvest of the United States. Although potent chemical pesticides are available, their use is risky. Some insects have become immune to these chemicals. And virtually all insecticides pollute the environment. Even more serious, some leave poisonous residues that are hazardous to human and plant life. For all these reasons, many chemical insecticides are either banned, or used very sparingly.
To control the populations of unwanted pests, low dosage radiation can be used to cause sterility in insect offspring. This method of pest control has been widely and successfully used throughout the world.
What's the result of radioisotope use in agriculture? For the public, a food supply that is safe, disease-free, and nutritious. And for farmers, a greater degree of confidence that crops and livestock are unlikely to be wiped out by harsh or extreme weather conditions or a devastating virus.
One of the most important, and most rapidly growing uses of radioactive materials is in the area of environmental protection. Global warming is one of the major environmental concerns in the world today. The "greenhouse effect" is the gradual warming of the earth's atmosphere. It is caused predominantly by carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels. Radioisotopes are used to measure emissions from industrial sites. Carbon dioxide emissions can be estimated by measuring the radioactivity contained in a plant leaf growing in an industrial area. Carbon dioxide resulting from coal and oil combustion contains almost no radioactivity. Normal air contains some radioactivity, due to cosmic radiation. The larger the carbon dioxide emissions, the smaller the radioactivity that will be measured in the leaf. These measurements help determine how severe the greenhouse effect may become in the future. Radioactive materials that produce beta rays eliminate the air pollutants that cause global warming. They produce no harmful by-products whatsoever.
Another major environmental concern is soil contamination. To minimize contamination risks, pesticides and fertilizers must be tested to ensure that they decompose safely and do not pose harmful risks to plant and animal life. Radioisotopes can successfully be used to identify the decomposition process and to evaluate the by-products.
Nuclear technology can accurately assess ground pollution, even determining the exact source of soil contamination in many cases. Surface chemical spills and leaking pipelines carrying human waste or petroleum products are common causes of soil contamination that radioisotopes can identify.
So, how does an industry that provides countless benefits to billions of people throughout the world remain such a well-kept secret? In Canada alone, over 100,000 people are employed directly or indirectly by the nuclear industry, or work at occupations that depend on nuclear technology. Our energy industry generates about $10 billion per year. But our radioisotope industry-and we are the world's largest producers of radioisotopes-generates $37 billion.
Medicine. Industry. Agriculture. Public safety. Environmental protection. Where would these be today without nuclear technology? It's hard to imagine medicine without cobalt-60 cancer treatment equipment. To the hundreds of thousands of people who have been saved by cancer treatment, it's unthinkable.
Smoke detectors are now legislated into building requirements for commercial and residential buildings. Without them, high-rise living or working in an office tower would pose a daily, life-threatening hazard.
Food shortages, starvation and drought kill millions of people each year in various regions of our earth. Children, the ill and the elderly are most vulnerable to these disasters. Nuclear technology that improves fertilizer use, irrigation, and pest control increases the ability of people throughout the world to feed themselves.
Whatever the use of radioisotopes-whether life-saving or life-enhancing-our world would be vastly different without nuclear technology.
And nuclear technology would be very different, far less advanced, without the tireless work and skill of the Canadian nuclear industry. Our people-scientists, researchers, technicians, administrators, engineers-and ultimately all of you who have made our industry grow-are yet another well-kept secret.
You are the secret of our success.