Bruce Nuclear is set to produce a new radioactive isotope for the treatment of cancer

The operator of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, one of the largest nuclear power plants in the world, is producing a new medical isotope and accelerating production of the radioactive substance for the global market.

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The operator of the Bruce Nuclear Generating Station, one of the largest nuclear power plants in the world, is producing a new medical isotope and accelerating production of the radioactive substance for the global market.

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Kincardine’s Bruce Power, with support from two international partners, has produced lutetium-177 in one of its nuclear reactors, a first step towards commercial production of the versatile cancer-fighting isotope.

In a statement Tuesday, Bruce Power executive vice president of operations James Scongack said the new medical isotope is the result of years of hard work by hundreds of people.

“We are proud to demonstrate the power of Bruce Power’s CANDU reactors to deliver reliable, large-scale production of critical medical isotopes for use in the fight against cancer,” Scongack said in a press release.

Lutetium-177 treatments, which target malignant cells while leaving surrounding healthy tissue alone, are being used on a growing number of cancers, including prostate cancer and neuroendocrine tumors, cancer that grows in the nervous system and body hormones.

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Lutetium-177 production has been on Bruce Power’s radar for several years. In 2020, the energy producer has set 2022 as its production target for the isotope, pending regulatory approval.

Bruce Power has partnered with Isogen and ITM Isotope Technologies Munich on the latter venture.

Lutetium-177 was created using the plant’s new isotope production system, equipment installed in unit seven of the plant during recent scheduled maintenance.

Bruce Power’s newest isotope was created by irradiating ytterbium-176, a non-radioactive isotope. The isotopes were sent to Germany for processing.

Bruce Power will commission and upgrade its isotope production system this summer. Commercial production of lutetium-177 will come soon after, pending final approval from the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission.

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Isotopes are atoms that have the same number of protons in their nucleus as their base element, but a different number of neutrons. Unstable isotopes decompose by emitting radiation.

Some of these unstable isotopes play a key role in nuclear medicine, a medical specialty that uses radioactive substances to treat, study or diagnose disease.

Medical isotopes can be produced in nuclear reactors, such as that at Bruce Power, and particle accelerators found in major medical research centers and hospitals, including the Lawson Health Research Institute in London.

Lutetium-177 is the latest medical isotope produced by the Kincardine nuclear power facility.

Bruce Nuclear already produces cobalt-60, a medical isotope used to treat brain and breast cancer.  (Provided/Power Bruce)
Bruce Nuclear already produces cobalt-60, a medical isotope used to treat brain and breast cancer. (Provided/Power Bruce)

In partnership with an Ottawa company, Bruce Power produces cobalt-60, a medical isotope used to sterilize medical equipment – including single-use swabs used to test for COVID-19 – and treat brain tumors and breast cancer.

The plant harvested its first medical-grade Cobalt-60 in March 2019.

In 2020, Bruce Power assembled an advisory board to guide the development of its medical isotopes division.

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