Medicine and Nuclear Power


Modern medicine does not need nuclear power. In fact, all electricity producing reactors could be shut down permanently with little or no impact on best medical practices.

  1. X-rays & CAT-scans are by far the most common forms of “radiation” used by doctors, dentists
    & nurses in hospitals & clinics. These have nothing to do with radioactivity or nuclear reactors.
  2. When X-ray machines and CT scanners are turned off, they are completely harmless. There is
    no more radiation emitted. There is no radioactivity at all associated with such machines.
  3. Occasionally radioactive materials are also used in medicine for diagnosis or therapy. Some
    are used to sterilize instruments & equipment such as masks, gloves, and other paraphernalia.
  4. But radioactivity is hazardous – and it cannot be turned off like an x-ray machine. So the use of
    radioactive materials in medicine requires careful control at all times – before, during & after use.
  5. Radioactive materials for medical use are called “medical isotopes” or “radiopharmaceuticals”.
    Some of them emit gamma radiation (similar to x-rays), others emit energetic subatomic projectiles
    – negatively charged beta particles, or positively charged alpha particles.
  6. All these radioactive emissions are harmful to living cells. Accordingly they can be used to destroy
    malignant growths or to kill microorganisms. At low doses, damage is not immediate but delayed.
  7. Some radioactive materials used in medicine, such as radium, radon and thorium,
    are extracted from naturally-occurring ores and have nothing to do with nuclear reactors at all.
  8. Some radioactive materials used in medicine are created in “particle accelerators” such as
    cyclotrons or linear accelerators. These machines also have nothing to do with nuclear reactors.
  9. Some radioactive materials used in medicine are created in small research reactors that do
    not generate electricity and are typically 20 to 200 times smaller than nuclear power reactors.
  10. A few medically useful radioactive isotopes are produced in power reactors, but these can
    equally well be produced in research reactors. In many cases the very same radioactive material,
    or an equivalent material that serves the same purpose, can be created in a particle accelerator.
  11. Many medical procedures that previously relied on radioactivity have been replaced by
    procedures that are just as good or better and do not require handling radioactive waste.
  12. Example: Winnipeg General Hospital pioneered the use of cobalt-60 therapy to destroy
    cancerous tissues but stopped it in 1970 and now uses beams of charged particles instead. This
    more modern technology has nothing to do with radioactivity or nuclear reactors.
  13. Extremely powerful gamma rays from radioactive cobalt-60 or cesium-137 are often used to
    sterilize medical instruments and equipment, but this job can be accomplished in other ways
    that do not require the use of radioactive materials at all, including autoclaves and accelerators.

The use of radiation in medicine, including the use of medical isotopes (radioactive materials), in no way requires the use of large electricity-producing reactors. Small research reactors are just as effective. To paraphrase Amory Lovins, “You do not need a forest fire to fry an egg.”


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