Nuclear technology has many uses beyond power generation, though it's certainly the aspect that gets the most attention. If configured to do so, reactors can produce isotopes that are vital for diagnosing and treating cancer and other serious conditions. Surprisingly, Australia is on the forefront of nuclear medicine, with ANSTO's OPAL reactor doing much of the gruntwork.
While The Open Pool Australian Lightwater reactor is perfectly capable of generating electricity — up to 20MW — its primary role is in research and irradiation. In fact, OPAL is Australia's primary source of nuclear medicine isotopes, such as Molybdenum-99 or Mo-99, though as the ABC's Philippa McDonald writes, ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation) is gearing up to produce a lot more — potentially enough to supply up to 25 per cent of the world's needs:
Construction is underway on a new production plant which ANSTO estimated could lift production capacity of nuclear medicine to up to 13 million doses a year.
Chairman of ANSTO Nuclear Medicine Pty Ltd, Doug Cubbin, told the ABC's Australia Wide program that Lucas Heights is set to capitalise on the fact that most reactors around the world are nearly 60 years old and do not have the capacity to produce nuclear medicine on a large scale.
This is the end goal for the ANSTO Nuclear Medicine project, which aims to build a dedicated Mo-99 production facility that should triple ANSTO's current output.
Started in 2012, the project should be completed by 2016, though it will extend to 2017, as the plan includes the construction of a Synroc processing plant — itself an Australia invention designed to store nuclear waste.