The following was submitted to QP Briefing by James Scongack, Chair of Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council and Executive Vice President, Corporate Affairs & Operational Services, Bruce Power
The Canadian Cancer Society predicts half of Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetime.
Unfortunately, most people will feel cancer’s impact directly, or through a loved one, friend or someone close to us in the community. We all want to do everything we can to better detect and beat cancer, and, thanks to the leadership role of Canada, we are making progress. In fact, Canada’s overall cancer survival rate has increased from about 25 per cent in the 1940s to 60 per cent today. We can keep the flight up against cancer using new technology to improve survival rates. Our fight against cancer is ongoing and it requires us all to play a part and fight this terrible disease on many levels.
Strategic investments and innovations have led to better prevention, enhanced screening, earlier diagnosis, more targeted treatments, and, ultimately, fewer cancer cases and deaths. Many forms of modern cancer diagnosis and treatment depend on nuclear isotopes produced right here in Canada. In fact, over 10,000 hospitals worldwide use nuclear isotopes in medicine, and about 90 per cent of the procedures are for diagnosis. I have also looked at isotopes as the ‘heat seeking missile” in the fight against cancer that plays a big part in detecting and fighting this disease.
Nuclear isotopes are an important part of Canada’s innovation agenda, and, beyond medicine, the nuclear sector contributes to a wide range of other scientific and economic activities, including energy, human health and safety, material testing, food safety, and even space exploration.
What many Canadians don’t realize is the pioneering role our country has played in this field of fighting cancer. The work done by Canadian scientists helped pave the way for today’s cancer treatment around the globe, saving millions of lives and positioning Canada as a world leader in nuclear medicine. A significant percentage of the world’s nuclear isotopes have traditionally come from Canada’s NRU reactor, which reached its end of operational life in March 2018. Since its closure, alternative avenues for isotope production has been provided by nuclear power reactors such as Bruce Power and Pickering in Ontario, research reactors in universities like McMaster, and other smaller-scale isotope producing options like cyclotrons, which have filled some of the gap created by the NRU’s closing.
That’s why a coalition of Canadian science, health care and nuclear sector organizations have launched an organization called the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council (CNIC), to ensure Canada remains a world leader in the production of life-saving isotopes by raising awareness and supporting long-term policies at the domestic and international level. Nearly 30 leading organizations from Canada and around the world have joined the Council, and this strong team will put forward collective solutions to maintain Canada’s leadership position on the global isotope stage.
Canada’s isotope innovations continue to serve as a model for leadership, using science to find solutions to real world challenges. As we celebrate the contributions of innovative Canadian nuclear technology, we are confident we will continue to build on a better tomorrow and a stronger Canada for all of us. We must also pay tribute to the specialists, doctors, caregivers and numerous organizations, which are on the frontlines of the fight against cancer. We owe it to them, and the people they help every day, to continue to be at the forefront of areas such as isotope development and availability.
We have made great progress together in the fight against cancer, and there’s more that we can do. Together, it’s a challenge we will meet.