Funding for Canadian isotope-producing accelerator

29 June 2010

A new advanced electron linear accelerator facility that will be able to produce medical isotopes will go ahead with the announcement of funding from the government of British Columbia.   


Gordon Campbell announces ARIEL funding (Government of British Columbia)
It's going to be big:
BC premier Gordon
Campbell announces
funding for ARIEL
(Image: Government of British Columbia)

The C$62.9 million ($60 million) Advanced Rare Isotope Laboratory, given the acronym Ariel, will be built at the Triumf subatomic physics laboratory in Vancouver. It will feature an underground beam tunnel surrounding a state-of-the-art electron linear accelerator (e-linac) capable of producing what Triumf describes as one of the most powerful beams in the world, with up to 500 kW of electron beam power. Ariel will use an e-linac that relies on superconducting radiofrequency technology to accelerate particles close to the speed of light and will provide Canada with a facility that will be at the forefront of particle and nuclear physics, according to British Columbia premier Gordon Campbell.

Construction work on the facility is due to get under way in July 2010, with the e-linac due to be installed in 2013. The facility will be commissioned for isotope production in 2014 with routine 'round the clock' operation by 2015, according to Triumf, which is a joint venture of Canadian universities supported in its operations by the national government and in its building infrastructure by the provincial government of British Columbia.

Most of the world's medical isotopes are currently supplied by nuclear research reactors. Over recent years, routine and unexpected outages at the world's increasingly ageing isotope production reactors have put increasing pressure on medical supplies. Isotope suppliers have worked together to minimise the impact, and moves are under way to build new production capacity at Petten in the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, others are looking into ways of producing radioisotopes in ways that do not rely on research reactors and highly enriched uranium fuel. The Canadian government recently announced plans for a major project to promote non-reactor based routes to manufacture medical isotopes. Ariel will have a major role in producing medical isotopes, as well as producing exotic isotopes for a range of research and development purposes.

Linear accelerators are routinely used for a raft of research applications, but can also be used to produce radioisotopes. Ariel will do this by firing a beam of high-energy electrons onto converter material which in turn produces an intense proton beam. These protons are then directed onto a target of a material such as beryllium or uranium. The protons shatter the nuclei of the atoms in the target material, producing a range of radioisotopes that can be collected and separated.

University of Victoria president David Turpin said expressed excitement about the 'tremendous potential' of the project. "This facility will have a dramatic impact in multiple sectors of research, the health sciences and commercialization," he said.

The lion's share of the funding for the new facility is to come from a C$30.7 million ($29.2 million) investment from the provincial government, with Triumf and its partners providing C$14.4 million ($13.7 million) and the Canada Foundation for Innovation providing C$17.8 million ($17 million).

Researched and written 

by World Nuclear News