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Bruce Power, University of Guelph and Nordion team up in research project

February 23, 2017
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Cobalt-60 is an isotope that emits gamma rays essential to the medical community for cancer treatments and the sterilization of medical devices, while it also helps to prevent the spread of disease through an innovative insect sterilization technique. Cobalt-60 emits a blue glow called the ‘Cherenkov effect’ when removed from a nuclear reactor and placed in water, which protects the surface from its radioactivity. The Cobalt rods spend up to two years in Bruce Power’s nuclear reactors before being shipped to Nordion in Ottawa, where it is processed and shipped worldwide for various uses

 A high-tech form of insect birth control connected to nuclear power could solve a devastating pest problem for Ontario farmers, says a University of Guelph researcher.

Bruce Power, the world’s largest operating nuclear facility located in Tiverton, ON, and Nordion, a global health science company that provides market-leading products used for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease, announced today funding and support for a multi-year study led by U of G Professor Cynthia Scott-Dupree on sterilizing pepper weevils using Cobalt-60.

The researchers hope to control pepper weevils, which can burrow into farmed peppers and destroy them from the inside.

 “It is very difficult to control these insects when they are hidden inside the pepper,” Scott-Dupree said.

According to the Ontario Greenhouse Vegetable Growers, pepper weevils ruined $83 million worth of crops in 2016 – a figure that does not include the costs of management, suppression initiatives or cleanup of the pest.

Cobalt-60, which is produced in four of Bruce Power’s eight nuclear reactors, is used for the Sterile Insect Technique (SIT), which could be a powerful strategy for controlling the weevil, said Scott-Dupree, of the U of G’s School of Environmental Sciences.

“We want to move away from insecticide as much as possible, and SIT provides us another tool in our pest management toolbox,” she said. “It fits well with biological control programs that growers already have established in their greenhouses. While no strategy is 100 per cent effective, using nuclear energy to sterilize insects is an environmentally friendly method of controlling these pests. There is no danger of the pepper weevils spreading any radiation following sterilization, so it is also safe for people.”

Scott-Dupree, the Bayer CropScience Chair in Sustainable Pest Management at U of G, will send pepper weevils to Nordion, an Ottawa-based supplier of medical isotopes and gamma technologies, which receives its Cobalt-60 from Bruce Power. Gamma radiation from Cobalt-60 will sterilize the insects before they are released to mate normal, unsterilized pepper weevils in greenhouses.

“We will only release pepper weevils that have all the attributes of normal, unsterilized weevils, except that they are sterile,” said Scott-Dupree. “When they mate, the eggs will not be viable, no progeny results and the pest population will decrease.”

Families and businesses in Ontario rely on low-cost nuclear for 60 per cent of their electricity each year, said Ontario’s Minister of Energy Glenn Thibeault, who visited Nordion lab facilities in Ottawa on Feb. 23. The Long-Term Energy Plan recognizes the far-reaching benefits of nuclear energy, whether through low-cost, carbon-free power, jobs, economic benefit, clean air, health care and, as is the case with this collaboration, agriculture.

“It is exciting to see Ontario’s nuclear community joining forces to help researchers discover innovative, environmentally friendly ways to deal with agricultural pests that cause real harm to food crops,” said Minister Thibeault. “This partnership again demonstrates Ontario’s nuclear industry is a global leader, providing wide-ranging economic benefits, jobs, and scientific advancement."

Pioneered in the 1950s, SIT has been successfully used to control the codling moth, a pest of apples, in the Okanagan Valley in B.C. since 1992. Scott-Dupree has also recently conducted research which has found that SIT has potential to control American serpentine leafminer, an insect pest that feeds primarily on chrysanthemums.

Cobalt-60 harvested from Bruce Power’s reactors is already used to help sterilize 40 per cent of the world’s single-use medical devices and treat brain tumours.

“This innovative research could improve Ontario’s agricultural sector by reducing the impact of pests on produce, while also providing a possible gateway to the future of farming,” said Mike Rencheck, Bruce Power’s President and CEO.

Scott-Dupree and her team plan to determine the optimum radiation dosage that ensures the sterilization of pepper weevils before testing SIT releases in greenhouses.

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“The study will take some time, but the potential it has makes it worthwhile,” she said. “It is exciting to think of all the benefits this study could mean for farmers, Ontario’s economy and the environment.”

Nordion’s facilities will be used to sterilize the pepper weevils.

“We are excited to see a technology like SIT, which has had wide and successful application in other areas of the world, help us here in Ontario,” said Ian Downie, Vice President of Gamma Technologies at Nordion. “Our partnership with Bruce Power helps us support these kinds of scientific advances using Cobalt-60.”

About University of Guelph
Formally started in 1964, the University of Guelph is research-intensive and learner-centred, with campuses spanning urban hubs and rural communities. U of G is known for excellence in the arts and sciences, and for a commitment to developing exceptional thinkers and engaged citizens. U of G has nearly 28,000 undergraduate and graduate students at our campuses in Guelph, Toronto and Ridgetown, including 1,200 international students from more than 100 countries. It now has 122,000 alumni living in 150 countries. Students, faculty and staff study a range of disciplines -- physical and life sciences, arts and humanities, social sciences, business, agricultural and veterinary sciences. Learn more at www.uoguelph.ca .

About Bruce Power
Formed in 2001, Bruce Power is an electricity company based in Bruce County, Ontario. We are powered by our people. Our 4,200 employees are the foundation of our accomplishments and are proud of the role they play in safely delivering clean, reliable, low-cost nuclear power to families and businesses across the province. Bruce Power has worked hard to build strong roots in Ontario and is committed to protecting the environment and supporting the communities in which we live. Learn more at www.brucepower.com  and follow us on Facebook , Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube.

About Nordion
Nordion is a leading provider of medical isotopes and gamma technologies used for the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease and infection. Nordion’s products are used daily by pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, medical-device manufacturers, hospitals, clinics and research laboratories. Nordion supplies products to approximately 500 customers across more than 40 countries around the globe, and is a standalone business within Sterigenics International LLC, the leading global provider of contract sterilization and lab services for the medical device industry, the world’s leading supplier of Co-60 and a leading supplier of medical isotopes. Sterigenics International, LLC is the only vertically integrated sterilization company in the world. Learn more about Nordion at www.nordion.com  and follow us on Twitter at @NordionInc .

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