[ RadSafe ] Nuclear News - Leader at E.ON urges Germany to keep nuclear plants

Perle, Sandy sperle at mirion.com
Thu Jul 10 16:02:07 CDT 2008


Leader at E.ON urges Germany to keep nuclear plants
Hundreds meet on second Mo. county nuclear reactor
The nuclear cycle and the hostility cycle
EU still reliant on nuclear power
Nuclear power still an option - Australian Libs
Medical supply firm sues Canada's nuclear agency
Nuclear deal to fuel BHEL expansion
Nuclear power is the key to resolving three global crises - food, global warming, and resource distribution
Uranium levels fall after nuclear leak in France
CT scanner might cut costs and radiation exposure

Leader at E.ON urges Germany to keep nuclear plants

BERLIN: With Germany committed to reducing global warming gases while struggling to deal with soaring fuel costs, one of the giant energy companies in the country said Thursday that Chancellor Angela Merkel's coalition could only deal with both issues by extending the working life of the country's nuclear plants.

Wulf Bernotat, chairman of the European energy powerhouse E.ON, said during an interview here that it was "questionable" whether Merkel's government of conservatives and Social Democrats could realize its environmental ambitions without reversing its policy on nuclear energy, which provides power with only minimal atmospheric contributions of carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas.

The government has vowed to increase the amount of power generated by renewable energy sources, including wind and solar power, to 30 percent by 2020 from 14 percent.

At the same time, it has promised to reduce Germany's carbon dioxide emission levels in 2020 by 40 percent compared with 1990 levels.

That timetable coincides with the planned shutdown of all but one of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants, a policy that was part of an agreement negotiated between the energy companies and a coalition led by the Social Democrats and Greens in 2000.

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 Merkel, sworn in as conservative Chancellor in November 2005 and a supporter of nuclear power, nonetheless agreed to continue that policy as the price for establishing a coalition with the Social Democrats.

But Bernotat, who represents a part of the German energy sector that strongly defends the continuation of nuclear energy, said Merkel's government, particularly her Social Democratic partners could not have it both ways by wanting to reduce CO2 gases while ending the use of nuclear plants. Nuclear energy makes up 12 percent of Germany's primary supply and over a quarter of electricity generation.

The International Energy Agency in Paris, in a recent report on Germany, also questioned the cost to Germany's energy security, energy efficiency and environmental sustainability if the nuclear plants are closed.

Bernotat said the Social Democrats "will have to decide what they really want," as the attitudes of governments in Asia and Europe were shifting in favor of using more nuclear power.

"Nuclear energy is free of CO2 gases, it is independent of resources, it would lead to dramatic fall in prices and subsidies, and it is protected from price volatility," Bernotat told a group of foreign correspondents based in Berlin.

Merkel has publicly adhered to the coalition accord, fearing any backtracking would be exploited by the Social Democrats and the opposition Greens and Left Party, which are all vehemently against continuing nuclear power.

When she attended the Group of 8 summit meeting of the leading industrialized countries this week in Japan, Merkel refrained from supporting calls to increase the use of nuclear energy as a means of curbing energy prices and tackling climate change. She echoed the position of several energy experts, including Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute, arguing that nuclear power amounted to a short-term fix that did little to prepare for the long-term need to rely increasingly on renewable energy. That is a position she has publicly championed since taking office.

Still, it does not entirely reflect her own views. Merkel told top party officials last month that the decision originally made by her Social Democrat predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, "was absolutely wrong."

Had she spoken out in favor of nuclear energy, she would have been criticized at home for reneging on the coalition accord. As a result, Merkel found herself "isolated" at the summit meeting because of her stance on nuclear power, the German media reported.

Annette Schavan, the conservative technology minister, has taken the lead in the government in defending the continued use of nuclear power. "We need to exit the exit solution," Schavan told Bild am Sonntag last week. "We urgently need the life-span expansion as a contribution to global climate protection and for a more lasting energy policy."

She countered accusations from the Greens that Merkel's conservatives want to build new power stations. "In Germany today, the issue is not about building new nuclear power plants but who can say whether that will still apply in 10 years," she added.

Hundreds meet on second Mo. county nuclear reactor

FULTON, Mo. (AP) -- Hundreds of supporters and opponents packed a Westminster College auditorium for the first public glimpse of a proposed second nuclear reactor at AmerenUE's Callaway plant.
The federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission hosted the Wednesday night session, which the agency called a public outreach forum, not a formal hearing.

The St. Louis-based utility has yet to submit its application for a new reactor. It says it plans to seek a construction and operating license so it can decide by 2010 whether to move forward in time to have a new reactor on line by 2018.

After a brief overview by NRC officials of the licensing process, a succession of speakers largely praised the pending project, calling Ameren a good corporate neighbor with a proven safety record in the 23 years since the 1,190-megawatt power plant opened.

"It's unreal what this is going to do for this community," said April Bergeron, a union mechanic who lives near the Callaway plant and has worked at the facility. "They're the safest place there is. You can eat off the floor."

Reactor opponents offered a drastically different assessment. In a news conference held before the public event, they called on Ameren Corp., the utility's corporate parent, to more aggressively pursue alternative and renewable energy options.

"Nuclear power is a phenomenally expensive, dead-end technology," said Mark Haim of Missourians for Safe Energy, an anti-nuclear group. "It has failed the test of the marketplace. Its much touted revival is only conceivable with enormous subsidies right now from all taxpayers, and huge bills not far down the pike for Missouri ratepayers."

The company then known as Union Electric initially planned a second nuclear reactor at the Callaway County site. That plan was scrapped after a grass-roots effort opposing the Callaway project led Missouri voters in 1976 to decisively approve a law prohibiting state utilities from charging customers for power plants while they're being built.

Persuading state lawmakers to overturn that restriction is a top priority for Ameren in the next legislative session. Should that fail, the company likely won't build a second reactor -- which would require two cooling towers beside the current one -- but instead pursue more costly natural gas generators.

Ameren expects the new reactor to cost at least $6 billion, or $9 billion with financing -- roughly the entire value of the parent corporation. Opponents suggest that a new reactor will cost even more, with the utility passing on those costs to consumers.

Ameren has enlisted UniStar Nuclear of Baltimore to assist with its construction and licensing application. The company is a joint venture between Constellation Energy Group Inc. and the state-owned Areva Group of France.

Approval of the Ameren application, once submitted, is contingent upon the federal agency also approving a new Areva reactor now in use in parts of Europe.

The nuclear cycle and the hostility cycle

WASHINGTON, July 10 (UPI) -- The recommendation of a State Department advisory panel that the United States band together with other existing nuclear powers to build safeguards into the growing market for reactor capacity risks fanning nationalistic hostility in the Third World to global anti-proliferation regimes, say some critics.

A task force of the International Security Advisory Board -- chaired by former Pentagon and World Bank official Paul Wolfowitz -- produced the report, titled "Proliferation Implications of the Global Expansion of Civil Nuclear Power," in response to a request from Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Robert Joseph.

The report says the United States must embrace a coming large expansion in global nuclear power generation -- despite the proliferation risks it poses -- to ensure that nuclear supplier nations work together to build tough new safeguards into the growing market.

But critics charge this kind of thinking only exacerbates suspicion about the role of the United States and its First World allies among less developed aspirant nuclear powers.

The suggestion that existing nuclear powers should monopolize production to stop the proliferation of fuel processing technologies that also can be used to make weapons material "causes nostrils to flair in the Third World," said Brian Finlay of the Stimson Center.

Finlay, a proliferation expert who has worked with Third World governments on proliferation issues, said there was "a longstanding sensitivity (among aspirant nuclear nations) to any policy that appears to be trying to restrict technology transfer."

Finlay's main criticism of the advisory panel's report is that it "fails to create a pathway we can move down towards ending this adversarial relationship with the Third World."

He called for "out-of-the-box and innovative thinking about the regulation of nuclear technology" to break what he called "the cycle of hostility" of non-nuclear but aspirant nations toward their perceived "big brothers" who already have the technology to process and reprocess nuclear fuel.

The tough restrictions to which the report recommends aspirant nuclear nations must sign up as the quid pro quo for getting guaranteed fuel and technology could "provoke something of a backlash" among them, Finlay added.

But the former U.S. nuclear negotiator and government scientist who led the task force that wrote the report told United Press International the real cycle was one of fear -- bred by the prospect of uncontrolled nuclear proliferation.

"Iran is saying, 'You can't infringe on our sovereign rights as a nation'" to develop nuclear power and fuel production, said C. Paul Robinson. But its neighbors have rights, too. "They are worried. They're saying, 'If they have the right (to a nuclear program), we have the right to defend ourselves'" and develop their own nuclear programs.

"Somebody has to do something, or they (the neighbors) are going to take matters into their own hands," Robinson concluded.

"The world seems headed in a very bad set of directions," acknowledged Robinson. He added a lot of work is still required to implement the kind of safeguards regimen the report recommends.

For starters, most of the supplier nations have no equivalent to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Robinson said, which reviews and must approve all exports of nuclear technology by U.S. firms.

Supplier nations need "some mechanism that would bind their (commercial) nuclear suppliers to their national policies. ... There's got to be national enforcement" of any deals among supplier nations.

"There are no easy solutions," said Robinson, but he added he is still "sanguine about the prospects" for success.

Henry Sokolski, an expert who heads the Non-Proliferation Policy Education Center, disputes that view and the recommendations of the task force: "If you cannot trust a country not to break its pledges not to make bombs, you ultimately have no way of ensuring that they won't." 

EU still reliant on nuclear power

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) -- Europe draws nearly a third of its energy from nuclear power and just 15 percent from renewable sources such as hydroelectric dams and windmills, according to European Union figures released Thursday.
Seeking to cut its reliance on imported oil and natural gas, the European Union is trying to reduce energy consumption and develop more homegrown sources of power -- such as renewables -- that would also limit its output of greenhouse gases.

But the most recent EU statistics on energy use, from 2006, show that Europeans have been using more power and buying in more imports over the past decade.

Energy use rose 7 percent from 1997 to 2006. As oil and gas from the North Sea run out, Europe is also importing far more energy, up 29 percent over the same period.

Most of that energy comes from fossil fuels such as crude oil and natural gas, which are usually imported.

Russia has emerged as a major supplier. In 2006, it provided a third of Europe's oil imports and 40 percent of the natural gas Europe bought.

A fifth of Europe's energy came from natural gas -- which is often burned to produce electricity -- and 14 percent from oil used as transport fuel. Another 22 percent comes from coal and wood.

Nuclear energy is the biggest source of power for the 27-nation bloc at 29 percent although the technology is highly controversial.

France, a major advocate, champions it as a low-carbon emission fuel source that produces most of the nation's electricity. But Germany and many eastern European countries plan to shut down older atomic power stations over safety concerns.

This wave of plant closures has already seen one country, Lithuania, cut its power production by just over a tenth as a Soviet-era plant was closed four years ago because it was unsafe.

Nuclear power still an option - Australian Libs

THE Federal Opposition has not given up hope of nuclear power coming to Australia as part of the quest for low-emission electricity.

Liberal senator Helen Coonan said if efforts to clean up coal failed, nuclear power could become an option.

"What you need to do is to keep an open mind about alternatives to coal, and if you can't clean up coal ... you've got to look at other options, you can't just go down one track," she told ABC Television's Q and A program tonight.

"We believe that (nuclear power) should be one of the options but it has to be bipartisan, and it has to be economically viable."

Senator Coonan said nuclear power was increasingly becoming an option in other countries. 
For Australia, cleaning up coal was the best option and renewables were also important, she said, but nuclear power was still an option.

The federal government's Small Business Minister Craig Emerson said Labor did not support nuclear power for Australia.

Greens senator Christine Milne said renewable energy held the key to cleaning up Australia's electricity.

Medical supply firm sues Canada's nuclear agency

OTTAWA (AFP) - A Canadian company that supplies radioactive materials for medical tests worldwide on Wednesday sued the government and its nuclear agency for shelving two reactors crucial for its supply of isotopes. 

In a statement, MDS Inc. said the two cancelled Maple reactors would have produced 40 years of medical isotopes for patients worldwide.

By nixing the project, the company claims the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited (AECL) breached its contractual obligations, and it is now seeking 1.6 billion dollars in damages from the agency and the government of Canada.

"We have had to resort to taking these steps to protect the interests of patients, the nuclear medicine community, our shareholders and our customers," said Stephen DeFalco, president and CEO of MDS.

"We are disappointed that AECL and the government decided to abandon the Maple project without establishing a clear plan for the long-term supply of critical medical isotopes," he added.

In a statement, AECL said it had met its obligations to MDS and planned to "vigorously defend" itself in court.

A spokeswoman for Natural Resources Minister Gary Lunn echoed AECL and told AFP the project had been mismanaged by a previous administration, "leaving it crippled with technical and economic problems for years."

In 1996, MDS had entered into an agreement with AECL for the design, development and construction of the two new nuclear reactors and a processing facility.

The so-called Maple project was intended to replace AECL's aging National Research Universal (NRU) reactor, which produces about half of the world's medical isotopes, and was to be completed by the year 2000 at a planned cost to MDS of 145 million dollars.

But by 2005, the project was not yet completed and costs had more than doubled, with MDS's investment exceeding 350 million dollars.

In May, the government pulled the plug on the project, citing soaring costs and delays.

To meet the demand for medical isotopes, AECL said it would keep its 50-year-old NRU reactor operational, however its license is up in October 2011.

A temporary maintenance shutdown of the aging NRU reactor last year sparked a worldwide shortage of medical isotopes, and led to the firing of Canada's nuclear safety chief.

According to reports, thousands of medical tests were postponed in Canada, the United States and other countries because of the isotopes shortage.

Medical isotopes are radioactive materials which are injected into patients to allow molecular imaging equipment to produce detailed scans for diagnosing cancer and other diseases.

MDS has an exclusive contract to supply AECL medical isotopes to hospitals and clinics around the world for molecular imaging, radiotherapeutics, and analytical instruments.

Nuclear deal to fuel BHEL expansion 

State-run Bharat Heavy Electricals Ltd (BHEL) is eyeing a goldmine of contracts, courtesy the much-delayed nuclear deal that now appears close to execution. 

The company is hoping to get high-value orders from the world's leading atomic energy equipment makers that are looking to sell reactors and projects here once the nuclear deal comes into force, enabling India to access the global market for nuclear fuel and technology.

"We have the capability of making critical components required in a nuclear power reactor and we are looking at countries that produce nuclear power," a senior BHEL official said on the condition of anonymity. "We expect our orders to come from developed countries like US, France and Canada." He declined to put any estimate on the value of the contracts.

Once the nuclear deal comes into force, it "would boost sentiments for power and allied capital goods sector," said Puneet Bambha, analyst, Angel Broking. "Though difficult to quantify the materiality and the timeline of the benefits at this juncture, few companies including BHEL, L&T, and NTPC, would tend to be the key beneficiaries."

More than 400 nuclear power plants are operating across 30 countries and about 16 per cent of the world energy is generated from nuclear sources. BHEL is tapping both the replacement as well as the planned new nuclear plants worldwide.

The company operates a plant in Tiruchy that can manufacture reactor components comprising four steam generators and reactor heads each for a 500-mw nuclear power plant. It can also make nuclear turbines at its plant in Bhopal. "We are looking for a technology collaborator to step up the manufacturing facility of steam generators and reactor heads to cater to over 1,200 mw nuclear power plants," the official said.

BHEL already supplies atomic power components to Bhaba Atomic Research Centre and Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited - the sole agency to design, construct, commission and operate nuclear power plants in the country.

Nuclear power is the key to resolving three global crises - food, global warming, and resource distribution

Sergei Kirienko guardian.co.uk, - All the major issues that were on the G8 agenda - the food crisis, global warming and uneven distribution of development resources among countries - are closely interlinked, first and foremost, to a shortage of energy and resulting price hikes.

Previous forecasts regarding the growth of energy consumption and the development of new energy technologies have not come true. Consumption is growing at a much faster pace, while new energy sources will not become commercially viable before 2030. 

Oil prices have risen, but even the $130-$140 per barrel will not fund new fields capable of satisfying the world economy. Alternative energy sources are currently unable to provide the necessary scale. And their costs confirm the maxim that energy is never cheap: witness the price of ethanol.

Nuclear power is not the only means of overcoming the crises, but it is undoubtedly a major instrument in resolving the three problems on the G8 agenda. 

Nuclear power plants in Europe help prevent the annual emission of 700m tonnes of CO2, and in Japan the figure is 270m tonnes. In Russia the share of nuclear power is set to grow from 16% to 20-25% by 2030, which means that new nuclear power plants in our country will reduce greenhouse gas emission by between 10-15%. That is not a mere declaration, but a decision based on concrete sources of financing. 

Until now, the development of nuclear power focused on increased single-unit reactor capacity and thus unfortunately denied the benefits of atomic power to countries with under-developed energy networks, mainly on the African continent. However, today the nuclear power industry is ready to offer to the market small and medium-yield reactors, which may open-up prospects for a larger number of countries. 

Another major benefit of nuclear power is its capability to simultaneously desalinate water. This will help alleviate the food crisis in two ways. African countries lack fresh water to develop agriculture, and fresh water may become a major casualty of the food crisis. 

Access to reliable and cheap sources of energy is a major condition for sustainable economic development of any country. A growing number of industrialised countries and emerging economies realise the necessity to begin developing on their territories' peaceful atomic power technologies. Up to 600 new nuclear reactors are planned worldwide by 2030. 

This increases the importance of enhanced restrictions on the use of atomic power. It is the right of any country to enjoy the benefits of peaceful atomic energy. But it is the right of the world community to demand unconditional compliance with security norms and non-proliferation guarantees. 

Russia is both initiating the creation of a new security system for the development of nuclear power and working to launch enhanced mechanisms to guarantee nuclear non-proliferation. 

We have already initiated the creation of an infrastructure of international centres to provide nuclear fuel services, granting equal access to atomic energy to all the interested parties while ensuring strict compliance with non-proliferation requirements under International Atomic Energy Agency control. As an example, an international uranium enrichment centre has been created and is operating in the Russian city of Angarsk. Angarsk will have a guaranteed reserve of low-enriched uranium, managed by the IAEA board of governors, guaranteeing fuel supplies to any country of the world regardless of any political reasons.

As Greenpeace founder Patrick Moore has said, opposition to nuclear power was a mistake and it is now a major means to counter global warming. 

The disappearance of old stereotypes on the political level will accelerate the development of nuclear power. That will help quickly lift non-market barriers in Europe and America, imposed to protect domestic producers, but which is a hindrance when the market faces shortages. A clear political signal will also guide the banking community, which is currently reluctant to get involved in nuclear power plant investment projects, due to a few radical pressure groups. 

We need broad international cooperation to solve the crises the world faces. We will continue to propose such an approach to our colleagues in the other G8 countries, especially when it comes to the peaceful use of atomic power.

Uranium levels fall after nuclear leak in France 

PARIS - Tests show that uranium levels are diminishing but have not vanished from rivers in southern France after a leak from a nuclear site, regional authorities said Wednesday. 

Anti-nuclear groups, meanwhile, questioned the handling of the incident at the Tricastin nuclear site near Avignon, noting inconsistent official statements about when it occurred and about how much unenriched uranium was leaked.

France's nuclear safety agency said liquid containing traces of unenriched uranium leaked from a factory at the site, and that uranium concentrations in the Gaffiere river were initially about 1,000 times the normal levels. The agency said the uranium is only slightly radioactive although toxic.

Initially the agency said the accident occurred Tuesday morning, but later said it occurred Monday night. On Wednesday, Tricastin authorities revised downward the amount of liquid that leaked.

Authorities in the Vaucluse region maintained a ban Wednesday on the consumption of well water in three nearby towns and the watering of crops from the Gaffiere and Lauzon rivers. Swimming, water sports and fishing also remain banned.

A series of tests Tuesday showed that "uranium levels (in surface water) remained well above normal but strongly diminished through dilution throughout the day," the regional administration said in a statement. The tests found no uranium in groundwater.

Tricastin authorities changed the amount that had leaked from 7,900 gallons (30,000 liters) to 4,760 gallons (18,000 liters), according to another statement from the Vaucluse regional administration. It said the liquid contained 493 pounds (224 kilograms) of natural unenriched uranium, instead of 794 pounds (360 kilograms) announced earlier.

The factory handles materials and liquids contaminated by uranium, the fuel for nuclear power plants. The liquid spilled from a reservoir that overflowed during the washing of a tank.

The Commission for Independent Radioactivity Research and Information said the leak led to the release of radioactive material 100 times that which the site is allowed to release in a year. Greenpeace said the leaked waste was more than 130 times the permitted level.

Japanese nuclear fuel plant worker exposed to radiation  
Tokyo - A Japanese nuclear fuel company said Thursday that one of its workers was exposed to minor levels of radiation. Global Nuclear Fuel-Japan Co said a worker at a nuclear fuel producing plant in the central Japanese city of Yokosuka had inhaled a small amount of uranium on Wednesday. 

Some 8 grams of uranium scattered from a machine that produces uranium dioxide pellets, and the worker, who was in the same room, was exposed to 1.12 millisieverts of radiation. 

There had been no harm to his health, the agency said. 

The incident occurred because an inspection point in a pipe that supplies powder to the pressing unit was left open when the machine was activated, it said. 

No radioactive material leaked outside the plant, the company said. 

The Japanese trade ministry's Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency issued a warning against the company because reports were filed with the agency six hours after the incident. 

The company is jointly owned by General Electric Co, Toshiba Corp and Hitachi Ltd. 

CT scanner might cut costs and radiation exposure

Orange County Register July 10 - Toshiba's experts in high-tech medicine have created a powerful new CT scanning machine that they believe will save the lives of thousands of heart patients and stroke victims, if it survives the steely-eyed scrutiny of health insurers.

The new Aquilion One scanner will cut costs while it saves lives, its advocates say, but they can't prove it. At least not yet.

That's a crucial omission, because the machine costs $2.5 million. Even previous-generation models such as the GE Light Speed scanner that Hoag Hospital is installing in Newport Beach cost $1.3 million to $2 million.

The question of CT costs is a sensitive subject right now, because Medicare is fretting about escalating expenses for CT scans - and worrying about the radiation that CT scanners expose patients to. Medicare's decisions about CT scans are doubly important, because private health insurers typically follow the lead of the government agency.

CT scans, or Computed Tomography scans, let doctors look quickly inside a patient's body for signs of blocked arteries, stroke, cancer and other diseases. In the process, patients can be exposed to as much radiation as hundreds of X-ray exams. 

Each year, Americans have more than about 62 million CT scans costing an estimated $500 to $1,000 each. 

In December, Medicare threatened to stop paying for many such CT scans, saying it wasn't convinced that using a CT machine to diagnose heart disease was "reasonable and necessary" except in cases such as patients experiencing chest pains.

After loud protests from doctors, medical societies and manufacturers, Medicare relaxed that position. In March, the agency agreed to keep paying for CT scans while medical researchers evaluate the diagnostic power of CT equipment. The research will test whether CT scans are good enough to replace other costly procedures, such as inserting a catheter into a patient's arteries so a doctor can see blockages.

"We need to prove it," says Doug Ryan, senior director of the CT business unit at Toshiba American Medical Systems in Irvine. "But we wouldn't put the Aquilion One on the market if we didn't believe it would help patients."


A CT scanner takes a series of X-rays of the patient's body, then uses its computing power to piece them together into a composite picture of the patient's insides. In an Aquilion One, the computer compiles data from 320 rows of X-ray sensors, so it's termed a 320-slice CT scanner. That array is wide enough to capture the image of the entire heart between two heart beats.

In the process, a patient can receive about 15 millisieverts of radiation exposure - 100 to 500 times the amount of a chest X-ray.

Medicare estimates that the radiation from a single CT scan may increase a patient's risk of cancer by 0.05 percent, or 1 chance in 2,000. That's a slight addition to Americans' lifetime average 20 percent risk, which is equivalent to one person in five diagnosed with fatal cancer.

"This small increase in radiation-associated cancer risk for an individual can become a public health concern if large numbers of the population undergo increased numbers of CT screening procedures of uncertain benefit," the agency said.

CT scans with "uncertain benefit" number about 20 million each year in the United States out of 62 million total, says biophysicist David Brenner of Columbia University. 

In an article last fall in the New England Journal of Medicine, Brenner estimated that radiation from CT scans might be the cause of 1.5 percent to 2.0 percent of all cancers in the United States.

That estimate is disputed by Dr. Michael Brant-Zawadzki, former medical director for radiology at Hoag Hospital.

The basic reason for the disagreement: Scientists have not been able to determine whether very low doses of radiation are harmful, says Brant-Zawadzki, who is now Hoag's executive director of neurosciences.

Everyone is subjected to background radiation, and it's possible that below a certain threshold low-level exposures might cause no damage, he says. Low-dose radiation might even help protect against cancer, because the body responds to it by continually repairing its genes.

Estimates such as Brenner's and Medicare's are based on the plausible, but unproven, hypothesis that there is no threshold below which radiation doesn't cause cancer-causing mutations, Brant-Zawadzki says.

"We should be cautious, but not alarmist, about radiation and CT scans," he says.

After all, people aren't fearful of background radiation, even at high altitudes where residents have less atmosphere above them to absorb cosmic radiation.

"Living for two years in Denver is like getting a basic routine diagnostic CT scan," Brant-Zawadzki says.


Toshiba has a prescription for cutting radiation exposure, following the same prescription it suggests for cutting costs by spending $2.5 million for its new CT scanner.

In each case, a hospital would install an Aquilion One and use it for gathering the information that's currently collected through a series of common radiology tests.

For heart patients, Ryan says, the CT scanner would eliminate the need for a nuclear-medicine examination, which includes a radioactive tracer that's injected into the blood stream. He says the new scanner would also let doctors omit a cardiac catheter examination, which often involves injection of a radioactive liquid.

A typical battery of coronary tests costs $3,500 to $4,500, exposing the patient to about 42 millisieverts of radiation, Ryan says.

With an Aquilion One, the cost of the evaluation would be under $1,000 and the radiation exposure would be 15 millisieverts or less, he says.

That estimated saving of $2,500 to $3,500 per patient allows Toshiba to predict that a 300- to 400-bed hospital could recoup the price of buying an Aquilion One within five years by saving $3 million on diagnosing and treating cardiac and stroke patients.

Those savings - and the proposed changes in clinical procedures that they're based on - are what Toshiba knows it needs to test and prove in the real world, not just on paper, if it is to realize its hopes for the Aquilion One.

The machine is already in use, or about to be installed, at six medical research centers ranging from Boston and Baltimore to Nevada, Ryan says. They will study its diagnostic prowess.

A similar study for earlier 64-slice CT scanners such as those at Hoag Hospital has already been completed and is awaiting publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

In an advance look at its findings, a Johns Hopkins University press release stated that, because of CT scanners, "as much as 25 percent of the 1.3 million cardiac catheterizations performed each year in the United States may be unnecessary."

The issue of cost savings will be tackled in studies that Toshiba will underwrite at mainstream hospitals that install the Aquilion One after it goes into full commercial release in September, Ryan says.

The greatest dispute over CT scanners is whether it's a good idea routinely to use them to screen symptom-free patients. That's an increasingly common use of CT machines, but many doctors argue that the risk of repeated radiation exposure outweighs the potential benefit of finding an undiscovered ailment.

For a patient suffering from chest pains, the risk calculation is much different. Medicare agrees that a CT scan in that situation is "reasonable and necessary."

In that case, as Ryan puts it, "The risk of cancer is small compared to the risk of a wrong diagnosis."

Sander C. Perle 
Mirion Technologies
Dosimetry Services Division 
2652 McGaw Avenue
Irvine, CA 92614
+1 (949) 296-2306 (Office)
+1 (949) 296-1144 (Fax)
Mirion Technologies: http://www.mirion.com/ 

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