Ontario supply chain delivers for COVID-19 response

22 May 2020

Bruce Power will be carrying out a second harvest of cobalt-60 (Co-60), which is used to sterilise medical equipment, as part of the company's COVID-19 response, CEO Mike Rencheck said yesterday. An initiative launched three weeks ago to leverage Ontario's nuclear supply chain in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic is already delivering results, he said.

Co-60 is produced in Candu power reactors by irradiation of Co-59 in special rods (Image: Bruce Power)

Four of Bruce's eight Candu units produce Co-60, which is widely used for the sterilisation of medical equipment and also in some medical applications. The power plant, near Tiverton, annually produces about 30% of Ontario's power. The company will begin a second harvest of the isotope from Bruce Unit 8 in September, Rencheck said yesterday during a Facebook Live event hosted by the company. This follows an earlier harvest of the isotope, which was completed in March.

The Co-60 will be sent to Ottawa-based Nordion for processing and distribution to healthcare facilities around the world for the sterilisation of medical equipment such as gowns, surgical gloves, scalpels and other single-use medical devices. The September harvest is expected to provide enough Co-60 to sterilise up to 11 billion pairs of surgical gloves and swabs globally, Rencheck said. This is in addition to a harvest completed in March that produced enough cobalt to sterilise 13 billion pairs of surgical gloves.

"The nuclear industry has a vital role to play in the production of medical isotopes, especially as the healthcare community in Canada and internationally fights the COVID-19 pandemic," Rencheck said.

The Retooling and Economic Recovery Council (RERC) was launched on 31 April to leverage Ontario's nuclear industry supply chain - much of which has been developed for the ongoing Bruce Life-Extension Program, which is the largest private sector infrastructure project in Canada - to assist in the province's fight against COVID-19 and help its economy to recover when the pandemic ends.

In the three weeks since it was launched, the RERC has so far distributed and donated nearly 1.3 million pieces of PPE - face shields, protective gowns and other materials - made through retooling the nuclear supply chain. It is also close to completing a programme to distribute 50,000 litres of hand sanitiser throughout the community, James Scongack, Bruce Power executive vice-president for Corporate Affairs and Operational Services, said.

Another RERC development is a collaboration between Promation, a custom design and manufacturing firm which is supporting Bruce Power's Major Component Replacement Project, with scientists and industry experts at University Health Network, University of Toronto, and Mackenzie Innovation Institute to develop a low-cost ventilator in response to the potential of a sudden surge in demand because of COVID-19.

The RERC shows that "we can be a good citizen and at the same time operate our businesses at the highest levels … by working together with our supply chain," Rencheck said. "It's about using that creativity and innovation and working together to get the job done. Whether it's fighting COVID or recovering our economy, we'll be players and participants in the fight against COVID and ensuring we can restore our standard of living here in Ontario."

Researched and written by World Nuclear News