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Canada's Nuclear Future

Q&A with Darryl Spector: Inside the Growing Nuclear and Radiopharmaceutical Space

Darryl Spector

President of Promation

Mediaplanet spoke with Darryl Spector, President of Promation, to get his insights on the radiopharmaceutical space and what makes Canada a leader in medical isotopes.

What advantages do you anticipate arising from the new large-scale nuclear build for both the energy industry and Canada as a whole?

It’ll provide clarity around our large-scale baseload energy supply with some predictability and confidence to meet our climate goals. Right now, there are still gaps in the firm commitments that define conclusively where our baseload power generation will come from in the medium to long term. Small modular reactors (SMRs) are happening gradually, but they’re not going to scale up pervasively to meet the growing energy demand by 2035. But a large-scale new build plant provides so much reliable, consistent, low-carbon baseload. It’ll provide a key piece of that foundational energy supply puzzle.

In addition, the more we transition to an electrified economy, the more energy supply demands we’ll have. They’re looking at refurbishing the four units at OPG Pickering B because the energy supply mix can’t afford a large-scale nuclear reactor plant coming offline at this critical time in our energy production supply demands.

Look at climate change, for example. The warmer we get, the more air conditioning demand there is, and the more energy that’s going to be required for addressing the impacts of climate change environmentally and just within buildings and homes and so on.

The large-scale nuclear build gives Canada that stepwise levelling up of low-carbon, reliable, baseload power provision so there’s one less question mark and less uncertainty about what’s going to give us that reliable base load supply mix 10 or 15 years from now.

How will Canada’s work in the SMR space create a significant global impact?

The anchor GE Hitachi BWRX-300 SMR at Darlington was initially sited for one unit, but they’ve now announced that four are planned for deployment. The intent currently is to draw upon this anchor SMR to establish a supply chain infrastructure that can then be leveraged as the engine for global export of other BWRX-300 SMR’s in other interested jurisdictions, such as Eastern Europe, for example.  

Once you build an operating SMR, it unlocks so many things. It also validates Canada’s legitimacy as an environment that’s conducive to incubating and curating an SMR evolution. It shows that we have a technology that can be built, an infrastructure that can deliver it, a regulatory framework that can facilitate it, and a utility that’s willing to host and operate it. All of the needed ingredients to validate and legitimize SMR development become actualized through the building of an SMR.

The SMR evolution is heavily dependent upon a funding strategy as well, and investors are looking for validation gates to keep putting in various tranches of funding. Having a build completed that shows that it can be done, that there’s a supply chain ecosystem and infrastructure that can deliver on it, and that there’s momentum behind it means they’ll be more likely to put money into it. Success breeds success. Having an SMR commissioned and built in Canada will have a catalyzing impact on other SMRs, fueling that momentum forward.

What developments in the radiopharmaceutical space are you excited about?

One is the growing scale of established anchor medical isotopes like Mo-99, Lutetium-177, and so on. The evolution of discovery medical isotopes like Actinium-225 is going to become more pervasive. The more that discovery radiopharmaceuticals become validated as scalable, the more the market grows.

For Promation, it’s a great nexus of production automation experience in our automotive side coupled with radiological experience from supporting the nuclear power generation industry, because you have a production environment that needs radiological considerations. That’s a great opportunity for us.

On the processing side, it’s also CANDU-agnostic, so it’s a global market. Canada is well-suited to facilitate that market because we have a mature, consolidated ecosystem of suppliers that have built their pedigree and are sustained by strong, healthy, robust nuclear utility market demand. It can be leveraged to help support the radiopharma evolution as well, business opportunity-wise.

But generally, just the evolution of advancements and the increased, pervasive access and uptake of radiopharmaceuticals in radiotherapeutics and radiodiagnostics (theragnostics) have transformative impacts on society. People who had either inoperable cancer or very challenging therapeutics previously are now being able to have a much better quality of life through the life-saving impacts of often less invasive treatments facilitated by recent advancements in medical isotopes.

The social license consideration of what we do is amazing, too. Everyone has been touched in their lives by knowing someone who’s had cancer. Knowing that the work we’re doing between enabling low-carbon reliable, safe power generation and helping increase access to life changing medical isotopes has this broader societal benefit that makes our work much more tangible and meaningful.

The other thing is it’s really a win-win-win where the legitimate growth of the radiopharma sector brings a broader awareness to the benefits of nuclear. There are profound, substantial, and pervasive societal benefits to nuclear medicine and nuclear science, so it gives another avenue for people to understand what nuclear means for them in their own lives.

How will these developments contribute to medical advancements in Canada and beyond?

On the one side, the fact that CANDU reactors are uniquely qualified, given their neutron flux profile, to irradiate the raw material for radiopharmaceuticals to produce the radioactive isotope on such a large scale is a game-changer. Historically, it was either cyclotrons or research reactors, which are usually quite small. You’ve now got large-scale power utility-sized reactors that can do this bulk irradiation of the radiopharmaceutical raw material in large volumes, which can then be pushed out into the pipeline supply chain, meaning there’s more drug on the market available, which ideally means more access to it, which means more life-saving treatments and possibly even reduced costs because of supply and demand.

Because Canada has the infrastructure and all these unique variables in place, like the supply chain, regulatory framework, and so on, the government is starting to get behind it as well. There was a motion passed at the federal level to build a pan-Canadian strategy for creating a radiopharmaceutical ecosystem, and a Strategic Innovation Fund was just announced that shows the government’s commitment to facilitate establishing Canada as a global net exporter and industry leader in radiopharmaceutical production.

Why is Canada uniquely positioned to lead in the medical isotope field?

One reason is the power utilities for the new reactors to irradiate large volumes of relevant materials. We have a regulatory framework that helps to facilitate that, governments provincially and federally that have identified and acknowledged the desire to get behind this framework, and a great intersection of universities, research centres, industry, the medical community, and so on.

We have this consolidated supply chain that’s established, mature, and justified because of the healthy nuclear industry in Ontario predominantly, which can then be leveraged to support the medical isotope community as well.

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