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Harvesting of life-saving medical isotope completed at Pickering Nuclear Generating Station

OPG is a world leader in the production of Cobalt-60

Toronto – Ontario Power Generation’s (OPG) Pickering Nuclear Generating Station has successfully completed the harvest of Cobalt-60, a life-saving medical isotope that is a key line of defence in global efforts to safeguard public health.

Cobalt-60 is used to sterilize approximately 40 per cent of the world’s single-use medical devices, including syringes, gloves, implants, surgical instruments and COVID-19 testing swabs. It is also used to reduce harmful pathogens in a variety of food and consumer products. Approximately 50 per cent of the world’s Cobalt-60 is produced in Ontario. The isotope extracted from a single Pickering reactor every 24 to 30 months can yield enough Cobalt-60 to sterilize approximately 3.5 billion syringes per harvest. With three Pickering reactors equipped to produce Cobalt-60, there are one to two harvests per year.

"Now more than ever there is a growing demand for this life-saving medical isotope as the world continues to battle with the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ken Hartwick, OPG’s President and CEO. “Thanks to the meticulous work of the team at Pickering, OPG is a world leader in the production of Cobalt-60, helping Ontarians, our economy and people around the world.”

“I’m proud that OPG and Ontario continue to lead the way in isotope production: our province produces 50 per cent of the global supply of Cobalt-60 used to irradiate and sterilize medical devices,” said Greg Rickford, Minister of Energy, Northern Development and Mines. “This work could not be more critical as we continue to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. Congratulations on another successful harvest.”

Cobalt-60 isotopes are placed into a flask in the spent fuel bay at Pickering Nuclear GS.
A bundle of Cobalt-60 isotopes are placed into a shipping flask in the spent fuel bay at Pickering Nuclear GS.

Naturally-occurring Cobalt-59 is mined, then processed into pure Cobalt-59 powder. It is compressed into slugs and inserted, via adjuster rods, into the reactor’s core during planned maintenance outages. Over the course of 26 to 30 months, the rods absorb neutrons in a process called irradiation, causing atomic level changes turning the Cobalt-59 to Cobalt-60.

The Cobalt-60 is then taken to an Ottawa-based company where it is processed for medical or industrial use before being shipped to the customer.

In November 2019, OPG announced it would be expanding its production of Cobalt-60 to Darlington Nuclear Generating Station. Implementing Cobalt-60 production at Darlington Nuclear after Pickering Nuclear ceases operations will replace Pickering Nuclear’s capacity and provide increased production to meet global demand.

OPG’s subsidiary, Laurentis Energy Partners, has partnered with BWXT ITG Canada Inc. and they are also making significant progress toward the production of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) at Darlington Nuclear. Mo-99 is a much-needed medical isotope used in over 40 million procedures a year to detect cancers and diagnose various medical conditions.

Learn more about how OPG produces Cobalt-60 at Pickering Nuclear.

About OPG

OPG is a climate change leader and the largest clean electricity generator in the province, providing more than half of the power Ontarians rely on every day. It is also one of the most diverse generators in North America, with expertise in nuclear, hydroelectric, biomass, solar and natural gas technologies.

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For further information, please contact:

OPG Media Relations
416-592-4008 or 1-877-592-4008
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