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Nuclear Processing for Safer, Cleaner Materials to be Featured at IAEA Conference on Applications of Radiation Science

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A hydrogel bandage used on a patient. (Photo: S. Henriques/IAEA)

From water filters and lampshades to soles in shoes and medical bandages, an increasing number of consumer products are manufactured with new materials produced using nuclear techniques, making them safer and more environmentally friendly. Experts have begun to help other countries develop these specialized plastic and gel-based materials through IAEA training courses and workshops on radiation processing of polymers across Southeast Asia. Recent advances in the field will be showcased along with other technologies at the IAEA International Conference on Applications of Radiation Science and Technology (ICARST), to be held in Vienna from 24 to 28 April 2017.

“New developments in the processing of certain polymers are improving productivity and leading to a reduced burden on the environment,” said Masao Tamada, Director General of the Takasaki Advanced Radiation Research Institute in the Nuclear Science Research Sector at the Japan Atomic Energy Agency, who will also be a speaker at the conference.

Leading an IAEA regional training course in Malaysia in August 2016, Tamada taught advanced methods of radiation grafting for environmental and industrial applications to participants from Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. In an IAEA workshop in 2014, Tamada prepared protocols for specialized methods in radiation grafting, which is now online and accessible online.

The ICARST conference will serve as a platform for more than 300 industry professionals, officials and academics from around the world to explore the latest developments in the applications of radiation science and technology to meet global challenges. The conference will comprise a mix of plenary sessions, keynote speeches, oral and poster presentations and panel discussions.

Find out more about the conference here.

New medical applications of radiation processed polymers

Polymers, such as plastics or gel-based materials, can be modified or strengthened by radiation, which may include gamma rays, X-rays, accelerated electrons or ion beams to create new and more resistant formations of bonds. Strengthening and improving polymers with radiation has been used for decades to produce commercial products such as heat-resistant parts in car engines in the 1950s and heat-shrinkable tubes, foam sheets and tires.

But new developments in the radiation processing industry are leading to more novel and innovative uses, for example hydrogel sheets with medical applications for burn and wound care and cancer radiotherapy. These are some of the applications to be showcased at the ICARST conference.

“Hydrogel sheets with high water concentration created by using radiation to crosslink materials are able to heal wounds faster than if the sheets were dry,” said Tamada. “The sheets can be removed with less pain than using just medical gauze, and because they are transparent, medical hydrogels allow continuous monitoring of burn and wound recovery.”

“Only by using irradiation to crosslink polymers are we able to produce such elastic hydrogels with high water concentration,” he said. “Crosslinking techniques are also much safer than chemical techniques. No impurities are created because no chemicals are used.”

The same clear and transparent gels can be used in cancer radiotherapy to help measure and maintain safe and effective doses of radiation, an area known as dosimetry. The hydrogel sheets can be used to simultaneously identify both radiation levels and the areas exposed to radiation, which may vary from patient to patient. This is helpful to know when preparing radiotherapy sessions.

Application of radiation techniques

Radiation science and technology are used worldwide in everyday life. They draw on different types of radiation such as electron beams and gamma rays to sterilize medical products, improve safety of car parts, reduce the environmental impact of the industrial sector, preserve cultural artefacts and purify water for public use, among other applications. All of these, including new developments in the radiation processing industry, will be showcased at the ICARST conference.

“The ICARST conference is a way for experts in their fields of radiation applications to take a comprehensive look at new and existing technologies to see where we are headed, helping us chart out new sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to apply these tools for decades to come,” said Sunil Sabharwal, an IAEA radiation processing specialist.

The ICARST conference is a way for experts in their fields of radiation applications to take a comprehensive look at new and existing technologies to see where we are headed, helping us chart out new sustainable and environmentally friendly ways to apply these tools for decades to come.
Sunil Sabharwal, an IAEA radiation processing specialist

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