Medical Industry Resists Phasing Out Radioactive Material

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Global Security Newswire Staff
May 13, 2014, 8:09 a.m.

Gov­ern­ment ef­forts to elim­in­ate the com­mer­cial use of a ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­al deemed a se­cur­ity risk have run in­to op­pos­i­tion from the med­ic­al sec­tor.

The Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion an­nounced earli­er this year that it would work to phase out com­mer­cial ap­plic­a­tions of a num­ber of ra­dio­act­ive sub­stances that could be used to build a so-called “dirty bomb.” Such a weapon would use con­ven­tion­al ex­plos­ives to dis­perse pois­on­ous ra­dio­act­ive ma­ter­i­al over a wide area.

Among the com­mon com­mer­cial sub­stances tar­geted for elim­in­a­tion is cesi­um chlor­ide. The gov­ern­ment is try­ing to con­vince hos­pit­als and blood banks in the coun­try to cease us­ing ir­ra­di­at­or ma­chines that con­tain cesi­um chlor­ide and in­stead use X-ray ir­ra­di­at­ors to make sure blood is safe for trans­fu­sion. The gov­ern­ment is weigh­ing us­ing grants and oth­er in­duce­ments to en­cour­age the move away from cesi­um chlor­ide ir­ra­di­at­ors, uniden­ti­fied of­fi­cials and spe­cial­ists told the Bo­ston Globe for a Monday art­icle.

In ad­di­tion to be­ing ex­tremely ra­dio­act­ive, cesi­um chlor­ide is also dis­solv­able in wa­ter. These char­ac­ter­ist­ics make the ma­ter­i­al “a great­er con­cern than oth­er ra­di­ation sources,” ac­cord­ing to a 2008 find­ing by the Na­tion­al Re­search Coun­cil.

However, some med­ic­al pro­fes­sion­als and com­pan­ies are res­ist­ing the urged change on the grounds that the new­er X-ray ir­ra­di­at­ors are too ex­pens­ive and more prone too break­ing down.

“X-ray ir­ra­di­at­ors break with reg­u­lar aban­don, so of course you have to buy two,” said Jed Gorlin, vice pres­id­ent of med­ic­al and qual­ity af­fairs at In­nov­at­ive Blood Re­sources in St. Paul, Minn.

Miles Pom­per, a seni­or re­search as­so­ci­ate at the James Mar­tin Cen­ter for Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion Stud­ies, said that fin­an­cial motives are a sig­ni­fic­ant con­trib­ut­ing factor to the res­ist­ance.

“There are go­ing to be win­ners and losers,” Pom­per said. “The people who only make cesi­um chlor­ide aren’t go­ing to like it.”

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