How Nuclear Technology to help combat COVID-19

The novel coronavirus crisis has led to a slowdown in economic growth of various nations across the world. According to the World Bank’s April 2020 Pulse report, economic growth in sub-Saharan Africa is set to decline from 2.4 percent in 2019 to between – 2.1 percent and – 5.1 percent in 2020. The report further predicts that the region may experience its first recession in 25 years if measures taken to mitigate the pandemic’s effects.

All sectors therefore need to mobilize to combat the forthcoming negative effects of new pandemic on the global economy. Despite nuclear energy accounting for 10.3% of global power generation in 2019, its usage in medical practice remains to be key during this period. Nuclear technologies have shown multiple use during this ongoing crisis.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been providing diagnostic kits, equipment and training in nuclear-derived detection techniques to needy countries in tackling the worldwide spread of the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19. The assistance, requested by 14 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, is part of intensified global efforts to contain infections .

For its part, Russian State Nuclear Corporation ROSATOM, is offering its latest developments for sterilization (i.e. the destruction of pathogens, spores, viruses) of medical devices. The company has already sterilised 24,416,893 medical masks as of May 19, as well as 334,500 portable lab kits to test for COVID-19 .

According to Yulia Kurashvili, Advisor to Director General of ROSATOM’s company – JSC Rusatom Healthcare (an integrator in the field of radiation technologies in medicine and industry: “Medical devices are constantly evolving: their functionality is changing, they are becoming hybrid, the technologies and materials for their manufacture are changing. And viruses evolve too. Therefore, I believe that specialists and medical sterilization technologies should always be ‘a step ahead’. At the end of the pandemic, the need for studies of the functional state of various organs and systems of the body of patients undergoing COVID-19 will increase. And only visualization based only on nuclear medical technologies and new radio pharmaceutical preparations will be able to provide such opportunities.” 

Unlike all other types of sterilization, this method has sufficient penetrating power, which allows it to process hermetically sealed products – the generated streams of accelerated electrons are able to penetrate the packaging of medical devices without violating its integrity, which eliminates the possibility of re-contamination of the product. In addition, after processing the product with a stream of accelerated electrons, the product immediately becomes usable. This does not require degassing (unlike other sterilization methods) or other necessary actions, before actual use. This method of sterilization ensures environmental friendliness – there is no side chemical and other pollution during processing.

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