Public Information

The University of Ottawa Heart Institute has been operating a cyclotron safely and effectively for over 22 years producing medical radiopharmaceuticals for use at the Heart Institute, The Ottawa Hospital, and the Royal Ottawa Hospital in oncology, neurology and cardiology imaging procedures. The Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC) now requires all operators of cyclotron facilities, such as the one operated at UOHI, to make the public aware of the facility, how it operates and when we will notify the public of any health and safety related issues.

The primary goal of this public information program is to ensure that information related to health, safety and security of individuals and the environment, and other issues associated with the activities of this nuclear facility are effectively communicated to the public.

Public Disclosure Protocol

The UOHI public disclosure protocol is aligned with the UOHI Emergency Management Plan and Crisis Communications Plan objectives. The protocol will follow the general procedures and plans for communications, media relations and other outreach activities.

Public Information Products

The public information strategy for the facility is part of the broader UOHI communications plan. Any changes to the facility will be communicated to the public using a selection of tools. These will support the objectives of the Public Information and Disclosure Protocol.

We are committed to communicating with our target audiences via:  

  • Meetings of the Civic Hospital Community Association  
  • Social media
  • Targeted emails as required
  • Call out using the emergency notification system as required

What is a cyclotron?

The cyclotron is a device used at UOHI to make short-lived radioisotopes to produce radiopharmaceuticals used for medical imaging and research. The cyclotron takes hydride atoms (these are the same as the hydrogen atoms in water except they have a negative charge) and accelerates them to very high speed in a magnetic field. When they have enough energy, they are sent into a target where a reaction takes place to form radioactive isotopes. These radioactive isotopes are then removed from the cyclotron, and transformed into positron-emitting radiopharmaceuticals within the facility’s laboratories.

Is a cyclotron safe?

Yes. Cyclotrons have been built and operated worldwide since the 1930s, and are considered to be a clean nuclear technology that produces very little radioactive waste. We operate a safe facility and have extensive operating and emergency measures in place to ensure the safety of patients, staff and the public at all times.

As with any specialized facility or laboratory, a number of safety features have been built into the space that houses the cyclotron, such as extra thick concrete and lead walls, safety monitoring systems and security features. These features are designed to contain and minimize exposure to the small amount of radiation associated with the cyclotron production processes.

As part of the governance of nuclear technology, an operating license must be granted by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission (CNSC). The CNSC has extensive experience licensing cyclotrons in facilities across Canada and it takes worker, public, and environmental safety very seriously. Regular monitoring, annual reports, and license renewals are a necessity to ensure compliance with CNSC regulations ensuring a safe environment for staff, guests at the Institute and the community.

What types of radiopharmaceuticals are produced by the UOHI cyclotron, and what is their purpose?

The radiopharmaceuticals produced by the UOHI cyclotron are used for an imaging modality called positron emission tomography or PET. PET is the most advanced medical diagnostic imaging technology available today for:

(i) Early and accurate detection of cancer, and
(ii) Detecting certain diseases of the heart and brain.

The isotopes used in PET imaging are short-lived, with “half-lives” between 2-110 minutes. The term half-life applies to radioactive materials to describe how quickly they decay or cease to be radioactive. The half-life is the time it takes for half of a given sample of a radioactive material to undergo radioactive decay. The isotopes produced at UOHI have a very short half life meaning that the tracer will decay and become inactive very quickly but it also means the tracers must be generated in close proximity to the PET scanner.

Isotopes produced in the UOHI Cyclotron

% Activity Remaining
 Half Life1 Hour4 Hours1 Day1 Week1 Month
Fluorine-18 (18F)110 Min69%22%0%0%0%
Carbon-11 (11C)20 Min13%0%0%0%0%
Nitrogen-13 (13N)10  Min1.5%0%0%0%0%
Oxygen (150)2 Min0%0%0%0%0%

What is the difference between a cyclotron and a nuclear reactor?

There are several differences. For the production of medical isotopes, the main difference is the starting material. In the case of the UOHI cyclotron, the starting materials are stable, non-radioactive materials such as oxygen-18 enriched water. For a nuclear reactor, the raw material is typically uranium which is split to give different radioactive products that are separated and purified for use. Since cyclotrons do not use heavy atoms, it is not possible for a runaway chain reaction to occur. They also don’t produce significant quantities of long-lived radioactive waste common with nuclear reactors.

Another difference is the source of power. Reactors get their power from the fission of uranium which produces heat and neutrons to keep a chain reaction going. A cyclotron gets its power from electricity. A reactor, even when it is not producing isotopes, must be kept cool and can take a long time to shut down compared with a cyclotron that can be shut down by simply turning off the power.

For more information

The cyclotron facility at UOHI and has been licensed and regulated by the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission throughout this time.

The cyclotron facility has been designed using ALARA (as low as reasonably achievable) principles to substantially minimize the potential for radioactive releases. This design employs numerous redundant safety systems that are tested on a regular basis to prevent such releases. In our 22-year history of operating the cyclotron, there have been no releases at levels that would be significant to our staff, patients or community.

The primary objectives of this public information and disclosure program are to ensure that individuals living or working in proximity to the UOHI facility are aware:

  • That there is a cyclotron facility proximate to them,
  • Of the potential risk (albeit small) that is involved in carrying out this important work,
  • That their health, safety and security are being protected by the UOHI/TOH radiation safety program, and
  • Of any events that could have potential consequences from the point of view of radiation protection or safety.

Current Activities

Our current activities focus on imaging: a) blood flow, myocardial perfusion, and metabolism; b) the heart’s nervous system and its interactions with the brain; c) calcification and other indicators of diseases of the heart valves and blood vessels; d) amyloid plaques that contribute to disease in both the heart and brain. Clinicians and researchers across Ottawa rely on the cyclotron facility for patient care, biomedical research, and developing new medical technologies.

Regulatory Status

As a manufacturer of radioisotopes, the UOHI PET Radiochemistry Laboratory is required to submit documentation to Health Canada of the complete chemistry and manufacturing process and provide a comprehensive investigator brochure for all positron emitting radiopharmaceuticals (PERs). All clinical research trials involving PERs are required to submit a Clinical Trial Application (CTA) to Health Canada for review prior to initiation of the protocol. A trial with full ethics approval may commence after Health Canada receives a No Objection letter. More than 35 CTAs have successfully been submitted to Health Canada over the past six years.