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Isotopes and Innovation

Isotopes and Innovation: MDS Nordion's First Fifty Years, 1946-1996

Paul Litt
Copyright Date: 2000
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Isotopes and Innovation
    Book Description:

    When radium began to be used as a cancer treatment, Eldorado quickly became familiar with the medical marketplace and adept at developing products that could solve clinical problems and, more important, save lives. When Canadian nuclear reactors at Chalk River began producing radioisotopes that outperformed radium, Eldorado's radium sales department was transferred to a new crown corporation, Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, created to manage Canada's nuclear research establishment. The new company developed many useful applications for radioisotopes, including cobalt-60 cancer therapy machines and industrial sterilization plants. Bought by Medical Data Services Inc. in the early 1990s, MDS Nordion was a runaway success, creator and sole proprietor of several market-leading products. Isotopes and Innovation describes how a company capitalized on the byproducts of Canada's unique nuclear research program to attain a commanding international position in extremely specialized and demanding high-tech markets, a saga in which innovative research and enterprising global marketing have brought commercial success and saved countless lives around the world.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6862-4
    Subjects: Physics

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-i)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. ii-iv)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. v-vi)
    John A. Morrison

    As time passes, memories fade and important documents are lost or damaged. It becomes increasingly difficult to piece together the story of how a company was built; why decisions were made; how events of the day determined the paths that were taken; and how the corporate culture was shaped. This was something that became quite clear as we started to plan celebrations for MDS Nordion’s 50th Anniversary.

    Preserving our corporate heritage, including the stories and memories of those who built MDS Nordion, became an important project. The benefits of documenting our history go far beyond preserving the past. History also...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-x)
    Paul Litt
  5. Introduction
    (pp. xi-xiv)

    In recent years the Avro Arrow has emerged as a leading symbol of Canada’s technological prowess in the post-war period. Newspaper and magazine articles, books, even a television mini-series have portrayed the cancellation of this supersonic jet project as a betrayal of Canada’s potential to take its rightful place in the world’s modern hightech economy. Although this controversy has many intriguing dimensions, it has also had some regrettable side-effects. Chief among these is the way in which it has hogged the limelight, distracting attention from other Canadian high-tech endeavours that were far more successful. This book tells the story of...

  6. 1 radium, boom and bust
    (pp. 1-34)

    The Second World War was over, and Roy Errington was frustrated. Since 1942 he had worked for Research Enterprises Ltd., a federal crown corporation noted for the high-quality optical and radar equipment that it produced for the war effort. Errington had held a number of challenging jobs at the Research Enterprises Ltd. (REL) plant in Toronto and by 1945 had become manager of its quality-control department. The following year he was promoted to general superintendent of the factory, only to find himself presiding over four hundred idle workers, disposing of inventories of war products that no one wanted any more,...

  7. 2 the franchise
    (pp. 35-58)

    In 1949, cobalt-60 appeared for the first time among the products offered by Eldorado’s sales department. Unlike the department’s main product line, it was not an accessory or derivative of radium, but a potential substitute.Cobalt-60 was one of many isotopes that could be produced in the atomic reactor of the National Research Council (NRC) at Chalk River. Since the end of the war, nuclear scientists had been predicting a wide variety of immediate practical applications for isotopes in medicine and industry. These forecasts grew more numerous and optimistic with each passing year. Radium gave Eldorado’s sales department a storied past,...

  8. 3 invention
    (pp. 59-80)

    Roy Errington was fond of saying that he was in the business of selling the accessories to handle radioactive substances as much as the substances themselves. These products were not justad hocadditions to his line but part of the package of services that gave Eldorado an edge on its competitors. When Eldorado won the right to distribute cobalt-60 in the autumn of 1949, it was natural that Errington would think of developing equipment to help sell his new product. Two years earlier an inquiry from India had prompted him to consider making a “radium bomb”; now circumstances transformed...

  9. 4 world conquest
    (pp. 81-118)

    Soon after the division was formed as part of Atomic Energy of Canada Limited, we undertook to determine what Canada’s share of the world market for isotopes should be. It was a simple estimate; we decided our share should be ‘All we could get.’ Roy Errington’s foray into medical equipment design had required both courage and brains. By the end of 1951 the result was an expensive piece of hardware that seemed to work. But the Eldorado A had yet to be proven marketable. In order to capitalize on its investment, the newly established Commercial Products Division (CPD) would have...

  10. 5 commercial possibilities
    (pp. 119-150)

    Despite its tremendous growth and soaring revenues, CPD’s business performance had one major deficiency in the 1950s and 1960s. It never made substantial profits on a consistent basis. In fact, it often lost money. For an ordinary company, rapid internal growth and international expansion would have been spurred by the promise of increased profit. But Commercial Products Division (CPD) was no ordinary firm.

    At first, CPD could blame its lacklustre fiscal performance on start-up costs and the string of misfortunes that plagued sales in the 1950s. The cobalt-60 drought caused by the NRX accident and the delay in completion of...

  11. 6 resilience
    (pp. 151-190)

    In the early 1960s, CPD salesman began hearing a lot about a new type of radiation-therapy machine – the linear accelerator – which would compete directly with their beam-therapy units. Varian Associates, a U.S. manufacturer of instruments for scientific research, was working on bringing such a device to market. Varian had been started in 1948 by physicists from Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, who had conducted research with accelerators in the early 1940s. By 1956 Varian had installed a 6-MeV model for cancer therapy at a clinic in California. Like other early versions, it was too bulky and cumbersome to be...

  12. 7 the promised land
    (pp. 191-218)

    The status of the Radio-chemical Company – formerly CPD – as a goverment-owned commercial enterprise had always generated tension within the organization. The division chafed at the restraints that state owner-ship placed on its activities even as it benefited from exclusive access to Chalk River’s reactors, R&D funding, and the advantages that government ownership conveyed on its export business. The question of whether a commercial organization such as RCC should be publicly owned came to the fore when private companies occasionally offered to purchase it from AECL. In the 1950s and 1960s, AECL’s board had rejected such overtures on the grounds that...

  13. afterword 1996–1999
    (pp. 219-228)

    MDS Nordion traces its origins to one of the most dramatic episodes in the world history this century: the race to build an atomic bomb during the Second World War.The decision of the United States to develop the bomb independently left the Canadian nuclear program to develop its own reactor technology. Canada’s heavy-water moderated reactors proved to be unrivalled in their ability to produce large quantities of high activity isotopes. This put Canada in possession of valuable raw materials – a situation not uncommon in its economic history. It then faced a basic question that confronts any resource producer: should it...

  14. A Note on Sources
    (pp. 229-230)
  15. Notes
    (pp. 231-238)
  16. Photo Credits
    (pp. 239-240)
  17. Appendix 1 Companies Manufacturing Cobalt Therapy Machines – 1960
    (pp. 241-241)
  18. Appendix II Isotopes – Sources and Uses
    (pp. 242-244)
  19. Index
    (pp. 245-249)