Saskatchewan is building a new research centre for nuclear science and medicine as the province pursues a plan to go beyond mining uranium.
Premier Brad Wall said Wednesday that $30-million will be spent over seven years to establish the centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. Scientists at the university pioneered the use of cobalt-60 for cancer treatment in the 1950s and Mr. Wall wants to recapture that role.
"It's leadership in nuclear medicine that we wish to reclaim and we also want to build some leadership in nuclear materials science," Mr. Wall said.
"And I think we can also be leaders in the development of small reactor technology."
University of Saskatchewan president Peter MacKinnon said the new research centre will complement and strengthen the school's existing nuclear research infrastructure. That includes the Canadian Light Source synchrotron, the Saskatchewan Research Council's Slowpoke research reactor and the university's fusion reactor.
Officials hope the centre will make Saskatchewan the focal point for nuclear research and development in Western Canada.
"We will be very well positioned to improve health care through better diagnostic imaging, to improve safety for workers at uranium mines through research into more effective monitoring at those mines, to develop new materials for longer lasting nuclear components and to engineer new ways to analyze the safety and quality of nuclear systems," Mr. MacKinnon said.
Researchers at the university are also trying to make medical isotopes without a nuclear reactor or weapons-grade uranium. A demonstration facility will be built at the Canadian Light Source to prove that a high-energy linear accelerator can make the isotopes used in medical imaging and diagnostic procedures.
The project is one of four that the federal government announced in January in its quest to find a new source of technetium-99m - the most widely used isotope for medical imaging.
Saskatchewan is the world's largest producer of uranium, the key component in nuclear power generation, but so far it hasn't gone beyond mining the raw material.
The Premier has repeatedly said the government is interested in uranium value-added opportunities, noting it was part of his Saskatchewan Party's campaign platform in the 2007 provincial election.
The Canadian Press