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Production Center for Radioactive Drugs

Ipen distinguishes itself in nuclear research and development

In 1996 a sophisticated piece of equipment installed at the Energy and Nuclear Research Institute (Ipen) was destroyed by fire. The damage, of some US$ 50,000, excluding the loss due to the paralyzing of activities on the part of the institution, was caused by maintenance mistake: there was not a switch to shut off the power at the Special Materials Department – today the Lasers and Applications Center -, a fact that would have avoided such a tragedy.

The episode, as well as exemplifying the precarious phase lived through by the Ipen at that time, ended up awakening the researchers to the need for a broad remodeling of the laboratories. Five years afterwards and through FAPESP's Infrastructure Program, the reality of Ipen is now something else. The Lasers Center, once more, serves as an example. Internationally recognized, the laboratory is only in Latin America that masters the technique of growing large dimensions crystals for use in lasers, a process with applications in industrial processes of materials, medicine, odontology, and the environment, says Nilson Dias Vieira Júnior.

The Ipen, linked to the National Commission of Nuclear Energy (CNEN), was founded in 1956, with the objective of carrying out research and of forming specialists in that area. Installed on the USP campus in São Paulo, on an area of 500,000 m2, the institute is today the main nuclear research and development center in the country, having been a pioneer in the mastery of the technologies of the cycle of nuclear reactions. It has developed an important role in the application of radiation and of radioactive isotopes, nuclear reactors, radioactive materials and radioactive protection.

It is now recognized internationally for the production and distribution of primary radioactive isotopes, and radioactive drugs, and of lyophilized reagents used in the diagnosis and therapy of various illnesses. As well as the two nuclear reactors, the institute can count upon a thermo-hydraulic laboratory, two electron accelerators, cobalt irradiators, pilot plants responsible for all of the uranium compounds produced in the country, including the gas uranium hexafluoride.

Furthermore, Ipen has various laboratories of chemical, isotopes and physics material characterization, and among them the Lasers and Applications Center. The building that the Lasers Center shares with the other fifty laboratories was built in 1978. It used to receive minimum maintenance, looking only towards emergency situations such as the fire of 1996 that was impossible to avoid. Even small flooding took place because of the lack of water-proofing of the roofing. The Infrastructure Program resources were basically invested in the renovation of the electrical and hydraulic systems of the building.

In more than twenty years, it was the first significant and planned investment in the infrastructure of the building. “The reform prepared the Center for its growth and allowed us to give back in concrete applications towards society, the resources invested in scientific and technological projects”, says Vieira Júnior. The new installations enabled the carrying out of important studies, such as those at the Young Researchers Laboratory. The group's research is based on diode lasers, evaluated in thousands of dollars, and which can be damaged by the minimum variation in voltage. “An adequate infrastructure is vital”, Vieira Júnior explains.

The participation of the group at the Research Center into Optics and Photonics, one of the Cepids (Centers of Research, Innovation and Diffusion) maintained through FAPESP, along with the Physics Institutes of São Carlos and Unicamp, in the development of new lasers for medical and dental applications, has allowed the creation of a professional master's course for dentists.

A recent partnership was signed with the Technical University of Athens in Greece, for the development of another line of research that envisions environmental monitoring. The laboratory is also preparing, along with the State Department of Greenery and the Environment and the Company of Environmental Sanitation Technology (Cetesb), the installation of the first system of environmental monitoring by laser in the city of São Paulo.

Another Ipen department that also received significant support from the Infrastructure Program was that of Chemistry and the Environment, headed by Ademar Benevolo Lugão. During decades, its research had been directed towards the processes involved in the cycle of nuclear reactions. With the change in the government energy policy, it was necessary to look for new work objectives. The area of environmental diagnostics was considered as a good alternative. Now with the laboratories completely updated it will be possible to comply with the proposed task.

Benefits

The first group of laboratories that benefited from the Infrastructure Program was that of Environmental Diagnostics. The development of their research demanded reforms in the electrical and hydraulic systems, new ceilings, gas supplies, power rooms, lightning conductors, no-break systems, and the building of fume cupboards. In 1996 the laboratory received the first part of the program's resources and invested in the improvement of the installations, which made it possible for it to buy new important equipment for new research. The old processing laboratory could be transformed into areas of environmental technologies for the researching of recycling, the use of industrial waste, etc. The second part of the financial resources went to the Environmental Technology Group and the third, between 1999 and 2000, was used to create a third group of laboratories, that of Atmospheric Chemistry, coordinated by Luciana Vanni Gatti.

Today, one hundred researchers, included those hired and those with scholarships, participate in the three laboratory groups. “The scientific gain is unquestionable” emphasizes Lugão. The reforms sponsored by the program have given support to a project developed by the Company of Basic Sanitation of São Paulo (Sabesp) of the modeling of river basins, with studies on the quality of water for human consumption and the identification of polluting sources. The research has extended into a thematic project associated to the study of the conditions of dispersion of pollutants in São Paulo and will permit the association of the group with an international consortium, formed by Brazil, the North American Space Agency (Nasa) and the European Union (EU) for the study of the impact on the atmospheric system of the Amazon on worldwide environmental conditions.

According to Lugão, only the group of laboratories of Environmental Technology has still to present results of important impact, since their renovation is very recent. Even so, projects are on course in the areas of recycling and of new technologies for the incineration of industrial waste and of the development of new polymers more compatible with the environment. As well, with the support of FAPESP and a partnership with USP, they are developing projects for the treatment of all of the waste products of the university itself.

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