The Hong Kong Sanatorium & Hospital Ltd / Milton Hope Ltd is planning to upgrade its cancer treatment capability by building a proton beam treatment facility for patients. Proton beams are used for cancer treatment like traditional irradiation facilities. Their advantage is that they can be focused with greater accuracy and therefore cause less side effects for patients. During operation the proton beam will cause parts of the equipment and building material used to shield the operators from radiation to become radioactive.  Most of the radioactivity will be fixed in place but small amounts may be released from the facility into the environment through air ducts and waste water. Local authority regulations require that the public need reassurance the operation of the beam will have no adverse impact on the local environment and therefore people are safe. This is where ESR comes in.

ESR has the experience and testing capability in place to measure small amounts of radioactivity in environmental samples.

“It has taken a fair while, but these things don’t happen overnight,” commented André Pinkert, ESR Business Development Manager, who has worked with the Hong Kong contractors and the Christchurch based ESR radiation scientists, including Klaus Hermanspahn, Science Leader, who provided scientific input to define the sampling and testing programme.

Prior to winning the contract, Klaus and André spent a lot of time with the contractors helping them shape the tender document. “We provided them with a massive amount of information, so that Hong Kong’s EPA requirements could be met. The radioactivity created by the proton beam tends to decay away quickly (within hours and days) requiring well-tuned logistics so that reporting requirements can be met," said Klaus.

Monitoring will start early 2017, two years before the proton beam facility is scheduled to be commissioned in 2019. The monitoring will include sampling air, water and marine biota. The sampling will establish the existing levels of background radiation and be used as an indicator of any radiation changes in the environment once the proton beam starts operating.

“We are really looking forward to beginning this project,” said André.  “I believe we were more successful than our international competitors because we spent time engaging with the client (I like to refer to them as partners) to really understand what is important to them. This allowed us to talk the same “lingo”, which in turn enabled us to establish a lot of trust. Trust that this important piece of work is safe with ESR. Trust that we will deliver. Trust that we will overcome all the challenges that come with setting such an extensive monitoring programme remotely from another continent.”

The contract extends for three years and will be reviewed at that time.

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