Promoters of nuclear industry seek support at SNM for new building

August 6, 2003

Exhibits to address nuclear energy, medicineEarly promoters of MRI wasted little time sanitizing the name of their new modality, settling on magnetic resonance and dispensing with the term "nuclear." They perceived, correctly, that

Exhibits to address nuclear energy, medicine

Early promoters of MRI wasted little time sanitizing the name of their new modality, settling on magnetic resonance and dispensing with the term "nuclear." They perceived, correctly, that the general public has a negative view of this term. And while vendors and users of nuclear medicine equipment are inherently saddled with it, the move toward molecular imaging is providing even them with some wiggle room. Staff at the National Atomic Museum are taking the opposite approach.

Museum director Jim Walther and board of directors member and trustee Hal Behl buttonholed those who passed their booth at the annual meeting of the Society of Nuclear Medicine with a compelling question. If the positive accomplishments of the nuclear industry are not appreciated, where will the industry find nuclear scientists of the future?

"Children need a connection to the nuclear industry, to medical and energy policy," Walther said. "They need to understand that the Internet uses nuclear clocks and that their uncle or aunt may have had a medical procedure involving radiopharmaceuticals."

The museum foundation, operating from a temporary facility in Albuquerque, NM, is recruiting private sponsors to support a building to house a National Museum of Nuclear Science and History. About $3 million of the needed $12 million are in hand. One of the future exhibits will address nuclear medicine and its roots in radiology. Displays will include the first gamma camera and a hot cell complete with manipulator arm for making doses of radiopharmaceuticals. Other elements of radiology, including x-ray and MR, will be addressed.

"If we can get one or two companies that are radiologically oriented, we can cover the bases pretty well," Walther said.

The new facility could be ready for the public in less than four years, if adequate funding is obtained. Exhibits at the National Atomic Museum facility, established in 1969 on an Albuquerque Air Force Base, moved to an interim location after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack restricted public access to the base. The move did not dampen enthusiasm among the museum staff, however, who conduct an outreach program for youth in the surrounding area. A van packed with traveling exhibits such as the Atoms Family, designed to teach concepts like atomic structure and solar fusion, began crisscrossing the state last year, visiting 278 elementary schools.

"It's grueling to go to different hotels and different schools," Behl said, "but it's important to get kids excited about nuclear."