Radiation Detection and Monitoring Markets

Increasing concerns about nuclear terrorism and expanding use of medical imaging continue to fuel the need for accurate radiation detection equipment. Demand for instruments ranging from dosimeters to large radiation portal monitors will continue to grow, with security and medical applications dominating the revenue stream. The total market for radiation detection equipment goes well beyond these applications, however, and industrial and scientific applications are gaining importance as radiation safety receives greater worldwide attention.

n-tech Research has published a new report on radiation detection, “Radiation Detection Equipment Markets: 2015-2022” that discusses a wide range of applications for this equipment and provides granular eight-year revenue forecasts for a dozen different sectors. The industrial space is focused on the nuclear power industry, but will also benefit from addressing growing demand for radiation monitoring in the food irradiation and scrap metal recycling industries.

Radiation detection represents a sizeable market. Looking at only safety and security detectors – instruments specifically designed to measure radiation dosage – this is an industry that n-tech Research expects will grow to $3.5 billion by 2022 from around $2.2 billion today. Adding in expensive medical imaging equipment and specialty detectors for scientific research, the total market is $28 billion and growing.

Safety at Nuclear Power Plants

While the future of nuclear power is still to be determined, it is fairly certain that the world will continue to use nuclear power as a clean energy source and that radiation safety at power plants will be paramount. There are plans in place to build new reactors as well as extend the lifespan of aging reactors that have been in service for decades.

This is good news for the radiation detection equipment industry. There will be continuing demand for systems within nuclear power plants, including area monitors, contamination monitors, and a wide range of process monitors that can detect changes in emitted radiation that indicate potential failure of a system. High resolution is critical, which has historically meant expensive detectors. Newer monitors with superior resolution at lower cost are very promising for this sector and will likely be installed near the end of the decade.

Residents living near nuclear power plants are increasingly wary about the risk of an accident. Though this can mean pressure to close down plants or stop construction of those being proposed, the reality of energy needs worldwide do not necessarily make that the best option. Instead, this presents an opportunity for greater monitoring of air, soil, and water in neighborhoods surrounding power plants to improve the ability to detect a problem and act quickly to address it.

The Threat of Nuclear Terrorism

Though the threat of a nuclear power plant accident is a serious concern, the thought that the wrong people might get their hands on special nuclear materials (SNM) and build a bomb is more frightening. Therefore, deterring nuclear terrorism remains at the forefront of radiation detection and is seeing greater emphasis worldwide, including in regions that have not historically put much investment into detection.

Concern about scanning of cargo at international ports will likely result in better training of personnel in the consistent use of existing radiation detection equipment, but also investment in equipment to augment or replace instruments already in service. This includes both fixed and handheld equipment.

Radiation monitoring portals in the U.S. have been in service for many years and are in need of replacing. Although the timing of replacement is uncertain after an aborted attempt several years ago to implement new technology, it is certainly on the horizon. The shorter term opportunities for suppliers are overseas locations where monitoring is expanding to more ports.

Technology Trends

Governments and private businesses will continue to invest in technology that makes radiation detection more reliable and easier to implement. This includes an emphasis on developing new mobile and portable detectors in smaller form factors. To some extent, radiation detection equipment suppliers are becoming part of the wireless, wearable device industry.

First responders will increasingly carry spectroscopic personal radiation detectors (SPRDs) rather than standard PRDs, allow radioisotope detection from an instrument the size of a pager. Important suppliers include FLIR, Polimaster, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The growth in SPRDs should to some degree temper the need for larger handheld RIIDs, although these devices will still be in demand for their ability to identify large libraries of radioisotopes using both gamma and neutron detection.

Systems are becoming increasingly networked, streamlining the delivery and sharing of information and enabling faster action in case of a real threat. Handheld devices that relay data to central servers or to industry experts using a smart phone are becoming the norm. We also expect to see an increase in cloud-based systems that collect data and display them on real-time maps.

The need for more accurate detection is driving changes in both hardware and software. Approaches to improve the ability to distinguish SNM from non-hazardous sources of radiation include both better detection materials and better algorithms. Suppliers that can deliver this at the right price should find a wide open market for a range of security, military, and industrial uses.

Even in relatively cost-insensitive industries, cost does matter when it comes to replacement schedules. Suppliers are seeing pressure to keep a lid on prices, and therefore controlling production cost will be important, especially in the face of uncertain government and military contracts.

The Medical Imaging Landscape

The emphasis in the medical imaging industry continues to be expanding diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, cancer, and other diseases while minimizing patient exposure to radiation. In this environment, dosage tracking and control systems play an important role and we expect to see increased penetration of this type of technology. There is also a need for instruments that better monitor radiation exposure of medical personnel.

Software advances are affecting the healthcare industry in other ways. Improved software can help distinguish radiation from background noise and allow for more accurate 3D reconstruction of images. This in turn helps minimize radiation exposure while improving diagnostic capability.

Globally, the major market for medical imaging equipment has been in the U.S., and we expect that this will continue to be the case. There are however, signs of increasing investment worldwide, providing significant growth opportunities in underserved markets. Access to nuclear medicine is expanding in various countries, ranging from Russia and Belarus to Ethiopia, Uganda, and Saudi Arabia.

It is significant for the radiation detection industry that watchdogs are clamping down on unsafe practices in emerging healthcare markets, which is leading to greater demand for dosimeters and related equipment in these regions. India, in particular, should experience significant growth in safety and security detectors for medical imaging applications.

Even established markets are undergoing changes that will increase the need for radiation monitoring. For example, the latest update to the European Council’s Basic Safety Standards Directive will be enforced beginning in 2018, forcing medical facilities to make changes to ensure that they will be able to comply with the new restrictions. In the U.S., new Joint Commission diagnostic imaging services standards go into effect in July 2015. These primarily affect demand for medical physicists but have also affected the equipment market to some extent.

Digital X-ray Imaging

The transition from film to digital X-ray imaging has been in progress for some time, but it is now accelerating as image storage and sharing systems become more commonplace in the healthcare industry.

Mammography is undergoing a significant shift with greater adoption of 3D digital tomosynthesis, which has eclipsed 2D digital mammography in mature markets and is making greater inroads in emerging markets worldwide. Hologic, the company that introduced tomosynthesis in 2011, is seeing increased competition from global healthcare giants including GE Healthcare, Philips Healthcare, and Siemens.

We expect that penetration of tomosynthesis will first occur in the U.S. and Europe, but suppliers are eyeing lucrative global markets where demand for diagnostic procedures is accelerating. Medical facilities in emerging markets will, however, be more likely to purchase lower cost 2D systems in the short term.

This mimics the situation for nuclear medicine, in which high-end hybrid systems first penetrated mature markets but have extended their reach worldwide. For example, we expect that all standalone PET machines currently still in service will eventually be replaced by PET/CT systems.