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Blog

Securing the supply of medical isotopes

By Hamish Johnston

Over the past few years the supply of Mo-99 — which is used to make the medical isotope Tc-99m — has been threatened by two unscheduled shutdowns of the ageing NRU reactor in Chalk River, Canada.

Normally NRU supplies North America with Tc-99m and accounts for a significant chunk of world production, so any prolonged shutdown is bad news.

That’s why the Canadian government convened the Expert Review Panel On Medical Isotope Production earlier this year to identify the most viable options for future isotope production.

The panel has just submitted its report and you can read all 135 pages of it here .

The main recommendation is the replacement of NRU with another multi-purpose research reactor that would supply isotopes as well as fulfilling other scientific functions. However, revenues from isotope production would only offset about 10-15% of the cost of such a reactor — so other research activities would have to justify the bulk of the price tag.

The panel also recommends that Tc-99m production in a cyclotron accelerator, be investigated. Although this would involve a significant amount of research and development, the infrastructure is already in place in several places in Canada.

Could we see the rebirth of the University of Manitoba cyclotron?

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2 comments

  1. Ender

    Thanks for the information. It is an important issue to follow.
    The situation is even worse than it looks at first sight. If you go to http://www.world-nuclear-news.org/RS-NRU_now_expected_to_restart_next_year-1308095.html, you’ll find the last paragraph says:
    “However, the second most prolific producer of isotopes, the HFR at Petten in the Netherlands is also in need of repair. It also has a minor leak, with tiny bubbles of gas passing from a pipe wall into the primary cooling system, but this pipe will be difficult to repair as it is located underneath the reactor and encased in concrete which also forms part of the biological shield. The reactor’s operator, NRG, has an extraordinary licence to run the reactor in its current interim state until March 2010, but then must make the major repair.”

  2. David Asgeirsson

    The US appears to be pursuing the development of their own medical isotope capability as a result of the recent shortage. If this is followed through to completion that would likely remove a large amount of the potential income for a new Canadian reactor.

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