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?