Nuclear Energy InsightMarch 2010
—In a move that may ease the shortage of medical isotopes, the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) has inked agreements with Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Group Inc. and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy to develop new technologies for supplying diagnostic and cancer-fighting treatments.
The program is part of NNSA’s Global Threat Reduction Initiative to minimize or eliminate civilian use of highly-enriched uranium, including in research reactors that produce medical isotopes.
The new technology “offers a new path forward for the creation of a reliable, domestic supply of molybdenum-99 without the use of [highly-enriched uranium],” said NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino. “This pragmatic approach addresses a critical U.S. medical community need while supporting President Obama’s goal of reducing the risk posed by use of HEU.”
Molybdenum-99 decays into technetium-99m, a radioisotope used in about 80 percent of all nuclear medicine procedures, including evaluations of the heart, kidneys, lung, liver, spleen, bones and blood flow. With a half-life of 66 hours, molybdenum-99 must be delivered to hospitals on a frequent basis. This is particularly challenging given that the United States imports all of its supply.
There are only five major producers of molybdenum-99 in the world. Global supplies are tight and the situation is getting worse.
A Canadian research reactor, one of the world’s leading suppliers, has been off-line since last May for maintenance and is expected to remain so at least through April. Another major supplier, in the Netherlands, will be off-line through August for scheduled maintenance. Combined, these two facilities supply more than 80 percent of the molybdenum-99 used in the United States, according to the Society of Nuclear Medicine.
The NNSA agreements with Babcock & Wilcox and GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy each has the potential to provide half the U.S. supply of molybdenum-99. Both projects are in the planning stages and will announce later when they will go on-line.
Meanwhile, another new supply source could help ease the isotope shortage in the near term. In February, Covidien, a global producer of healthcare products, announced an agreement with the Institute of Atomic Energy in Poland to irradiate targets at the Maria Research Reactor in Poland. It is estimated that the facility could produce up to one million patient doses of technetium-99m within the next six months.
“This is an historic agreement. It is the first time in decades that a new reactor has been brought into the global supply chain for medical isotopes,” said Timothy Wright, president of pharmaceuticals at Covidien. “We are excited that we will now be working together to provide more than a million patients around the globe with access to a critical medical isotope during this serious shortage.”
Clinton Power Station Will Produce Cobalt-60
Illinois’ Clinton Power Station will host a pilot project that will produce medical radioisotopes used in cancer treatment and food sterilization.
The project involves a partnership between Exelon, which operates the plant, and GE Hitachi Nuclear, who produces fuel for the plant. It could produce enough cobalt-60 for about 300,000 cancer treatments over the life of the project.
And how much electricity from the 1,450 mega- watt plant will be diverted to this project? None at all, according to Exelon. “We view this as an opportunity for Exelon to support an important medical technology that saves people's lives,” said Exelon Nuclear President and Chief Nuclear Officer Charles Pardee.
The first shipment is expected in 2012.—Read more articles in Nuclear Energy Insight and Insight Web Extra.