ANSTO to act on medicine production safety culture

22 October 2018

Australia's nuclear regulator has given the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) 60 days to provide a "full and complete" response to 85 recommendations to improve the safety culture in ANSTO Health's nuclear medicine production facility following an independent expert review.

Hot cells inside ANSTO's Building 23 (Image: ANSTO)

The recommendations are made in a newly published report by the review team of international and national experts which was appointed by ANSTO following a directive issued by the Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA) in June. ARPANSA issued the directive following four separate events with safety implications within 10 months at ANSTO's Building 23 complex. The first of these occurred in August 2017, when a worker received a skin contamination that exceeded statutory dose limits.

Building 23, originally designed for research into radioisotopes, was constructed in 1959 and today produces nuclear medicines. The facility assembles, loads, tests and distributes a range of nuclear medicine products, including molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the parent radioisotope used in ANSTO's Gentech generators to deliver technetium-99m (Tc-99m) to hospitals and nuclear medicine practices across Australia. Tc-99m, used to diagnose a variety of heart, cancer, lung and muscular skeletal conditions, is the world's most commonly used nuclear medicine but it, and the Mo-99 used to generate it, are very short-lived so a reliable and steady supply is needed.

ANSTO-Building-23-hot-cells-1950s-(ANSTO).jpgBuilding 23's hot cells pictured in the 1960s (Image: Max Dupain/ANSTO)

Building 23 has had five major upgrades during the past 30 years and is now coming to the end of its operating life, ANSTO said. The organisation has also this year instigated a mechanical review for the building after a conveyer belt breakdown in June led to interruptions to Australia's nuclear medicine supplies.

David Jones, who headed the independent review team, praised ANSTO Health staff for their dedication and commitment to patient safety and product delivery, but said the organisation was not alone in the challenge of operating, managing and dealing with legacy or ageing facilities.

"We recognise that many improvements have been made over past decades to keep nuclear medicine production facilities operating effectively and safely, including meeting regulatory requirements. But this facility is now at a stage in its lifecycle where ageing and obsolescence issues are becoming significant," Jones said.

ANSTO CEO Adi Paterson thanked the review team for lending their "considerable" expertise in producing the "very comprehensive" report. "ANSTO has undertaken a lot of recent work to improve culture, processes, procedures and infrastructure in Building 23 but clearly there is more to do. We will now spend the coming weeks considering the recommendations for Building 23, plus those that have broader implications for ANSTO," he said. "Central to our response to the recommendations will be a need to plan to upgrade the ageing infrastructure on which production of most of Australia’s nuclear medicine currently relies."
Work is already being finalised on the AUD168.8 million (USD119.7 million) ANSTO Nuclear Medicine project to replace the other ageing nuclear medicine building on site, Paterson said.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News