Joint declaration on security of supply for molybdenum

18 December 2014

Eleven countries have presented a joint declaration to the Council of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), urging the development of new infrastructure to replace ageing facilities used for the production of the most widely used medical radioisotope, molybdenum-99.

The governments of Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Russia, Spain, the UK and the USA have formally adhered to the Joint Declaration on the Security of Supply of Medical Radioisotopes, the OECD's Nuclear Energy Agency (NEA) said yesterday. The OECD Council is encouraging other countries to do the same.

The NEA became involved in global efforts to ensure a secure supply of Mo-99 and technetium-99m (Tc-99m) at the request of its member countries. Since June 2009, the NEA and its High-level Group on the Security of Supply of Medical Radioisotopes (HLG-MR) have examined the causes of supply shortages and developed a policy approach, including principles and supporting recommendations to address those causes.

New Australian capacity

Work is well underway on Australia's new nuclear medicine manufacturing facility, which will enable Australia to help meet world demand for molybdenum-99.

"The first critical steps" in the development of Australia's new nuclear medicine production facility are now complete with the bulk of the excavation work finalised, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) said. More than 1700 cubic metres of concrete have been poured and more than 200 tonnes of steel reinforcement are in place.

The ANSTO Nuclear Medicine project is an AUD168.8 million ($138 million) investment by the Australian government.

Once fully operational, the facility plant will enable ANSTO to supply up to 25-30% of global demand for Mo-99.

"The Joint Declaration provides a coordinated political commitment by countries involved in the production and use of medical radioisotopes to help bring about the necessary changes across the supply chain. It sends a clear signal to the actors in the medical radioisotope supply chain that the governments have the resolute intention to take coordinated action to ensure the long-term security of supply of this important medical radioisotope," the NEA said.

This effort promotes, among other steps, full-cost recovery of isotope production and the availability of reserve capacity. The Joint Declaration also provides a platform for ongoing discussions among participating countries on their current or potential future involvement in the supply chain for Mo-99.

Mo-99 is used about 40 million times worldwide every year in advanced, highly accurate medical diagnoses, according to NEA. It is produced through irradiation of uranium targets in various research reactor facilities around the world. This material, which has a rather short, 66-hour half-life, decays to Tc-99m, another radioisotope, as it is packaged and shipped for use by physicians. It is this which is injected into patients to enable sophisticated imaging techniques needed to diagnose cancer, heart disease and other ailments. Tc-99m has a very short half-life - only six hours - and it decays to non-radioactive materials and thus limits patient exposure.

"Because these materials have such short half-lives, they must be produced continuously. Disruptions in the supply chain of these medical isotopes can lead to cancellations or delays in important medical testing services," the NEA said. "Unfortunately, supply reliability has declined over the past decade due to unexpected or extended shutdowns at a few of the ageing, Mo-99-producing research reactors and processing facilities. These shutdowns have created conditions for global supply shortages."

The NEA has reviewed the global Mo-99 supply situation periodically, using the most recent data from supply chain participants, to draw attention to potential periods of reduced supply and to underscore the case for implementing the HLG-MR policy approach "in a timely and globally consistent manner," it said.

Governments are involved in the global Mo-99 and Tc-99m supply chain primarily at each end, at the reactor and end-use levels. The vast majority of Mo-99 producers "represented in-between" are commercial entities.

Although governments have been reducing their support for Mo-99 irradiations at reactors, "much remains to be done" to achieve universal implementation of full-cost recovery, the NEA said.

"Despite real progress" since the adoption of the HLG-MR policy principles, some governments continue to subsidise Mo-99 production, thus supporting healthcare systems both nationally and in other countries. "While it is their prerogative to fund basic research at reactors, any commercial Mo-99 production as part of the global supply chain should comply with the principle of full-cost recovery to avoid distorting the global market," the NEA said.

The HLG-MR - the main objective of which is to strengthen the reliability of Mo-99 and Tc-99m supply in the short, medium and long term - comprise more than 40 experts representing the governments of Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, Poland, South Korea, Russia, South Africa, Spain, the UK and the USA, as well as the European Commission (Euratom Supply Agency) and the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Members of the HLG-MR are nominated by governments and include experts from government agencies responsible for medical or nuclear policy, as well as from research and industry organisations with interests in medical radioisotopes.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News