Steps to bolster isotope production

03 June 2010

While Petten in the Netherlands was recently announced as the site for a new research reactor for the production radioisotopes, the Canadian government has called for project proposals to produce medical isotopes without using reactor-based technology.


In early December 2009, the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) expressed its preference for siting the Pallas reactor at Petten in North Holland province - the site of the existing High Flux Reactor (HFR), which it will replace. In addition, the area near the country's nuclear power plant, Borssele, in the province of Zeeland had also been under consideration as a possible location site.


Following NRG's recent announcement that it has now committed to selecting Petten as the site of the reactor, the provincial executive of North Holland has decided to provide an interim financial contribution of up to €2 million ($2.5 million) for the preparation of construction of the reactor from a reserve of €40 million ($49 million).


NRU restart approaches

Meanwhile, repairs continue at the National Research Universal (NRU) reactor at Chalk River, which produces a major share of the world's medical isotopes but has been offline since the discovery of a minor leak of heavy water from its tank in May 2009.
Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd (AECL) reported that it has now completed 98% of the weld repairs needed at the NRU.
The company expects the reactor to resume isotope production by the end of July.

NRG director Rob Stol said in a statement that the company was "delighted with the news that North Holland is translating its ambition into an actual contribution. We have selected Petten as the site due to, among other things, the readily available knowledge and the streamlined infrastructure. This offers a substantial investment lead over alternatives sites. With the province's contribution, the preparations can be advanced with power and focus."


Jaap Bond of the North Holland provincial executive was forthright: "Pallas belongs in Petten. I am both elated and satisfied that NRG has made this choice. Through our contribution, we aim to emphasise the importance of Pallas for North Holland."


According to NRG's current thinking, Pallas could be built around 2014 or 2015 and enter full operation during 2016. However, NRG noted that "this will be subject to the financial options and planning procedures."


NRG said, "A price tag of over half a billion euros ($600 million) hangs on the new Pallas reactor. NRG is on course for public-private financing, with the emphasis on public finance in the initial phase of the project."


A request for tenders for Pallas was launched in December 2007 and offers were submitted in May 2009. The Invap-Isolux offer from Argentina and Spain was selected as the most economically advantageous. However, in February, NRG said that it had decided to discontinue the tender and extended the preparatory phase pushing back a final choice of tender around the end of 2010.


NRG started operating in 1961, has undergone several modernizations and has an operational lifespan extending after 2015. Operated by NRG on behalf of the EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC), HFR is the source of 70% of Europe's and 30-40% of the world's medical isotopes, which are used in a variety of imaging procedures for diagnosis as well as radiotherapy. A key product from HFR is molybdenum-99, which decays into technetium-99m - used for medical imaging. With a half-life of just 66 hours, deliveries of molybdenum-99 to hospitals need to be regular and frequent.


Non-reactor technologies


Meanwhile in Canada, the other major producer of these isotopes, the government has issued a call for project proposals for its new C$35 million ($34 million) medical isotopes supply program. The program, announced in the 2010 budget, will promote non-reactor-based technologies for the supply of medical isotopes over the medium- and long-term.


Taking a route away from reactor systems, the C$35 million ($34 million) in funding will be provided over two years to advance linear accelerator and cyclotron technologies for the production of technetium-99m. In a statement, Natural Resources Canada said: "These technologies were viewed by the Expert Review Panel [on Medical Isotope Production] as having the greatest potential as alternative sources of supply." It added, "Funding will target projects that demonstrate a broad-based expertise to address research, development, demonstration, regulatory and commercialisation issues."


Minister of natural resources Christian Paradis said, "The government of Canada is laying the groundwork for a more secure and sustainable supply of medical isotopes... We are investing in Canadian innovation to ensure that we remain a global technological leader."


Researched and written

by World Nuclear News