Canada ships first synchrotron isotopes

17 November 2014

The first batch of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) produced in the Canadian Light Source (CLS) linear accelerator in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan has been shipped in a developmental milestone for the non-reactor production of medical isotopes.

 CLS director of accelerators Mark de Jong in the MIP facility (Image: David Stobbe/CLS)

The Medical Isotope Project (MIP) uses the CLS particle accelerator to bombard a target of enriched molybdenum-100 (Mo-100) with high-energy X-rays, which knock a neutron out of some of the molybdenum atoms to produce Mo-99. Mo-99 decays to form technetium-99m (Tc-99m) the world's most widely used medical radioisotope. After the Mo-99 has decayed, the remaining Mo-100 is recovered and recycled into new targets.

Tc-99m is employed in around 80% of nuclear imaging procedures but as it decays very rapidly it is generated in hospitals from Mo-99 at the point of use. Mo-99 itself has a half-life of only 66 hours and cannot be stockpiled, and security of supply is a key concern. Conventionally produced using uranium targets in research reactors, most of the world's supply comes from just five reactors in Belgium, Canada, the Netherlands, Russia and South Africa, and recent years have illustrated how unexpected shutdowns at any of those reactors can quickly lead to shortages.

The need for a secure supply of Mo-99, as well as concerns over potential nuclear proliferation risks from the use of high enriched uranium (HEU) targets in Mo-99 production in research reactors, has prompted various initiatives to develop non-reactor routes to commercial isotope production.

Since 2010 the Canadian government has committed some CAD 60 million ($53 million) of funds to research and development of non-reactor-based isotope production technologies through its Isotope Technology Acceleration Program (ITAP). The MIP has been funded through ITAP and the Government of Saskatchewan, in partnership Manitoba-based not-for-profit corporation Prairie Isotope Production Enterprise (PIPE).

The MIP will continue to test the production of the isotopes until approval from national regulator Health Canada is obtained. The CLS and PIPE say they expect to become leading suppliers of isotopes to healthcare facilities across Western Canada and Northwest Ontario by 2016.

Canada's NRU research reactor currently produces 30-40% of the world's supply of Mo-99, but production is expected to cease in 2016 by which time the reactor will have been in operation for almost 60 years. According to CLS, two or three accelerator systems like the MIP facility could produce enough medical isotopes to supply Canada's domestic needs, and the partners say they intend to make the most of commercialization and spin off opportunities to export their technology.

The CLS announcement comes days after the US Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced $8 million of funding to advance two projects aimed at securing non-HEU domestic supplies of the isotope.

Researched and written
by World Nuclear News