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NRU reactor not enough, says SNM

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | July 12, 2010
Long-term moly supply
problems remain, SNM says.
Although nuclear medicine specialists are rejoicing now that repairs of the National Research Universal reactor in Chalk River, Ontario are wrapped up and the nearly 50-year-old radioisotope-producing mainstay got Canada's OK to go back online later this month, not everyone is convinced this will be enough to end isotope woes in the long run.

SNM, the society that represents nuclear medicine professionals, warned that the restart was not a "magic bullet."

"NRU coming back online will not solve this crisis," Dr. Robert W. Atcher, chair of SNM's Domestic Availability Work Group, said in a statement Friday.
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Although SNM expressed cautious optimism that the NRU reactor's supply of molybdenum-99, parent isotope of technetium-99m, used in nuclear medicine imaging, will relieve some of the immediate supply problems, the group warned that long-term hurdles remain.

Atcher noted that some staff at the Canadian Nuclear Safety Commission, which gave the Atomic Energy of Canada Limited permission to restart the NRU reactor last week, reportedly observed "gaps in the assessment of the reactor" that could have "a serious impact on the reliability of the reactor's operation in the future."

Also, he said the Canadian government intends to shut down isotope production at the reactor in 2016, "which will create another, much longer shortage in the worldwide supply of Mo-99."

SNM supports the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2009 (H.R. 3276), which would aim to boost domestic production of moly. The bill, passed by the House of Representatives last fall, now wends its way through the Senate, SNM said.

The NRU reactor, offline for repairs since last year, is one of the biggest producers of Mo-99.

Watch an earlier talk about the moly crisis by Atcher last month at the SNM annual meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah.