As reactors age, European medical isotope makers look to protect supply chain

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | September 03, 2010
Illustration of the Jules Horowitz reactor.
With the average medical isotope-producing reactor nearly half a century old and with many set for closure before the decade's end, a European consortium is looking to shore up the continent's isotope supply.

One French and two Belgian groups said Thursday they've formed a partnership to manufacture and distribute molybdenum-99 when a new French reactor goes online in 2015.

Worldwide, only a handful of aging reactors produce Mo-99. This year, two were shut down temporarily, the National Research Universal reactor in Chalk River, Ontario and the High Flux Reactor in Petten, Netherlands, forcing some doctors to postpone nuclear medicine tests and driving up costs for the isotopes in much of the world.
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"There are currently five reactors in the world, and most of them are 40 years old," Gregory Delecaut, a spokesman for National Institute for Radioelements, or IRE, one of the partners, told DOTmed News. "In the near future, they will be closed, and there will be a problem in the supply chain."

Under the deal, the French Alternative Energies and Atomic Energy Commission, known by its French acronym CEA, would supply the uranium targets irradiated in the soon-to-be-built Jules Horowitz reactor in the south of France. The IRE would then extract Mo-99 from the targets in its plant in Fleurus, Belgium. The last link, Ion Beam Applications S.A., or IBA/CIS bio, would make and distribute the technetium-99m generators. These are generators customers need to "milk" Mo-99 into the daughter isotope actually used in nuclear medicine.

For the partnership, IBA/CIS bio is using new generator manufacturing lines in Saclay, France, and IRE is renovating its production facilities.

"We will start soon, in the beginning of September, production of molybdenum in a refurbished production chain," Delecaut said. He added that the renovations have taken over a year. Currently, IRE produces about one-third of the world's molybdenum-99 supply, the company said.