by John R. Fischer
, Senior Reporter | January 17, 2023
The Welsh government has proposed constructing a nuclear medicine laboratory in North West Wales to replace existing facilities in the U.K. reaching their end-of-life dates.
In a recording of a plenary meeting of the Welsh Parliament, Wales’ minister for the economy Vaughan Gething said he has approved government funding for a technical feasibility study and the development of an outline business plan to build an Advanced Radioisotope Technology for Health Utility Reactor, otherwise known as Project ARTHUR.
The Welsh government says the facility would be a global center of excellence in nuclear medicine, supplying providers within the U.K.’s National Health Service with radioisotopes to diagnose and treat diseases such as cancer. It would also attrack higher skilled jobs, create a surroudning infrastructure, support local communities and build up local supply chains.
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Government officials would want the facility to be up and running by 2030, as by then, with no alternative site, the UK may have to start rationing medical isotopes, potentially harming patient outcomes. It would want the site to remain operational for 60 to 70 years.
"The purpose of the feasibility study is to take a detailed look at the technology and confirm whether it will meet the UK’s needs in terms of quantity and variety of isotopes produced and the research applications it can deliver. It will confirm what our starting position should be in terms of what we do / produce on day one and how we would expand on this over time, taking into account our changing needs as well as the wider International needs / requirements," a Welsh government spokesperson told HBC News.
Additionally, project organizers will research how to distribute isotopes produced by the facility on a global sale, as well as financing and licensing options, along with operational processes.
The outline business plan will support technical work already undertaken and build upon an earlier strategic outline business plan. It will also weigh commercial and financial cases around the cost of delivery against the benefits of having a particular technical capability, such as how much Molybdenum-99 can be produced by the reactor, versus how much is realistically needed, versus the cost of the loops required to produce it.
Studies will also be undertaken to determine supply chain needs, labor, licensing processes and operational models.
Funding will be required from multiple sources, including the U.K. government, with Gething saying that Wales must push for the U.K. government to "cooperate in supporting our efforts, since this development benefits and supports future cancer diagnostics and treatment right across the U.K....the implications of not acting will be counted in human lives".
The Welsh government says that at this point, it is on track to have a facility operating by 2030.
Across the Atlantic, in Wisconsin, NorthStar Medical Radioisotopes recently completed construction and equipment installation
at its production facility in Beloit, where it will produce non-uranium-based molybdenum-99. It will be the first in the world to produce commercial-scale Mo-99 through a new method that irradiates molybdenum-100 targets using electron accelerators.
Jamaica also opened
a new nuclear medicine center in July 2022, its first in over 20 years, providing cancer patients with access to a wider range of diagnostic and therapeutic care.