On October 31, 2016 the Canadian NRU reactor will stop regular production of Mo-99, an isotope used to make Tc-99m, itself the most widely used nuclear medicine imaging agent.
With the impending production stoppage growing nearer, there has been a number of media reports appearing in newspapers, scientific journals and websites. Many of the reports focused their reporting on the findings of the recent report from the National Academy of Sciences from the US, which suggests that the production stoppage at Chalk River is weakening the supply chain, and will make it more vulnerable to delays in the introduction of new capacity or unplanned failures of existing reactors.
Fortunately, the situation appears much less dramatic than reported these past weeks. In Canada, decisions associated with the stoppage have been monitored for years by the Multi Stakeholder Working Group on Medical Isotopes (MSWG).
Latest update from Canada’s Multi Stakeholder Working Group on Medical Isotopes (MSWG).
The MSWG was created a few years ago to bring together Canadian Federal and Provincial representatives, industry and national associations, like the CAMRT. The aim of the group is to monitor potential supply disruption risks of Tc-99m, develop mitigation strategies and ensure consistent messaging and communication to all stakeholders.
This group last met on October 4th 2016 and the following are a few highlights from the meeting.
There is no new cause for concern with respect to the ongoing supply of Tc-99m worldwide. While the supply chain of Tc-99m has showed its fragility over the past years, industry and governments have been preparing for the production stoppage at the NRU and mitigation strategies are in place. For example:
- The BR-2 reactor in Belgium was shut down for over a year to allow for major refurbishments. It was successfully restarted on July 19, 2016. It has now resumed regular production with increased irradiation capacity. This increased availability of BR2 will significantly alleviate possible future shortages.
- ANSTO in Australia successfully increased processing capacity in its old facility from 1000 to 1800 Ci per week. Their new facility is expected to be up and running in 2017 and provide a much greater capacity.
- The Maria reactor has increased its capacity to irradiate targets from 8 to 12.
- The Canadian government remains committed to resume production of Mo-99 on the NRU reactor should there be a shortage, until the permanent closure of the NRU in March 2018. Officials confirmed that a contingency plan is in place.
The supply and demand forecast report provided by the OECD/NEA in March 2016 predicted that, unless there is a major un-planned production disruption, production capacity should suffice to meet demand for the period 2016-2021. The report’s conclusions are still valid today according to the OECD working group.
For more information and resources on isotope supply, please see CAMRT’s Isotope Supply Resource Centre.