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January 29, 2010

Medical Isotopes

DOE provides grants to relieve shortage of critical diagnostics aid

Marc S. Reisch

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As the global shortage of radioactive isotopes used for medical imaging diagnostics worsens, the Department of Energy has given grants to two firms to further develop new sources for the materials.

The National Nuclear Security Administration, an arm of DOE, awarded $9 million to engineering firm Babcock & Wilcox and $2.3 million to nuclear reactor maker GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy. Both firms say they will match the awards to develop domestic sources for the isotopes, which are used in 20 million U.S. procedures, such as heart-stress scans and blood-flow monitoring, each year.

Two aging reactors, one in Canada and one in the Netherlands, currently supply the bulk of the U.S.’s demand for molybdenum-99, the raw material for medical isotope technetium-99m. Supply from these reactors has been severely constrained recently (C&EN, Aug. 24, 2009, page 9).

Ross Thomas, chief technical officer for Babcock & Wilcox, says the firm is adapting a decades-old reactor design that will use low-enriched uranium to generate 99Mo. The firm plans to fulfill half of the U.S.’s needs by late 2013.

GE Hitachi plans to make use of nuclear reactors it has built to convert naturally occurring 98Mo to the isotope 99Mo. Commercial-scale production aimed at supplying half of the U.S.’s demand should be ready by 2013, a GE Hitachi spokesman says.

In the meantime, shortages of 99Mo are expected to continue, according to Covidien, a major pharmaceutical isotope supplier.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2011 American Chemical Society
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