Thursday, 31 May 2012

Phasing out use of HEU

Phasing out use of HEU: .... note that NRU runs on LEU but uses HEU to produce medical isotopes... I am not aware of any programs to convert that to LEU at NRU... from the article: "Timothy Meyer, Head of Strategic Planning & Communications with TRIUMF, Canada’s national laboratory for nuclear science, explained the implications for medical science in an exclusive interview with Uranium Investing News. “From our perspective, the increasing global pressure to move away from any and all supply chains that employ HEU is driving innovation and the development of alternative technologies. For instance, the government of Canada provided $35 million to four Canadian teams in 2012 for a two-year effort to develop methods for producing technetium-99m – the highest-demand medical isotope produced by the NRU [National Research Universal] reactor in Chalk River, Ontario – without employing nuclear reactors or uranium.” Technetium-99m is used in 85 percent of all nuclear medicine procedures, estimated globally at 20 million per year."
Some also suggesting perhaps smaller university research reactors could perhaps alleviate future medical isotope shortages: ..."In 2009 and 2010, the world experienced a severe shortage of these tremendously important medical isotopes. The single Canadian National Research Universal (NRU) nuclear reactor producing 99Mo and other isotopes, including Cobalt-60 used in cancer treatment, was shut down for over 18 months. Also in 2010, 6 months of production time was lost in the Netherlands’ Petten reactor, which supplies 60% of Europe’s 99Mo supply. These reactors were two of only five reactors producing medical isotopes for the entire globe. While the United States consumes 50% of the world’s annual 99Mo/99mTc supply, it produces none of these medical isotopes outside of research, and instead the U.S. medical community relies entirely on shipments from outside the country, mainly from Canada. As a direct result of the shortage, fewer of these low-risk, non-invasive radioisotope diagnostic imaging procedures were performed, especially in North America, many were delayed by days to months, and the radioisotope costs of these procedures more than doubled.
Due to politics and capitalism, it’s unlikely that the U.S. will produce its own domestic supply of medical isotopes in the near future. While other countries, including Canada, subsidize and support nuclear reactors capable of producing these isotopes, the U.S. instead views such things as an “industry issue.” Admittedly, it’s expensive and risky to build larger-scale reactors capable of generating a country’s-worth of medical isotopes, even though these reactors are also hugely useful to a variety of other research fields. Two incredibly expensive reactors recently built in Canada were eventually abandoned with mechanical problems. General Electric recently quashed its own private attempt at medical isotope production citing that it was not currently economic with Canada’s NRU reactor up and running. Imagine the derision of taxpayers if a government-funded nuclear reactor capable of producing medical isotopes was built and paid for but never produced a single isotope. It gets very complicated.
The reactor here at OSU isn’t big enough to produce medical isotopes for our entire country. But small reactors like the TRIGA Mark II are becoming hugely important in other countries as we try to avoid potential future shortages and meet increasing worldwide radioisotope demands. Although the U.S. has not yet begun contributing to the global medical isotope supply, its small reactors, perhaps especially at Universities, may also be incredibly important as support in the future when larger reactors inevitably fall short."
More on perhaps troubled future of medical isotopes: 

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