If everything goes right, a new radioisotope plant will open in Columbia, Missouri, right about the time North America’s major source of radioisotopes is scheduled to shut down for good.
Last week, Northwest Medical Isotopes of Corvallis, Oregon, announced plans to open a $50 million facility to produce molybdenum-99 at the University of Missouri’s Discovery Ridge Research Park in Columbia. That isotope is used to produce technetium-99m, which is used in most nuclear medicine tests.
Nick Fowler, founder and CEO of Northwest Medical Isotopes, noted the timing of the plant’s opening, which he said should occur in 2016:
The United States is currently reliant upon two sources of this imaging tracer. One is being decomissioned in 2016, and the other is being retooled in 2017 or 2018, meaning the U.S. supply is at significant risk. This is a huge, important diagnostic tool to cardiologists and oncologists.
Fowler was quoted by the Columbia Daily Tribune. The sources he was referring to are, respectively, Chalk River Laboratories in Deep River, Ontario, Canada, and the High Flux Reactor at Petten, Netherlands. We’ve reported several times (most recently in March 2013) on various shutdowns at those two facilities, consequent shortages of technetium-99m, and efforts to diversify radioisotope production. The United States currently produces no radioisotopes.
Counting on Northwest Medical Isotopes to actually start production in 2016 seems optimistic. The company won’t even break ground on the facility until next year. At full capacity, the company said, the plant will be able to meet 50 percent of the North American demand for molybdenum-99.
In a news release, the company said it would use a network of university reactors around the United States to supply materials for processing into molybdenum-99. Moly-99 has a half-life of 66 hours, so the practical area the plant could supply would be limited.
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Australia plans to increase radioisotope production—but that won’t help with the U.S. supply. For details, see our Facebook page.
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