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Canada Moves To Diversify Isotope Production

March 6, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Cardiac Imaging, Nuclear Medicine
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By 2016, Canada expects to make enough medical isotopes without using nuclear reactors to ensure an adequate, uninterrupted supply for medical imaging.

Joe Oliver, Canada’s natural resources minister, said last week that the federal government is giving three research institutes a total of $25 million Canadian ($24.3 million U.S.) to develop cyclotron and linear accelerator technologies for producing isotopes. “Our challenge now is to prove that cyclotron and linear accelerator production can be commercially viable,” he told Reuters.

He thinks it can:

We envision a future where isotope production will no longer require highly enriched uranium—a weapons-grade material.

Canada now depends exclusively for medical isotopes (and the rest of the world depends heavily) on the 1945-vintage reactor at the Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd. (AECL) facility at Chalk River, Ontario. The reactor was shut down for a month in 2007, a few days in 2008, and more than a year in 2009–2010 for maintenance and safety-related issues. AECL built two newer prototype reactors for making isotopes but ended that program after of a series of problems.

The Chalk River shutdown caused worldwide shortages of medical isotopes, as we reported at the time. There are no U.S. suppliers. The American Medical Isotope Production Act of 2011, which was designed to address that issue, became law early this year, but Congress provided no funding.

Chalk River’s current license expires October 31, 2016. Oliver said he expected the new sources of isotopes would be ready to take over by then. The technology has been proven, he said; all that remains is scaling up production to commercial quantities. “That’s been worked on for a while,” he said. “It’s reached a fairly robust stage right now. We’re talking about increasing the amount. … We’re comfortable we can meet those objectives by 2016.”

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One Response to “Canada Moves To Diversify Isotope Production”

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