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Isotope Shortage Could Reappear Anytime

October 12, 2010
Written by: , Filed in: Nuclear Medicine
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Now that recently idle Canadian and Dutch nuclear reactors are once again producing medical isotopes, the shortage is over. So everything’s okay, right?

Not exactly. Said Michael M. Graham, PhD, MD, in an interview with HealthImaging.com:

We have no domestic supply, and if we are relying on aging reactors around the world, then the isotope supply is precarious.

Dr. Graham, a professor at the University of Iowa radiology department in Iowa City, knows what he’s talking about. He’s immediate past president of SNM.

Each year, more than 16 million people in the United States undergo nuclear-medicine procedures that use technetium-99m (Tc-99m), a radiotracer derived from molybdenum-99 (Mo-99). Only five reactors in the world produce Mo-99. Two of them, the Canadian National Research Universal reactor in Chalk River, Ontario, and the High Flux Reactor in Petten, the Netherlands, were shut down for more than a year. They resumed production in August and September, respectively.

Another unexpected shutdown could create another shortage at any moment. Some efforts are under way to create U.S. isotope suppliers. For example, HealthImaging.com reports, a public-private project in Wisconsin to produce Mo-99 by an alternative means that does not involve a reactor has received initial funding of $500,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy.

The American Medical Production Act of 2009 would promote domestic production of Mo-99. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives by a 400-17 vote and was unanimously approved (with amendments) by a Senate committee. But Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond, R-Missouri, has blocked the bill from coming to a vote by the full Senate. Bond says a provision that would phase out, over seven to 13 years, the export of highly enriched uranium for the production of medical isotopes could lead to shortages. Pleas by the nuclear-medicine community have left him unmoved.

Bond is not seeking reelection this year. “Senator Bond is holding up the bill, and it looks like we might have to wait till he retires from Congress,” said Dr. Graham. “It’s unfortunate, but that’s actually the most likely way we are going to get to move forward.”

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