Accelerator lab targets medical isotopes
Apr 28, 2009 2 comments
Canada’s TRIUMF accelerator lab is teaming up with the medical isotope supplier MDS Nordion to study the feasibility of making molybdenum–99 in a linear accelerator — rather than in nuclear reactors as is done today.
TRIUMF, which is in Vancouver, and Ottawa-based MDS Nordion, also announced today that they will create a plan to commercialize the accelerator-based production of the isotope – which is used in around 80% of all diagnostic nuclear medicine tests worldwide.
The announcement comes amidst growing concern about the age, safety and reliability of reactors that produce molybdenum–99 following a series of well publicized technical problems and unscheduled plant shutdowns. New reactors are urgently needed to prevent future shortages of molybdenum–99 — but gaining consent, funding and political support for such plans is proving to be far from easy.
Intense photon beam
In November 2008, however, TRIUMF — along with the University of British Columbia, and the firm Advanced Applied Physics Solutions (AAPS) — released a report suggesting that a reactor may not be needed. Researchers instead proposed firing a highly intense photon beam — generated by a linear electron accelerator — at a uranium target to create molybdenum–99.
Although accelerator-based processing would need much more electrical power to run than a reactor-based facility, the advantage is that it would be possible to stop and re-start isotope production according to demand, which cannot be achieved with a nuclear reactor.
Another benefit of the new technique is that natural uranium targets can be used — whereas the reactor method requires highly enriched uranium targets that are difficult to transport and handle.
Building to start next year
Construction of such a facility at TRIUMF is scheduled to start in 2010 with tests slated for 2013.
MDS Nordion and TRIUMF already collaborate on the production of other medical isotopes using cyclotron accelerators.
About the author
Hamish Johnston is editor of physicsworld.com