SNM: 1 year later, Mo-99 shortage 'a lot worse'

2010 06 07 09 55 30 347 Snm Bug 2010

SALT LAKE CITY - The worldwide molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) shortage is no closer to a solution than it was a year ago; in fact, it's "a lot worse" than in June 2009, when attention about the crisis peaked at SNM's annual meeting in Toronto.

Past SNM president Robert Atcher, PhD, on Monday criticized Canadian lawmakers, regulators, and the country's Mo-99-producer for delivering neither medical isotopes -- nor past promises.

"Sadly, things are not much better now, and, in fact, [they are] a lot worse than they were in June 2009, and there is plenty of blame to go around," he said.

Atcher did say there is "a ray of hope from Canada," as Atomic Energy of Canada (AECL) has completed 97% of the repairs to its National Research Universal reactor in Chalk River, Ontario. The facility has been offline since May 2009 due to a major water leak. Repairs are scheduled for completion in late July, but the final repairs also are the most challenging and complex, involving a series of related welds to secure the structure.

Chalk River restart

The reactor also must undergo a restart protocol to prove the repairs are stable before Mo-99 production can resume. "We are holding our breath to see if they are successful," Atcher said.

Atcher is chair of SNM's Domestic Isotope Availability Task Force and professor of pharmacy at the University of New Mexico/Los Alamos National Laboratory. He also chided Canadian regulators for promising several years ago that its two Maple nuclear reactors, then under development, would supply Mo-99 to the U.S. The units were never completed and remain offline, with no sign or intention of restarting the project.

"Unfortunately, our friends to the north failed to deliver on their promise and canceled the [Maple] project two years ago, which has put the whole molecular imaging community in the U.S. in a terrible bind," he said. "So, let's call it like it is and say that Canada assured us that there would be a long-term solution, and Canada needs to deliver on that assurance."

European production

Atcher described the Mo-99 production situation in Europe as "more promising." The Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG) is on schedule to conclude planned maintenance on its High Flux Reactor in Petten, the Netherlands, in August.

In addition, the Maria reactor in Poland has generated material approved for use in the U.S. Covidien of Dublin, Ireland, will distribute the isotope.

A reactor in the Czech Republic has been identified as capable of providing Mo-99, and steps are under way to qualify the isotope for U.S. consumption. That process is expected to take approximately three months. Lantheus Medical Imaging of North Billerica, MA, plans to distribute Czech Mo-99 to the U.S.

Although the additional European supply will help, Atcher cautioned that these new reactors are geographically farther from the U.S. and require a "substantial transportation challenge from the reactor to the processing facility and, hence, to the U.S. market. And recent problems of weather and volcanic eruptions have highlighted again the challenges posed by the transport from those distances."

Quickest solution

The "quickest solution" to the Mo-99 shortage, he added, is to "call on our Canadian colleagues, lawmakers, and regulators to get their respective acts together" and honor their past commitments.

Atcher also called on the U.S. Senate to follow the lead of the House of Representatives and authorize sufficient funds to build a new production system in the U.S.

"Delays won't generate any benefit," he said. "We can't wish away the shortage of medical isotopes. The lack of decisive action by the stakeholders in Canada and the U.S. is a modern day equivalent of fiddling while Rome is burning. Ladies and gentlemen, the clock is running out. Patients can't afford inaction much longer. It's time to end the medical isotope shortage."

By Wayne Forrest staff writer
June 8, 2010

Related Reading

AECL progresses with NRU repairs, June 3, 2010

Canada issues call for isotope proposals, June 3, 2010

SNM warns of 'significant disruptions' in Mo-99 supply, March 22, 2010

Lantheus receives Mo-99 from Europe, May 21, 2010

Czechs, Belgians partner on isotopes, May 20, 2010

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