10 Aug (NucNet): Operators at the High Flux Reactor (HFR) at Petten in the Netherlands have begun a test irradiation for producing medical isotopes with low-enriched uranium (LEU) as a raw material.
The research reactor’s operator, the Nuclear Research and Consultancy Group (NRG), said the test followed a declaration endorsed by the Netherlands at a nuclear summit in Seoul earlier this year not to use high-enriched uranium (HEU) in the production of medical isotopes.
NRG said Petten is the first reactor in Europe to switch from HEU to LEU for its production of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), which is used to produce technetium-99m (Tc-99m), a radioisotope used in over 80 percent of diagnostic nuclear medical procedures worldwide.
This is the first phase in an international project in which NRG, together with the supplier of the raw materials and the buyer of the isotopes, is investigating whether it is technically feasible to produce medical isotopes in this way.
NRG said the cost of the first phase of the project is 1.4 million euro (1.7 million US dollars). The research fits within NRG’s strategy of safeguarding the supply reliability of medical isotopes, a statement said.
At the nuclear security summit in Seoul in March 2012, the Netherlands, France, Belgium and the US, the four cooperating countries in the field of medical isotopes, said they would aim to stop using “proliferation-sensitive” HEU for the production of medical isotopes after 2015, on condition that patients were not affected.
HEU is difficult to obtain and the HFR switched to LEU for its fuel in 2005-6. But for the production of Mo-99, it has continued to use HEU. To be able to produce radioisotopes with LEU, various technical modifications must be made.
NRG said its aim is to entirely switch production of Mo-99 at the HFR to LEU by late 2015.
Every day, about 24,000 patients in hospitals throughout the world are treated with isotopes from Petten, which are used for diagnostics, therapy and pain control.
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