31 Jan (NucNet): NRG, the world’s largest producer of medical isotopes, said its molybdenum production facility (MPF) has become the first in Europe to stop using high-enriched uranium (HEU) in the production process.
Until recently, HEU targets for Curium, the Paris-based provider of Mo-99 and other nuclear medicine products, were irradiated in the High-Flux Reactor (HFR) at Petten in the Netherlands to produce molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), an important isotope used in hospitals.
The process in the MPF has now been converted to low-enriched uranium (LEU) only, the culmination of a project that began in 2011. The HFR had already changed its fuel to LEU in 2006.
NRG and Curium had to modify the production process in a way that guaranteed the same quality of the final product. NRG said the process was “long and complicated”, but it considers the result a major milestone.
NRG said only LEU will now be used in the production of Mo-99 in the MPF. The company said it was honouring a commitment made to former US president Barack Obama.
As part of the non-proliferation agreement, a global consensus was reached on phasing out the use of HEU, which can be used to produce nuclear weapons.
During a summit in The Hague in 2014, Mr Obama concluded deals with France, Belgium and the Netherlands to switch from HEU to LEU in the production of medical isotopes.
Every day, around 30,000 patients benefit from medical isotopes produced at Petten. Mo-99 is used 40 million times a year worldwide in diagnostic tests in hospitals in the fields of oncology, cardiology and neurology. During such tests, patients are injected with a mildly radioactive liquid.