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SNM applauds US Department of Energy's move to develop domestic radioisotope supply

Reston, Va.SNM applauds a move by the U.S. Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) to help fund the development of a domestic supply of radioisotopes, which are used to help millions of patients each year through the diagnosis and staging of cancer, thyroid and heart disease.

Earlier this week, GE-Hitachi announced their selection by the NNSA to help develop a U.S. supply of Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99). Babcock & Wilcox (B&W) Technical Services Group also announced this week that it has been awarded approximately $9 million from the NNSA for the company's medical isotope production program. The company previously announced a partnership with Covidien to develop medical isotope production.

"We are pleased by this development," said Michael M. Graham, Ph.D., M.D., president of SNM. "The ongoing worldwide isotope shortage has long been a critical problem affecting the U.S. We are encouraged by the progress that has been made to date by the NNSA on this issue."

There are currently only five major producers of Molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) in the world, with none in the United States. Technetium-99the decay product ofMo-99 is a critical medical isotope used in more than 16 million diagnostic medical tests annually in the U.S. for the early detection of cancer, heart disease, thyroid disease and other serious conditions.

The current facilities that produce Mo-99 have experienced significant ongoing maintenance issues, which frequently cause these reactors to go offline, both for scheduled maintenance and unanticipated failures. These continuing problems were exacerbated when reactors were simultaneously down in Canada and the Netherlands earlier this year. Additionally, the Canadian government announced that it will no longer produce medical isotopes as of 2016, and the Netherlands reactor is scheduled to go offline in Feb. 2010 for four to six months. Starting in February, both reactors will be down at the same time.

The GE project aims to create a reliable U.S. supply of Mo-99 without the use of highly enriched uranium (HEU) to respond to a shortage from the repeated, unplanned outages at facilities where it is currently produced. They also say that their technology can be used with existing nuclear reactors rather than requiring the construction of new ones.

The B&W partnership would rely on building a new reactor using low-enriched uranium (LEU) to provide Mo-99, rather than HEU, which has been identified as a potential security threat. They are proposing to utilize a different reactor technology for production.

On a related matter, the American Medical Isotopes Production Act of 2009 (H.R. 3276), which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in November 2009, is now pending in the U.S. Senate. If passed, this legislation would provide critical funding to help create a stable and reliable supply of medical isotopes in the U.S.


Contact: Amy Shaw
Society of Nuclear Medicine

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