Shining a light on the isotope “crisis”

The isotope crisis has once again reared its ugly head.

This time it will be short-lived and likely there will likely be no real consequence, but as can be seen from this article, people may take the opportunity for criticism of the nuclear industry.  But actually, we should see that it provides us with an opportunity to talk about the tremendous contribution that the Canadian nuclear community is making to the health and well-being of people around the world. 

The criticism of the industry is hugely ironic as the root cause of the isotope crisis was that the nuclear industry, mostly the Canadian nuclear industry, had been subsidizing isotope use for decades, giving lower cost access to lifesaving diagnostics to millions of people.   No one complained about that!  But it led to a complacent healthcare community failing to make investments that it should have been making and prevented commercial organizations from investing because prices were artificially low.  

The isotope crisis drew attention to this situation and the world, notably Canada, took notice, investing in new ways to produce isotopes.  BWXT, working with Laurentis/OPG, developed a completely new way to produce the isotope that was at the heart of the crisis, technecium-99m, and are going through the approval process at the moment, using a power reactor and not a research reactor, will dramatically improve availability and the new system does not rely on enriched uranium nor produce as much waste.  TRIUMF also developed a process making it possible to make the isotope locally on cyclotrons.

The timing of this current “crisis” is unfortunate as it comes just before these new production processes (there are others coming on stream elsewhere in the world) become readily available.

But it does give us the opportunity to draw to the attention of the public all the other things the Canadian nuclear community is doing Including

  • McMaster University being the world’s largest supplier of iodine-125, an isotope used in a variety of cancer treatments, as well as producing a number of other healthcare isotopes and specialist isotopes for research.
  • Isogen (a joint venture between Kinectrics and Framatome), in partnership with Bruce Power,  developing a way of producing of lutetium-177, used in a range of new highly effective cancer treatments. This is the first time anywhere in the world that a power reactor has been used to make short lived medical isotopes.
  • BWXT, CNL and TRIUMF all working on processes to produce actinium-225, an isotope that has the potential to raise cancer therapy to a whole new level, and currently one of the most expensive substances on the planet.

This is a mere snapshot of the amazing work that is taking place in Canada to address isotope production issues. It would not be possible to do justice to all of it in a blog.  The good news is that we have an organization, the Canadian Nuclear Isotope Council, who are working to draw attention to this great work that the industry is doing, and support is expected shortly for the development of an ecosystem that will keep moving us forward ensuring Canada remains at the forefront of this very important field of enterpize.  You can learn more here

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