Belgian reactor given go-ahead to restart medical isotope production

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A technetium 99m-bisphosphonate bone scan of a patient with polyostotic Paget's disease. Image Source: Paget's Disease of Bone  

Belgium’s nuclear regulatory agency has given the green light for the production of medical isotopes at the Institute of Radioelements (IRE) in Fleurus.

The facility, which manufactures a range of isotopes, has been shuttered since an unexpected release of iodine-131 in August. The extended outage had been compounded by other shutdowns, resulting in a global shortage of materials for nuclear medicine. For instance, the nuclear reactor in Petten, in Northwest Netherlands, is expected to be closed through February 2009.

However, IRE may now be able to offset some of the shortage. The institute now has fulfilled a series of stipulations from the Federal Agency for Nuclear Control (FANC), allowing for its restart, according to the regulator.

Yet, the restart approval remains conditional on the implementation of a series of longer term improvement measures, which include: improvements to some parts of the production processes and facilities; strengthening the department of physical control; staff training; and the organization of periodic audits and external verification. FANC said it is satisfied that IRE's directors have formally committed to provide the necessary resources to achieve these actions.

The IRE plant produces iodine-131 for medical diagnosis and therapy applications, as well as the radioactive elements xenon-133, yttrium-90 and rhenium-188 for similar uses, as well as molybdenum-99/technetium-99m for cancer treatment.