IAEA tackles radioisotope supply concerns

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The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has published a collection of recommended practices for medical radioisotope manufacturers and healthcare policy makers in order to optimize the availability, safety and reliability of these products.

The agency said the global market for medical radioisotopes is at risk of serious supply problems over the coming years, as a limited number of aging reactors attempt to cope with increasing worldwide demand.

The issue recently came to the forefront when the simultaneous outages of three European medical isotope production facilities led to a global shortage of technetium-99m (Tc-99m), the radioisotope used in around 80 percent of all nuclear medicine-procedures. An unexpected shutdown extension of a Canadian reactor resulted in a similar shortage less than a year earlier.

There are just five research reactors worldwide that produce the majority of the global supply of molybdenum-99 (Mo-99), the isotope used to make Tc-99m. With these facilities ranging in age from 42 to 51 years, IAEA experts are continuing to work on issues specific to ageing research reactors and examining ways to extend their operational life.

The IAEA report, Optimization of Research Reactor Availability and Reliability: Recommended Practices, draws on the experience of 12 reactor operators and institutions, of differing size and from various geographical locations. It focuses on an array of operational management areas including: risk-informed maintenance and planning; configuration management; communication and operating experience; and corrective action management. It is available for download on the IAEA website.