Korea reactor to produce Mo-99 on trial basis

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Hanaro Center's reactor core in South Korea. Image Source: Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute

The Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute will begin emergency operation of its research nuclear reactor Hanaro to produce radioactive isotopes for medical purposes, given a looming shortage.

The Education, Science and Technology Ministry said that the institute will run the reactor on a trial basis next month and start producing molybdenum-99 (Mo-99) in March.

“The Netherlands, the world’s second largest producer of molybdenum-99, also closed its worn-out reactor in August last year. This sent the price of the isotope skyrocketing,” said a ministry official. “The emergency operation of Hanaro is to eliminate impediments to nuclear medicine imaging assessment.”

The ministry said that the operation of Hanaro is inevitable because National Research Universal reactor, which has provided 42.8 percent of Mo-99 consumed in Korea, was closed and its intended replacement, the Multipurpose Applied Physics Lattice Experiment reactor, has flaws.

Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium, South Africa, France and Germany produce 95 percent of the global supply of Mo-99. Korea imports the radioactive isotope mostly from Canada, the Netherlands, Belgium and South Africa.

However, Hanaro can only supply around 30 percent of demand in South Korea even if it operates at full capacity, according to the South Korean ministry.

In a related move, the Nuclear Energy Agency under the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development will convene a two-day emergency meeting in Paris today on effective ways to supply the isotope.