European Commission proposes resolutions to isotope shortage

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The European Commission has proposed to the European Parliament and to the Council on Medical Applications of Ionizing Radiation a way forward to resolve the urgent issue of shortage of supply of radioisotopes for nuclear medicine and also identified key issues to improve radiation protection of patients and medical staff.

The communication was jointly proposed by Günther Oettinger, commissioner responsible for Energy, and by John Dalli, commissioner responsible for health and consumer policy.

The global number of x-ray exams is around four billion per year and in Europe, around nine million patients are treated each year with radioisotopes, said the Commission. Currently, the most widely used diagnostic radioisotope, technetium-99m, is short in supply because it relies on an unsustainable low number of production reactors and it is of crucial importance to provide incentives for further research reactors and in the long term for new research reactors to be built for this purpose, added the Commission.

The organization made the following proposals:

  • Strengthening the existing regulatory framework: The current legislation (Directive 97/43/Euratom) will be upgraded to enhance regulatory supervision to ensure that the legal requirements are respected. This will be part of an overall consolidation of radiation protection legislation in 2011.
  • Raising awareness and safety culture: The medical profession must receive adequate training and regular updates on good practice, and above all, made sensitive to its responsibility in ensuring both good medical care and adequate radiation protection. Awareness also needs to be raised among patients and among the general population.
  • Fostering radiation protection and a sustainable supply and use of radioisotopes through research: Actions within the Euratom and EU Framework Programmes and in the framework of the Sustainable Nuclear Energy Technology Platform should contribute to the improvement of radiation protection and to the development of research infrastructures and competencies.
  • Financing mechanisms to ensure sustainable supply of radioisotopes: The Commission said it currently is assessing different financing mechanisms to ensure a sustainable supply of radioisotopes.
  • Integration of policies: Medical applications of ionizing radiation call for good integration of different policies on public health, research, trade and industry as well as radiation protection.
  • International cooperation: The World Health Organization is active in this area and the International Atomic Energy Agency has created programs and information tools. The Commission said it will support all such initiatives for coordinated efforts.